Colorado to weigh pros, cons of Olympic bid

By David O. Williams
Real AspenMarch 20, 2011

As the premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell gets a lot of credit for pulling off the successful 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver despite a global recession and challenging weather. As a state lawmaker and later Democratic governor of Colorado, Dick Lamm gets a lot of the blame for torpedoing the public financing for the 1976 Winter Olympics in Denver.

Those Games had actually been awarded to Denver by the IOC and Lamm, now co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies at the University of Denver, led the charge to pull the plug on the ’76 Winter Games because he feared massive public debt and an environmental disaster.

Dick Lamm

Lamm and Campbell will participate in a public forum in Vail on Tuesday, which also will include Steve McConahey, former chairman of the Denver Metro Sports Commission — the group leading the charge to bring the Olympics to Colorado. A former special assistant to late President Gerald Ford and program administrator for the Urban Mass Transit Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, McConahey is now chairman of SGM Capital.

The Vail Symposium panel discussion entitled “Should Colorado bid for Olympic Games?” is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Sebastian at Vail hotel in Vail. It will be moderated by former Vail Resorts president and current Vail Town Council member Andy Daly.

The question of Colorado hosting the Winter Games has been put off for a few years given the fact that the USOC declined to put in a bid for 2018 because it was focused on the failed 2016 Summer Games bid in Chicago. Those Olympics were awarded to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, much to the delight of President Barack Obama bashers. The location of the 2018 Winter Olympics still hasn’t been determined, but Colorado is not in the running and wouldn’t be able to host until 2022 at the earliest.

Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

There are questions of whether Denver, the only city to ever be awarded the Olympics and then turn them away, even has a shot with international organizers who may hold a grudge. But the bigger debate remains the same from Lamm’s days in public office: is the taxpayer expense worth the potential infrastructure hassles and environmental impacts?

Lamm, in a previous interview, clearly still thinks Denver-area voters made the right call in 1972.

“I come down on believing strongly that the voters did the right thing,” Lamm said. “The history of the Winter Olympics was a history of red ink, and I believe it would have left Colorado with a very large expense and a worse environment.”

Daly has said he thinks the Winter Olympics might be the only way Colorado ever sees high-speed rail between the Front Range and the mountain resorts along the Interstate 70 corridor. Rail service between Vancouver and Whistler was actually discontinued a few years before the 2010 Games, although the connecting Sea to Sky highway was dramatically improved, and Vancouver itself saw significant rail upgrades.


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