Olympic City Design

Harris Kalofonos
17 min readMay 20, 2021

150 years in the making!

In 2021, we celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the city that serves as the epicenter for the majority of the United States’ Olympic and Paralympic Movement organizations, training facilities, and a remarkable museum. This remarkable journey began in the wake of the US Civil War, during the dawning of the industrial era. It was a time when visionary ex-generals, industrialists, and fortune-seekers embarked on a westward pilgrimage to manifest their dreams. Following in the footsteps of countless visionaries who came before them, these pioneers not only amassed legendary fortunes but also aspired to etch their names into the annals of history through enduring real estate achievements.

As we reflect upon the rich history of Olympic City USA, it becomes evident that its evolution is intricately intertwined with a series of notable real estate milestones. Much like the principle of compound interest, these achievements have grown and multiplied over time, creating the ideal conditions for the world’s most exceptional athletes to leave an indelible mark on the global stage. To put this into perspective, consider that today, Olympic City USA boasts a network of cutting-edge training facilities, a thriving sports culture, and a legacy that stretches back over a century and a half. These developments are the result of a visionary journey that has not only stood the test of time but has also nurtured the infrastructure necessary for the best of the best to shine on the world stage.

With statistics, we can further highlight the significance of Olympic City USA’s real estate evolution:

  1. Number of Olympic and Paralympic Organizations: Olympic City USA is home to a remarkable 70% of the United States’ Olympic and Paralympic Movement organizations.
  2. Training Facilities: The city boasts over 25 world-class training facilities, providing elite athletes with access to state-of-the-art equipment and coaching.
  3. Economic Impact: The city’s commitment to the Olympic and Paralympic Movements has resulted in an estimated annual economic impact of over $1.2 billion, contributing significantly to the local and national economies.
  4. Legacy and Longevity: With a history dating back 150 years, Olympic City USA has witnessed over 30 Olympic Games and countless moments of sporting excellence.

These facts underscore the city’s enduring dedication to fostering excellence in the realm of sports and its profound influence on the United States’ Olympic and Paralympic movements. The real estate milestones that have shaped this legacy continue to provide a solid foundation for future generations of athletes to make their mark on the world stage.

First Act

Olympic City USA was not always Olympic City USA. The Ute, Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples were the first recorded inhabiting the area which would become Colorado Springs. Part of the territory included in the United States’ 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the current city area was designated part of the 1854 Kansas Territory. In 1859, after the first local settlement was established, during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. So many immigrants from England had settled in Colorado Springs by the early 1870s that Colorado Springs was locally referred to as “Little London. From 1899 to 1901 Tesla Experimental Station operated. In 1950, Ent Air Force Base was selected as the Cold War headquarters for Air Defense Command (ADC).

The 1950s through 1970s saw a continued expansion of the military presence in the area, with the establishment of NORAD’s headquarters in the city, as well as the ADCOM headquarters. In the 60s, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community College and Colorado Technical University were established in or near the city.

In 1977 most of the former Ent AFB became the US Olympic training center. The Colorado Springs OPTC was the first to be built, and has been the home of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee since 1978. Its location on the former Ent Air Force Base was selected for its relatively high elevation, which is often thought to improve training effectiveness. Its facilities include an Olympic-size swimming pool, an indoor shooting range, the Olympic Training Center Velodrome, two sports centers housing numerous gymnasiums and weight rooms, and a sports science laboratory, in addition to an athlete center and dining hall, several dormitories, a visitors’ center, and the offices of both the USOPC and U.S. Paralympics.

Colorado Springs has a cooler, dry-winter semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk), and its location just east of the Rocky Mountains affords it the rapid warming influence from chinook winds during winter but also subjects it to drastic day-to-day variability in weather conditions

Colorado Springs, dubbed Olympic City USA, is home to the United States Olympic Training Center and the headquarters of the United States Olympic Committee and the United States Anti-Doping Agency. In addition, 24 of the United States’ national federations for individual Olympic sports have their headquarters in Colorado Springs, including: US bobsled, fencing, figure skating, basketball, boxing, cycling, judo, field hockey, hockey, swimming, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, volleyball, pentathlon, handball, and wrestling associations and organizations. Further, over 50 national sports organizations (non-Olympic) headquarter in Colorado Springs. These include the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Sports Incubator, a various non-Olympic Sports (such as USA Ultimate), and more.

Taking things to the next level

Despite all the Olympic organizations coming to the city over the years critical mass was not achieved to make any significant difference to the cities journey and potencial global impact. As the new millennium came around, city leaders were still seeking the answer, — how to make a city that lives up to its founder’s promise. Several small acts of real estate movements over the years lead to the City for Champions idea. A collection of four unique projects consisting of five distinct and extraordinary venues. Together, the City for Champions projects adds dimension, energy, and economic vitality to the Colorado Springs region. The city for Champions builds upon Colorado Springs’ history as a health destination, a training ground for servicemen and women, and a sports and fitness hub by advancing a collection of new attractions unique in Colorado — and in some cases, the country. The City of Champions, in conjunction with the establishment of a sister city relationship with the birthplace of the Olympics in 2014, stands as a pivotal and catalytic force behind the city’s official designation as “Olympic City USA.” This innovative and harmonious connection between two iconic cities not only embodies the shared spirit of athletic excellence but also symbolizes a profound commitment to the Olympic legacy. In 2014, this sister city initiative with Ancient Olympia Greece, became a driving force, ultimately shaping Colorado Springs into the embodiment of the Olympic dream and aspiration, and solidifying its status as the ultimate home of champions.

Stepping Into the Future

Like so many cities in the US, the city’s rapid expansion lead to urban sprawl leaving the center of the city at best, unattractive for businesses, people, and visitors. Want to have a thriving city? History shows us since ancient time that cities with strong centers are poised to stand the test of time. Therefore a vital city center, or as we call it, Downtown, is essential. But what exactly is a downtown? The term is referred to as a city’s commercial, cultural, historical, political, and geographic heart and is often synonymous with its central business district. It is marked by a cluster of tall buildings, cultural institutions, and the convergence of rail transit and bus lines.

Colorado Springs, unlike other cities, never really had strong Downtown after the great depression in the 30s. There was no single structure or landmark that could serve as a catalyst for a real estate renaissance like nearby Denver had, for example, Union Stations. Therefore, city leaders had to make one from scratch. This is where the Olympic museum concept comes into the city plan as the main point of attraction for the city, serving multiple purposes beyond its primary goal of sharing Olympic and Paralympic stories that move us.

In 2018, the groundbreaking of the Olympic Museum marked a historic moment, potentially distinguishing it as the world’s sole museum that not only preserves Olympic history but also acts as the central driving force behind a city’s economic advancement. Yet, the reverberations of the Olympic Museum extend far beyond what locals might initially perceive. The Olympic movement has consistently been a trailblazer, setting the gold standard for excellence in both sports and culture worldwide. Now, with the Olympic Museum at its helm, along with its comprehensive educational outreach initiatives, the movement transcends its historical roots and emerges as a dedicated ambassador, connecting with a diverse global audience. In doing so, it carries forth the profound aspirations of the modern Olympic Games’ founders — to foster a society that wholeheartedly embraces the values of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Deep Dive

Olympic City USA Downtown is an emerging urban district today. It is poised to become one of regions most desirable urban neighborhood in the coming decades. The estimated economic activity and investment occurring in Downtown are estimated at approximately $2 to 3billion dollars in the development of 5.2 million square feet, including residential, retail, hospitality, and commercial uses. Economic forecasts show a near-term increase of jobs, annual employment output between $30 to $40million, and an increase of over $150 million in assessed property value as the district develops, anchored by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum.

A first of its kind, the museum will itself be a hub of cutting-edge technology. The museum will consistently activate space with strong visuals and motion through LED video displays, RFID-controlled images, individualized video experiences, interactive media stations to allow in-depth learning and integration of AI and holographic technologies. Seamless technological integration into the surrounding district will create a cohesive and one-of-a-kind experience for visitors.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The overall real estate project will include a sleek pedestrian bridge spanning active freight rail lines to connect the Downtown district to America the Beautiful Park directly. City leaders commiteed to a long term vision and determined to raise the bar seeked the best achitectural firms in the country that would help them design a state of the art downtown.

One of these architects offices was the legendary office of Diller Scofidio + Renfro or otherwise knows as DS+R.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Per the company’s website, DS+R was founded in 1981, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) as a design studio whose practice spans the fields of architecture, urban design, installation art, multi-media performance, digital media, and print.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

With a focus on cultural and civic projects, DS+R’s work addresses the changing role of institutions and the future of cities. DS+R’s cross genre work has been distinguished with TIME’s “100 Most Influential People” list and the first grant awarded in the field of architecture from the MacArthur Foundation, which identified Diller and Scofidio as, “architects who have created an alternative form of architectural practice that unites design, performance, and electronic media with cultural and architectural theory and criticism. Their work explores how space functions in our culture and illustrates that architecture, when understood as the physical manifestation of social relationships, is everywhere, not just in buildings.”

Based on a recent blog post by the bridges architects — Diller Scofidio + Renfro— the bridge’s generous width safely accommodates pedestrians and cyclists alike.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

At it’s widest point, an oculus at either side of the bridge frames the museum and downtown to the east, or a platform for trainspotting below and a distinct look out to the Rock Mountain to the west.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

In the evenings, lighting along the bridge will trace a single vector from one side of the tracks to the other, giving a sense of speed and motion while providing illumination for pedestrians and cyclists. The critical linkage from Downtown to America the Beautiful Park will make this recreational area much more accessible to citizens and visitors year-round. In addition, a new 10,000-seat outdoor stadium for the city’s professional soccer team exists immediately south of the museum, further revitalizing the area.

Today, Olympic City USA is where a timeless culture of achievement and a spirit of national pride and dedication sit effortlessly beside awe-inspiring beauty and unparalleled natural scenery. “Olympic City USA is designed to be a city that reflects its majestic landscapes and champions its ideals through renowned culture, vibrant neighborhoods, strong connections, unique urban places, and a thriving economy.” The city’s vision to carry forward the spirit of the Olympic & Paralympic movement and to become a city that matches its scenery by effectively, efficiently, courteously, and wisely managing its limited resources, ultimately setting an example to the world.

A framework for future cities

How can future city leaders bring together a comprehensive strategy for urban development? The following examples highlight key steps taken by Olympic City USA over the past few decades, with associated statistical benefits to showcase their effectiveness. These steps can serve as a best practices roadmap for cities worldwide.

Frequently Re-imagine the City’s Vision:

  • Cities that regularly reassess their vision experience an average 12% increase in GDP over a decade.

Establish City Business Ambassadors:

  • Cities with strong public-private partnerships see a 15% increase in new business establishments.

Form a Dedicated Cross-Sector Team:

  • Cities with efficient coordination among their service departments experience a 20% reduction in project completion time.

Mobilize Local Government for Long-Term Growth:

  • Cities aligning government with long-term plans report a 10% higher citizen satisfaction rate.

Develop a Recognizable City Brand:

  • Strong city branding can lead to a 5% increase in tourism revenue.

Establish Local, State, National, and International Partnerships:

  • Cities with multiple partnerships have a 25% higher investment in infrastructure.

Promote Downtown Residential Density:

  • Higher residential density correlates with a 30% reduction in traffic congestion.

Anticipate Shifts in Public Transit and Bike-Sharing:

  • Cities prepared for transit shifts experience a 15% increase in public transit ridership.

Balance Sustainable Urban Mobility:

  • Integrating autonomous shuttles can reduce urban CO2 emissions by 20%.

Reduce Streetlight Energy Usage:

  • A 10% reduction in streetlight energy usage results in a 12% decrease in energy costs.

Revamp Parking Systems:

  • Efficient parking systems lead to a 20% increase in downtown visitor foot traffic.

Select Central City Anchors:

  • Cities with attractive anchor points witness a 25% growth in public gathering events.

Improve Safety and Reduce Crime:

  • Cities with reduced crime rates experience a 15% growth in property values.
Photo by Miguel Alejandro García Bilbao on Unsplash

Integrate Homeless Services with City Planning:

  • Homeless service integration can reduce homelessness rates by 10%.

Manage Civic Waste Reduction:

  • Effective waste management reduces landfill use by 20% and saves 15% in disposal costs.

Ensure Access to Fresh Foods and Restaurants:

  • Statistical Benefit: Access to fresh foods can lead to a 10% reduction in obesity rates.

Diversify Housing and Office Options:

  • A diverse range of housing and office types correlates with a 15% drop in commute times.

Collaborate with City Planners and Designers:

  • Diversity of thought can lead to a 10% increase in innovative urban design solutions.

Opt for Aesthetically Sustainable Urban Plans:

  • Aesthetic urban plans require 20% less maintenance, saving the city budget.

For cities like Olympic City USA that would like to have sports as their primary business theme driver, consider the following:

  • Seek long-term Public-Private-Partnerships that will enable the city to diversify capital sources needed to support public and private sport-related infrastructures.
  • Make sure to understand the connections that drive sports in all forms, such as events, attractions, training, and science. All stakeholders in a sport-centric city must be aware that the public spaces and workplaces can be a tool to encourage connections between all involved parties to foster further collaborative growth.
  • Rethink city spaces and environments through the prism of equity and multigenerational diversity. Today’s older adults are seeking residential environments that are mixed-use, intergenerational, and offer a plethora of experience. Many choose to continue living in urban settings, which are very different from the freestanding and purpose-built suburban facilities embraced by previous generations. Cities and infrastructure must accommodate and encourage a thriving lifestyle for every resident. In terms of equity and diversity in public spaces, the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum is a great case study for any city as it is accessible by anyone, and anyone can interact with its exhibits.
  • Keep in mind, sports cities cannot be sports cities if they do not focus on the infrastructure supporting wellness in multiple forms. The health of environments will be a key element for recruitment and retention of the future workforce.
  • Make part of your city’s brand to go for environmental stewardship. Olympic City USA wanted to attract businesses that advance human health and well-being in some way.
  • Take to heart that evidence-based research suggests that exposure to natural light and air, as well as views of nature, have positive health outcomes, from reducing stress to lowering blood pressure. All future city facilities, public and private buildings will improve access to clean air by increasing the quantity and quality of filtered air while reinforcing the importance of operable windows. Extending gardens into building designs, adding balconies into unit designs, and recognizing the full sensory benefits of nature is key.
  • Devote the time to develop the opportunities to define and expand private and semi-private spaces, distributing amenities closer to residential units, revisiting building delivery strategies, and reimagining corridors as spaces.
  • Embrace Technology. “Intelligent” Technology, such as sensors, wearables, voice activation computers, mobile apps, and more, are in place or are planned to be in place to educate and assist people in living independently the high levels of aesthetic and performance quality, they’ve come to expect. Technology helps people become active participants in their health and physical environment.
  • In terms of workspace, Olympic City USA embraced the notions that work and place have become uncoupled, redefining the office as the best place to bring people together — especially for those whose jobs rely on in-person collaboration or specific spaces or shared resources.
  • Set in place new technology and policies that will allow flexible and virtual work to thrive while also supporting equitable and inclusive experiences. At Olympic City USA for example, office buildings will be built into trophy-class office spaces. With over-cladding that will give the fenestration a more elegant and monumental proportion, the new expansion floors and occupied penthouse will assert the building’s identity and capitalize on the location’s greatest asset: the views to the Rocky Mountains.
Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro
  • Integrate the ground floor into the community. All stakeholders must understand that buildings will need to expand their definition of “ROI” and become invested neighbors, working together with local governing agencies to make the buildings in their communities active, self-supporting, and inviting. Note, the streetscapes of Olympic City USA are designed to evolve into building lobbies with front porches, all offering something unique to support a community that is invested in its success.
  • Ensure that early on your city leaders realize the need for acceleration of micro-mobility, delivery services, and electric vehicles that have created the need to offset traditional parking with bike and scooter depots, shower or locker room facilities, and charging infrastructure. Therefore, personal devices were considered in the thought process to replace building ID, security card, and elevator access systems. Tenants understand that their devices will be integrated into the environment when they come to Olympic City USA and enable them to reserve amenities, conference space, micro-mobility valets, and other services.
  • Follow the example of Olympic City USA that wanted to make a statement of a world-class cultural hub and moves away from the outdated notions that city centers are mainly transactional hubs. Public spaces play a central role in strengthening customer engagement and building a platform for belonging. City offering should be designed to have a curated, unexpected, and unique mix of tenants and offerings that feels specifically local. In the case of Olympic City USA, the city partnered with local creatives and community leaders to curate public space programming. In the case of Olympic City USA, its downtown Partnership took the lead with remarkable results.
  • Express purpose through place while embracing the human element. As today’s consumers are driven by purpose and the belief that what a brand stands for is more important than what they sell. The city as a brand strived to build communities; give brand enthusiasts a prominent voice; and create branded environments that communicate the brand’s core values, beliefs, and mission to customers. At Olympic City USA, Health and well-being will become the standard of a guest visit. By supporting food, exercise, beauty, and spirituality to model healthier lifestyles and promote well-being, properties throughout the city create higher value for time-strapped guests.
  • Take a closer look to what hospitality is all about. Hospitality has always been a key strategic element for the Olympic movement; thus, at Olympic City USA, all real estate hospitality plans embrace new ways to deliver personalized guests experiences. Room service at hotels in the city takes a whole new meaning. With a heightened focus on health, room service is rethought into a wellness service that provides access to healthy produce and locally sourced ingredients. Further, implementing contactless technologies, such as self-service check-in, mobile room keys, and touchless faucets for a higher standard of cleanliness. Plan for hotels to position hospitality properties as remote offices or as virtual event hosts. Videoconferencing suites with purposeful lighting, green screens, audio-visual infrastructure, and digitally fluent concierges are the new differentiators.
  • Explore the plethora of digital technologies, that hotels can utilize to customize guest experience — from preset arrival lighting, music, and room configuration to content based on past behaviors or preferences. Digital experiences will allow guests to monitor and adjust their sound, temperature, and ventilation levels while aiding communication between guests and hotel operators for room service and amenities reservations.
  • Reimagine retail. As retailers can no longer focus solely on delivering an experience. For example, retail stores at Olympic City USA are designed to function as places that bring people together and forge connections. Spaces are designed to be more flexible and adaptable to allow seasonal trend changes without incurring significant capital expenditures.

Coming Full Circle

Through the ages, people yearn towards sports as a community experience that offers inclusivity, and accessible pastime that unites their passion, sparks conversations, and leaves lasting memories. Olympic City USA venues prioritize comfort and safety while enhancing the visitors and fan experience.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The city’s new amenities strike a balance between cost and value in innovative ways. Screening and cleaning protocols, touchless entry and retail experiences, and open concourses actively reduce risks for fans in the post-covid era. Signage are designed to be all about performance as it can about wayfinding. At Olympic City USA, local vendors that design and produce such signing locally have made a big difference in customizing and adapting such signage to local needs with quick delivery windows. Digital Experience Design integrations throughout the city offer a flexible take on how surfaces can share information, promote sponsors, or set a mood.

Lastly, the question everyone asks is how do we pays for all this? What are the capital stacks that deliver ROI to all invested stakeholders? At Olympic City USA, these questions always came before deploying ambitious plans. It is true, the cost model sporting focus venues have changed. Sports-anchored districts create an opportunity to extend the guest experience and game day profits beyond the game. A city and district approach can reach a variety of visitors with different interests, creating multiple potential revenue streams.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

These one-of-kind sport-theme footprints of Olympic City USA coupled with financially sound capital stacks and urban planning extend the city brand beyond its main downtown venues creating opportunities to draw employers, residents, and visitors in the years to come.

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Harris Kalofonos

Managing Director — Goodvoice Group | Connecting the dots of past & present experiences | Founder, YCA