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A Fitting Tribute

The U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame—opening in 2020—will honor Team USA.

The new U.S. Olympic/Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame opens in Spring 2020.

The new U.S. Olympic/Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame opens in Spring 2020.

How we Americans love our sports heroes. Museums honoring U.S. baseball and football players, gymnasts, skiers, swimmers, and track and field stars draw thousands annually to cities that include Cooperstown (baseball), Atlanta (college football), Oklahoma City (softball), and Stowe (ski and snowboard). But where do Olympics fans go to experience an electrifying photo finish in the 100-yard dash, a record-breaking downhill slalom race, or the 2016 gold medal men’s wheelchair basketball team?  

Every two and four years, we get a thrilling—if fleeting—chance to see the world’s best Olympic and Paralympic athletes in action. Stories of the 1980 USA hockey team, 400-yard dash record-setter Michael Johnson, and legendary figure skater Peggy Fleming never get old. But how many of us know that Paralympic Hall of Famer and blind U.S. swimmer Trischa Zorn has won 55 medals—including 41 gold? Or understand the significance of Bode Miller’s first gold medal in 2012?

Until now, the accomplishments of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes simply had no dedicated venue, no museum to honor outstanding achievement. That’s about to change, however, with the 2020 opening of the nation’s first U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame here in Colorado Springs. The city—already home to the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Olympic Training Center, and headquarters for 24 Olympic national governing bodies—was a natural fit for the $75 million project.  

Visible from I-25, the 60,000-square-foot museum complex is expected to attract up to 350,000 visitors annually with 60% to 80% coming from out of state, says CEO Chris Liedel. The former Smithsonian and National Geographic executive admits he’s impressed, by both the community’s enthusiasm and Team USA’s powerful impact. “Our Olympic athletes bring us together. They inspire our kids,” he says. “They truly deserve a cultural destination that brings their journey and compelling stories to life.”

Liedel also offers a behind-the-scenes account of how the museum’s unusual design started as a simple sketch. Following meetings with Olympians and Paralympians who shared their compelling stories with New York City architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, principal Liz Diller rough-sketched a concept showing a dynamic athlete in motion with Pikes Peak as a backdrop. The drawing foreshadowed the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame’s ultimate architectural design. Other key design and construction companies on the project include Anderson Mason Dale Architects of Denver, Cleveland-based museum consultants Barrie Projects, hometown general contractor GE Johnson Construction Co., and international museum strategic planning firm Gallagher & Associates.   

The building plan is iconic—both inside and out—and it is designed to honor and commemorate the inductees, athletes, coaches, leaders, and supporters of the Olympic and Paralympic movement. So what exhibits and features will we see inside?

At opening, the museum’s three levels will be outfitted with highly interactive exhibit spaces, a state-of-the-art theater, gift shop, café, and digital broadcast studio. Plans also include use of spectacular radio frequency identification technology—a topic that Liedel low-keys for now. “Count on plenty of surprises once the museum opens. We plan to deliver a ‘wow’ at every level,” he says.  

Construction is well underway. Soon after last June’s groundbreaking, an angular matrix of iron, steel, and concrete began to rise from the downtown construction site at Sierra Madre and Vermijo. Today, the project is a sea of hard hats and heavy equipment. Protective blue waterproofing skin and insulation now cover the structure’s skeleton. As it is screened from public view, it’s not unusual to see drivers slow down, wondering what’s going on. “People walking by or watching were asking about it almost every day…They’re never sure what’s coming next,” says GE Johnson Chairman Jim Johnson.

So will the new museum attract visitors and build momentum? Absolutely, say Mayor John Suthers and VisitCOS Chairman Barry Brown. In addition to elevating Colorado Springs’ national and international profile, Suthers considers the Olympic destination “catalytic,” for both the local economy and city’s skyline. The expected influx of visitors will certainly drive lodgers and automobile rental tax revenue (this is a tax paid primarily by tourists for hotel stays and car rentals) he says. “And downtown businesses—especially those in the hospitality industry—stand to see a considerable bottom-line benefit as more people stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, and shop in our stores,” he adds.  

Likewise, Brown, who has toured numerous other U.S. sports museums, considers the new Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame “remarkable” in its scope. Noting the buzz already circulating about Olympic City USA, he admits that past industry studies have shown that Colorado Springs is a place where visitors typically would come for a day or two to see Pikes Peak, the Air Force Academy, and the Garden of the Gods. “We’ll now have a wonderful reason to extend stays in the Pikes Peak region,” he says. “The U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame will help us achieve that.”