The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) recently narrowed the field of cities competing for the new site of its 125-person headquarters to two, but final selection has been postponed at least until May. While USOC chief Peter Ueberroth refused to name the cities, the main contenders are reported to be Chicago and Colorado Springs, the latter being the current location for USOC headquarters. Ueberroth is demanding “bulletproof” proposals from the contending cities.
According to public documents released in response to a Colorado Springs Gazette lawsuit, the USOC’s main consideration is free (i.e., no leasing or acquisition costs) and bigger headquarters space. The present facility shares a cramped former Air Force base with USOC training facilities that will remain in Colorado Springs even if the headquarters moves.
Colorado Spring officials estimate USOC’s annual economic impact at $316 million. While it has not released all the details of the retention offer, fearing to be outbid by competing cities, the city has approved a special bond district that could provide a new USOC headquarters site $100 million in low interest bonds.
But state and local officials are also pushing back a little. Mayor Lionel Rivera responded to Ueberroth’s latest demand by saying “… our commitments are laid out and backed up and to use his term, ‘bullet-proof.’” Colorado’ U.S. Senators Ken Salazer and Wayne Allard have threatened to “examine” USOC’s federal charter if its headquarters leaves the state.
USOC may be using the three-city competition more to squeeze Colorado Springs than anything else, although Chicago’s superior air service and talent pool are reportedly attractive. According to news reports, Chicago has offered Navy Pier, a massive entertainment complex on Lake Michigan, as a potential headquarters site, but USOC is said to be more interested in the renowned but underutilized Sears Tower, which could be renamed if chosen.
While no other details of Chicago’s offer, including potential incentives, have been made public, officials think getting the USOC headquarters could bolster Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics. But having the headquarters will not help that bid much if the city does not make its aging and under-funded mass transit system more competitive with the efficient systems of competitors like Madrid.