Summit County leaders skeptical of a Colorado Olympics, but see opportunity for fixing Interstate 70 | SummitDaily.com

Summit County leaders skeptical of a Colorado Olympics, but see opportunity for fixing Interstate 70

Just a few hours after the U.S. women's hockey gold medal win kept many local Olympic fans up past midnight, more than 20 Summit County community leaders and stakeholders brushed the sleep out of their eyes to convene at the Frisco Senior Center.

They were there thanks to an invitation from the Denver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Exploratory Committee. The event in Frisco was one of five "mountain community meetings" the exploratory committee hosted this week with the purpose of garnering local leaders' thoughts on whether or not they think it's wise for the state to officially submit a bid for a future Winter Olympic Games — perhaps as soon as 2026, more likely in 2030, or, possibly, at a later date.

"If (Denver) Mayor (Michael) Hancock heard from his direct constituents," said exploratory committee member Reeves Brown, who hosted the discussion, "that they are all excited about this in Denver, and the report back from the five mountain communities was: 'Get out of here, we don't want it here,' I'd be really surprised if Mayor Hancock said, 'Ah, let's do it (anyway).'"

Brown hosted the discussion in Frisco a day after similar talks in Breckenridge and Winter Park. The Vail Valley and Clear Creek Corridor were the two other "mountain communities" where the same discussion was held.

Thursday's discussion in Frisco included a who's who of Summit County's community leaders, ranging from those specializing in conservation, to those in the public safety world, to some housing, tourism and realty officials.

The vast majority of individuals raised their hands to indicate they left with a more positive perception of a hypothetical Colorado Games than when they entered, but by the time the two-hour session concluded major questions regarding transportation, housing and financing remained.

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"The challenges are people," said Jason Smith, the president of the Summit Association of Realtors. "Moving them. Housing them. We think it would take federal funding on the transportation side, but we think the real challenge is, we believe it would have to be profitable."

The two-hour session began with Brown talking through a half-hour visual presentation before he asked the local stakeholders if they had any questions.

The primary question consisted of how a Colorado Games would be financed, considering the exploratory committee's current idea centers around splitting Olympic events between the Denver metropolitan area, Summit County and the Vail Valley.

Brown was adamant that the Denver Exploratory Committee is interested in a financing model that would incorporate substantial private investment, though he didn't have an answer for the local leaders about a more specific dollar amount that would come from the private sector.

"I think the committee needs an answer to that question: Who's paying?" one of the local leaders in attendance said. "I mean, that seems like a fundamental question. If it's the residents of Denver I can't imagine that being a very well-received answer."

"There are some pretty stellar financial minds on the committee," Reeves added later. "The opinion from them is: 'This can't happen without a tax increase, which would take a vote of the people,' and I think (the Denver mayor) is going to be nervous about that."

The other primary topic that came up during the discussion was that of whether the state's investment in the Olympics could be used as a medium through which to finance long-sought improvements to the I-70 corridor.

"This could be the catalyst that the entire state can rally around and decide that, 'We've got a deadline,'" Smith said. "'Now we've got to get this done.'"

At the meeting, it was brought up whether or not the state could construct a third lane on I-70 from Denver all the way to the Vail Valley in time for the games. The idea was that locals and travelers alike would benefit from the new lane, which is an idea partially inspired by the third lane to Interstate 80 installed between Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah, for the 2002 Games.

"We thought about the fact that Summit County is hosting events of this scale, the Vail Valley is hosting events of this scale," said county manager Scott Vargo. "If the events are spread out among Denver and Summit County and the Vail Valley, we don't see the impact on Summit County being anywhere near as significant as it would be if everything was clustered into one specific area. So we see that as a benefit.

"We (also) thought about accelerated I-70, Highway 9 transportation improvements," the county manager continued. "Rather than this idea of a dedicated third lane that is going to go to Denver and Vail, there are projects that are on the books that are in the design process right now that are adding lanes in strategic places along I-70. And we think that funding — it's unlikely that we are going to get the tens of billions of dollars that would be necessary to do a third lane from Denver to Vail. But we could get funding, whether it's through the (International Olympic Committee) or through the federal government, to be able to get those smaller-scale projects completed, which really do impact the overall feel of transportation and congestion."

Amy Kemp of Mountain Top Media, who is also on the exploratory committee's public relations committee, piggybacked on Vargo's point by bringing up the reality that there is an anti-growth sentiment for many in the county.

"And that's a huge hurdle," Kemp said. "Will this give us the opportunity for strategic growth? I think when people hear this they think of, 'More people, more growth.'"

The other primary concern the community leaders discussed as having the potential to also be an opportunity to leave a legacy was that of housing. John Munson, the director of sales and marketing for Copper Mountain Resort, said, if done right, the Olympics could help provide more of a long-term solution.

"We have food and beverage outlets that we can't even open because we don't have staffing," Munson said. "Everybody knows the pain points. But if this brought us that, that would be huge."

Moving forward, Brown said the exploratory committee's timeline is, in a word, tight. It consists of wrapping up community input and providing it for the Denver mayor by March 2. Then by April 1, he said the exploratory committee would likely turn over any final information for the mayor to make his decision. Then in September or October, the United States Olympic Committee is scheduled to decide if it wants to pick a U.S. city to bid.

"I'm hearing more positive (feedback) than I anticipated, and positive in general," Brown said at the Frisco meeting. "And highlighting very specific challenges we have to address. That said, particularly in the (Denver) metro area, while we are not hearing as much negativity, where there is more negativity, it is more vocal. There is more energy."

Brown also encouraged anyone to attend, online, the exploratory committee's second of two webinars, scheduled for today at 9 a.m. You can register for the webinar via this link: https://cc.readytalk.com/registration/#/?meeting=m56hden7y8xk&campaign=t8yrsfx6sk4c

Also, the committee encouraged anyone to partake in the committee's general feedback survey, which can be accessed at: WinterGamesSurvey.org/

Denver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Exploratory Committee

Online webinar, Saturday, 9 a.m.
https://cc.readytalk.com/registration/#/?meeting=m56hden7y8xk&campaign=t8yrsfx6sk4c

Submit your thoughts via online survey
http://wintergamessurvey.org/