Local leaders convinced the fiscally-strapped U.S. Olympic Committee (now U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee) to relocate from its cramped New York City headquarters to Colorado Springs in 1977. Enticed by generous land donations and a grant from the El Pomar Foundation, plus the 6,000 foot elevation beneficial to athletic endurance, the committee converted a 36-acre site on East Boulder Street to the new Olympic Training Center (OTC) that opened in 1978. Originally the location of the Methodist Beth-El tuberculosis sanatorium, the site later became ENT Air Force Base. When the U.S. Air Force closed ENT in 1976, the city took over the site by swapping land that enabled the Air Force to move to Peterson AFB. The OTC was designed to enable U.S. athletes to compete with Soviet-block athletes. A complex with residence halls and a multitude of gyms, rinks, pools, tracks, and other sporting facilities, about 15,000 athletes are hosted annually at the OTC, with facilities such as the Velodrome bike track hosting regional competitions and meets. About 130,000 tourists visit the OTC annually. This has spawned a host of related businesses—59 national and international sports organizations, plus 23 national governing bodies for Olympic sports—that generate an agglomeration economy around amateur sports. The Olympics and Paralympics alone employ 2,100 people. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), which occupied the old NORAD building at the OTC site, considered relocating its headquarters in 2008 after it outgrew its facilities. The city subsidized the USOPC with $53 million for a new downtown location, upgrades to the OTC, and other site improvements to entice the organization to stay. In exchange, the USOPC agreed to stay for 25 years, and more importantly, allowed Colorado Springs exclusive marketing as “Olympic City USA.” The city started the Olympic branding in 2016, focusing on this theme to construct its new urban identity. Colorado Springs was awarded a state tourism grant for their “City of Champions” proposal to help build the first ever Olympic Museum, which opened in 2020. Expected to bring 350,000 tourists annually, the museum has also sparked major downtown redevelopment plans for housing and commercial facilities, including a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks to connect America the Beautiful Park along Monument Creek with the central urban core. Colorado Springs is banking big on the sports economy as both a basic industry and a tourist attractor.
Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs