Both sides in a debate between “skeptics” who don’t believe bringing the Winter Olympic Games to Colorado in 2030 would benefit the state and an exploratory committee tasked to figure out if and how an Olympic bid should be sought fielded questions from each other and from the community during a Saturday afternoon public discussion.
The opposition was voiced by developer Kyle Zeppelin, former Colorado governor Dick Lamm, who led a campaign for a successful referendum in the early 1970s that stoped Colorado’s hosting of the 1976 Winter Games, and activist Chris Dempsey, who helped quash a Boston Olympic Games.
During the discourse, Dempsey referred to the Games’ immense costs and the strains they put on its host cities as “the nightmare boyfriend or girlfriend that wreaks havoc wherever they go, but then says it’s going to be different the next time.”
Chairman of the exploratory committee Rob Cohen, who disputed being positioned as pro-Games when the committee claims it’s undecided, thinks that this time around the bidding process and the Games themselves would break from the from historically problematic narratives.
“This is an opportunity to do the games the Colorado way,” Cohen said.
Much of the back-and-forth centered around how the event would be financed, with Cohen arguing that Denver wouldn’t bid if taxpayers were left footing the bill of cost overruns and Dempsey assuring the room from his experience that the International Olympic Committee would not take a bid unless this was guaranteed.
“This is the same conversation that played out in Boston,” Dempsey said. “Bostonians were open to the idea of an Olympic bid. As we learned more about the bid, we were not.”
Cohen countered that the IOC had established “new norms” that made it possible for host cities to fund things differently, like Denver’s hope to be able to pay for the Games through private funds.
“If we can’t figure out a way to finance it the way we propose, we won’t proceed,” Cohen said.
A line of community members for and against Colorado’s a bid formed down the middle of Park Hill Congregational Church, where the discussion was held. Citizens took to a microphone to address the panel, inquiring about the same issues brought up in past community meetings with the 40-member Denver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Exploratory Committee: affordable housing, expansion of Interstate 70, and environmental concerns.
Cohen noted that these are all important issues Colorado should be working on, but that an Olympic bid shouldn’t have to address them.
“The Olympic games are not a panacea,” Cohen said. “They’re not going to solve all social issues we have. All we’re saying is they can be a catalyst.”
After hearing both sides present their arguments, Denver attorney and activist Elisabeth Epps said she leaned even further against the bid than she had before the discussion.
“And it’s far more clear the exploratory committee has made up their minds that they want a bid,” Epps said. “I don’t even think that would be problematic, but they refuse to admit that they are for it, which is the problem.”
The exploratory committee continued to ask the crowd not to judge the committee’s ideas until they produced a final April report to the mayor and governor. The committee admitted they didn’t have all the answers just yet.
“It’s more than a week into March,” Epps said. “I don’t know what giant revelation they’re going to have between now and April when that report is due.”
Former Olympian Jeff Olson attended the meeting optimistic that Denver could be the city to “break the mold” when it came to hosting Olympic games. He saw the bid as an opportunity to bring the city together and tackle large projects like the building of an Olympic Village the exploratory committee says can later become affordable housing.
“You get few opportunities to do big things in a good way,” he said.
When asked why Cohen was pushing for the bid, the committee chair said his main reason was because Olympic values and Denver’s values — inclusivity, diversity, equal rights — aligned.
“We could show the world how to do this,” Cohen said.