A fledgling campaign presenting itself as a grassroots effort to support Denver’s 2030 Winter Olympics bid is in fact driven by a former member of the Denver Sports Commission who has deep ties to Olympic boosters.
And whatever citizen voice may indeed be behind the effort has, to this point, been concealed from the public.
The group, 2030 Legacy Now, is run by Jeff Olson, a former Olympic skier who competed in the 1988 and 1992 games. He has a decades-long friendship with Rob Cohen, the chair of the Denver and Colorado Olympic and Paralympic Exploratory Committee, and long has been an outspoken advocate for bringing the Olympics to Colorado.
After The Colorado Independent published a story last week about proposed funding mechanisms for a potential 2030 Olympics in Colorado, Olson emailed to share the perspective of his group. “The Olympic Movement needs a great team to pioneer a new frontier…and win. Denver is ready, now,” that email stated. Olson didn’t sign his name to the email, but acknowledged Tuesday, in response to a follow-up inquiry from The Indy, that he wrote it.
Asked who was behind 2030 Legacy Now, Olson responded: “We’re CEOs, millennial leaders, experts (people, planet, places), civic leaders, Olympians (I’m one), and citizens. We are organized and poised.”
The group officially launched in mid-November, Olson says, which is also when its website — 2030legacynow.com — went live. The top of the website reads “Citizens supporting Colorado’s pursuit of a 2030 Olympic Games.”
In an interview, Olson explained that he put the group and website together in part because he wanted to combat the groundswell of anti-Olympic organizing he was seeing.
“I thought it might be time to get a citizen-led group going that was in juxtaposition to the other citizen-led group that was the naysayers,” he said. The other group is Let Denver Vote, a coalition that includes neighborhood organizers, a City Council candidate and former Gov. Dick Lamm. Almost 50 years ago, Lamm led an effort in which Colorado voters rejected the 1976 games. Let Denver Vote and its supporters have raised concerns about how a potential 2030 Olympics hosted by Denver and Colorado would be paid for.
Kyle Zeppelin, a frequent critic of city government, said he has met twice with Olson and Cohen this year. “This is not a citizen group. It’s orchestrated by the boosters. … It’s the opposite of a grassroots organization. It’s orchestrated for public consumption to make it look like there’s more public support for the Olympics.”
Said Brad Evans, an organizer with Let Denver Vote who has also met multiple times with Olson and Cohen, “Jeff Olson is not just ‘a citizen’. He’s one of the main operatives for the boosters.”
Olson said he did not include the names of anyone involved in the effort on the website or in social media — he declined to do so as well in Tuesday’s interview — because he didn’t want to get too far ahead of himself given that Denver may well lose out to Salt Lake City, the only other 2030 finalist.
“I don’t want to waste anyone’s time at this point,” he said. “One of my goals would be to be able to put forward the (names of the) leaders I’ve been able to get excited about this. If we’re given the green light, we’re going to have a citizen activation effort.”
He added that the group’s site is intentionally bare-bones — for example, the site says the “community,” “business” and “sports/rec” citizens involved are “to be announced” — because the real organizing won’t begin until after it’s known where the 2030 games are likely to be held.
“There’s a whole community that is excited about the potential and wants to voice their support if in fact we’re given the torch, so to speak, to compete,” he said.
The United States Olympic Committee — for which Olson’s wife used to work — is meeting this week in San Francisco and could select a bid city for 2030 in the next few days. The decision may be further off; Ramonna Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Colorado committee, said Tuesday the committee is not sure what to expect regarding timing of that announcement.
Robinson also said that 2030 Legacy Now “is not affiliated with the exploratory committee,” despite the fact that the committee’s chair and Olson have worked closely for many years in support of a potential Winter Games in Colorado, and have appeared together at multiple recent meetings with opponents.
Pressed for specifics on 2030 Legacy Now’s membership, Olson said there were “10 to 20” people involved “who have Rolodexes, are interested, can recruit and activate and can get the conversation going in the community, if it warrants itself.”
After being asked to identify some of the 10 to 20 people, Olson connected The Indy to Andrew Feinstein, a real estate investor and developer who chairs the River North Art District in Denver and owns the Exdo Event Center and the LGBTQ nightclub Tracks.
He said he’s “very concerned about this anti-Olympics stuff.
“I think it’s unfair, I think it’s unfounded and I think the anti crowd is getting a little more coverage than the pro crowd.”
Feinstein added that in his “social circles and business circles” he’s observed strong support for the Olympics.
Opposition has, to this point, centered largely on the fact that the Olympics have historically been high-risk projects with major cost overruns that local governments and their taxpayers have had to cover. The exploratory committee says a “new way,” based on financial support from corporations and insurance companies, can eliminate that possibility in Denver and Colorado for 2030 — though much skepticism remains on that front. Critics also say that the Olympics would be a vanity project to benefit wealthy individuals and institutions while exacerbating existing equity issues. Gov.-elect Jared Polis has shared that criticism, as have many in the progressive wings of city and state politics.
Those skeptics, Feinstein said, are obsessing over cost concerns that boosters say are irrelevant to the current debate because Colorado’s 2030 exploration calls for a new funding model that doesn’t burden taxpayers. Opponents “are being short-sighted and I think that they are overly concerned about what the games is going to cost Denverites,” Feinstein said. “I’m confused as to how this is going to cost us anything.”
There’s been little representation in Colorado media for that perspective, as Feinstein noted. In fact, some of the most attention-grabbing local pro-Olympics commentary of late came from a Twitter account called Citizens for the Denver Olympics.
That group, like 2030 Legacy Now, didn’t present any actual citizens, and tweeted anonymously before shutting down the same mid-November week it launched. Prior to deleting its account, the person or people who were running the anonymous Twitter page received heavy criticism from users in Colorado as well as anti-Olympics activists in other cities. While it was still active, the account shared much of the same perspective mirrored in the exploratory committee’s report and on the 2030 Legacy Now site.
Olson said he had “no idea” who was behind that since-deleted account, and indicated in an interview that he’d never heard of it.
“I’m not trying to hide anything,” Olson said of his pro-Olympics advocacy. 2030 Legacy Now, he added, comprises “Olympians, average entrepreneurs and small business owners, employees and CEOs. I’ve not put any of their logos or names up yet. Why bother until this thing gets going?”