Exploratory Committee Recommends Denver Pursue Olympic Winter Games; 65% In City Agree

An Olympic bid exploratory committee recommended Friday that Denver and the state of Colorado should launch a campaign to host the Games as early as 2030, but with some stipulations.

Colorado voted against Denver hosting the 1976 Olympic Winter Games (Wikipedia Photo)

Colorado voted against Denver hosting the 1976 Olympic Winter Games (Wikipedia Photo)

“It is the recommendation of this Exploratory Committee that should the USOC determine a need, we should bid for a future Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, with a specific focus on 2030 and beyond,” the committee concluded in a 230-page report.

In the plans for a USD $1.8 to $2.1 billion privately funded project, the committee also recommended that the city receive voter approval in advance in the form of a referendum to be held with a 2020 ballot.  The condition is a nod to Denver’s famous Olympic past when the 1976 Games were awarded to the Colorado capital only to have voters subsequently rebuff the decision – the only time in history a city ‘returned’ the Games.  Innsbruck, instead, hosted the edition.

The report indicated that a “statistically valid” poll commissioned by the committee in January 2018 revealed that 61 percent state-wide, and 65 percent in Denver, would support a Winter Games bid.

But there are still many gates to pass before Denver can enter the race, and try to out-ski its Olympic demons of the past.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) filed a letter-of-interest with the international Olympic Committee (IOC) late last year showing intent to bid for the 2030 Games, a move that allows the organization to monitor the progress of 2026 bid discussions that are taking place among seven nations vying for the earlier Games.  The USOC opted out of a 2026 bid after Los Angeles won the right to host the 2028 Summer Games last September, and signed a contract entitling the California metropolis exclusive Olympic marketing and sponsorship right for the years running up to the event.

That forced the plans of three U.S. cities, including Denver, Salt Lake City and Reno-Tahoe, to remain on ice.  But the letter keeps the U.S. on the Winter Olympics radar in case the IOC contemplates awarding both the 2026 and 2030 Games at the same time, just as they did when they awarded Paris 2024 and Los Angeles the Games as part of a last-minute tripartite deal.

The 2030 Games are planned to be awarded in 2023 but the IOC will elect the 2026 host city at a meeting planned for Milan, Italy in September 2019.  That’s before any Denver referendum could take place.

Salt Lake City officials have said that they are prepared to bid at any time and have already received state approval, and recent polls show the public is solidly behind plans.  The Utah Capital that hosted in 2002 has existing well-maintained venues ready-to-go and could stage a second Games will minimal capital costs and risks.

Denver Exploratory Committee plans share a similar strategy, to use existing venues and minimize permanent construction.  For the critical, but legacy-limited sliding and ski jump venues the committee recommends either temporary installations or utilizing a facility in another U.S. city.

The report explains “This would mean partnering with a city that already has permanent venues for Nordic events, sliding sports, and existing infrastructure that meets the requirements for ski jumping.”

The only reasonably viable U.S. location for these is rival Salt Lake City.  Lake Placid in New York is also a possibility, but the venues are more distant and the older facilities would require costly renovations.

The USOC will have the final say on which, if any, U.S. city will bid for the Games.  It could also propose a broader footprint including venues from each city – but that is much less likely.

A Denver Olympics would raise money from large corporations, and purchase insurance to cover any overages.  This, the report says, would make the Games more expensive but would protect taxpayers from emptying their wallets.

Rice-Eccles Stadium and 2002 Olympic Cauldron in Salt Lake City

Rice-Eccles Stadium and 2002 Olympic Cauldron in Salt Lake City

More than three-dozen committee members voted unanimously by secret ballot to recommend that Denver bid, according to Rob Cohen, the CEO of IMA Financial Group and Chair of the exploration group.

A statement released by bid opponents NOlympics, a group that claim taxpayers would be on the hook for massive cost overruns, doubted the committee’s findings.

“This is not at all a surprise,” the statement said.

“Making the recommendation to go forward was a forgone conclusion with a committee that was stacked with longtime boosters and business interests that stand to directly benefit from a massive vanity project like that.

“At the end of the day, it’s billions of dollars for a three week event that is a proven a drain on communities— at a time when the same group of establishment politicians and business interests have have continued to overlook community priorities for housing, environment, transit, and overall quality of life for the people that live here.”

Former 1992 Winter Games host city Lillehammer in Norway has also indicated an interest in bidding for the 2030 Olympics, and Sapporo in Japan could delay its 2026 candidacy to 2030.

More to come…

About Robert Livingstone

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.