What Does It Mean To Be Olympic City USA? Mayor Suthers Explains

Feb 28, 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympics came to a close in Pyoengchang this past weekend. Meanwhile, the city of Denver is actively exploring whether to make a bid for the Winter Games in coming years. With all this Olympic news swirling around, we thought it would be a good time to check in with Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, to discuss the impact of the games on Colorado Springs -- so called Olympic City, USA.

91.5 KRCC: Just to begin with, I'm curious if you could tell me the story of how Colorado Springs became Olympic City, USA. Kind of the how the when and the why.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers
Credit City of Colorado Springs

Mayor Suthers: Well it's an evolution that's taken place over 40 years. First of all, in 1978 the United States Olympic Committee made a rather dramatic decision to move from New York City to Colorado Springs. Shortly thereafter, a decision was made to locate the largest training center in Colorado Springs. Over the ensuing decades, 23 national governing bodies have moved to Colorado Springs. Then, of course, we have under construction in the United States Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame. So we have really become the domestic epicenter of the United States Olympic movement.

In 2008, I believe, the city entered into an agreement with the United States Olympic Committee whereby the city contributed to the construction of the Olympic Headquarters on the condition that they would commit to staying here I think through 2038, or something like that. As part of that agreement, the city was given the right to use the name Olympic in the promotion of the city. That's a very valuable right, by the way, because no one else can be a Olympic City, USA. What you want your brand to be is unique and nobody else can use it. And that's exactly what we've got.

 

91.5 KRCC: The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang was the second Olympics since we started this rebranding process. How have you seen the games manifest themselves here locally in terms of any kind of economic impact -- or just cultural impact -- given that we are Olympic City USA?

 

Mayor Suthers: Well, first of all, we have settled into the fact that we have an opening night celebration. In the summer of 2016, I think we had about 30,000 people downtown for the Olympic kickoff. For Pyeongchang, we probably had 5,000-7,000 downtown, at least on the streets. There's tons of people in the restaurants and bars and all that that sort of thing. So that has an economic impact. But I’ve noticed, and I pay attention to this sort of thing, there's lots of people walking around town with Olympic City, USA, paraphernalia on. So I think the public has embraced it.

 

91.5 KRCC: Is there a risk at all with being Olympic City, USA, given that Olympic fever only comes around every two years, in some sense? You know, there's a gap between the times when people are really thinking a lot about the Olympics.

 

Mayor Suthers: I don't think so. First of all it's amazing when you go from one Olympic cycle to the other, two years is not very long. There's a long preparation. We've got the elite athletes coming through our town all the time. I think we do a pretty good job of kind of keeping up the momentum. I think that's going to be especially true when the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame opens.

 

"The Olympics is one of the most valuable brands going, and we're the only ones able to [use] it."

91.5 KRCC: So, at the moment, the City of Denver and some other business leaders and folks up north are looking at potentially making a bid for an upcoming Winter Olympics. Probably not for many years, but is Colorado Springs at all involved in those discussions at this point?

 

Mayor Suthers: Well, I had lunch with Mayor Hancock when he came down to meet with the United States Olympic Committee. This would be a couple of months ago and we had a brief discussion about the fact that while one city is designated as the host city, the hosting of Olympic Games is usually lot more involved than a single city. We have infrastructure down here which we think could be of assistance in terms of preliminary hockey games, a preliminary figure skating competition, and things like that. Even if we were only talking about accommodations, there would be an impact on Colorado Springs. There's no question about it.

 

91.5 KRCC: I realize it's still very early, but do you think it would benefit Colorado Springs?

 

Mayor Suthers: Well I think would probably benefit Colorado Springs. I think the bigger question mark is whether it benefits Denver and the whole state of Colorado, and I think some very serious financial analysis has to be done.

 

91.5 KRCC: There has been some criticism of this idea of Olympic City, USA. Like, maybe we should have tried to capitalize more on the outdoors or some other aspect of our local identity. What's what's your response to that? Why do you think Olympic City really is the best way to brand Colorado Springs?

 

Mayor Suthers: We go back to what a brand needs to be. It needs to be unique, something that other people can't do, and it needs to be valuable. The Olympics is one of the most valuable brands going and we're the only ones able to do it. There's nothing unique about saying we spend a lot of time outdoors. There's nothing unique about saying, you know, we have mountains -- [nothing] sufficiently unique to be a brand. All you’ve got to know is that no other city in the United States can call themselves Olympic City USA. That answers the question.

91.5 KRCC: Mayor Suthers thank you so much for your time.

Mayor Suthers: I appreciate having the opportunity to talk to you.

 This interview has been edited for time and clarity.