Even as members of the United States Olympic Committee made a site visit to Denver on November 13, meeting with local and state officials and exploring the possibility of a Mile High City/Colorado Winter Olympics, activists geared up to put the question of whether residents should be able to vote on such a bid to a vote.
They were fueled by news from Calgary, where over 56 percent of that city's residents voted against hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics. Denver had already taken itself out of the running for that year, but 2030 is still on the table; Salt Lake City has already expressed interest, and hosted USOC reps this week, too.
Late last year, Mayor Michael Hancock created an exploratory committee to look into a potential Denver bid.
"The Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games present the opportunity for our community to evaluate the economic and social costs and benefits of bringing world-class athletes from around the world to our city, region and state in the spirit of competition, friendship and fair play," he said at the time. "Colorado is already a world-class destination for winter sports. This exploratory committee will determine if it is in Denver’s and the state’s best interests to pursue a bid, and whether there is strong community-based support for the effort."
In June, the Denver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Exploratory Committee released a report, accepted by Hancock and Governor John Hickenlooper, suggesting that the city and state continue exploring making a bid...but only if the Winter Games are privately funded and approved by Colorado voters.
"Based on Mayor Hancock’s original directive, supported by feedback garnered throughout the exploratory process, the Committee is recommending a new model that would allow Denver and Colorado to host the Games without any direct funding from taxpayers," the report noted. "The Exploratory Committee also recommends that any future bid effort only go forward if endorsed by a statewide vote of Coloradans in 2020 or beyond. The Winter Games would be a statewide event, with major competition venues outside of Denver and athletes and spectators from all over the state participating; therefore, a statewide referendum would empower the voters of Colorado to decide."
But Let Denver Vote isn't waiting for a statewide referendum. Organizers of the group are picking up where NOlympics left off last spring and are already collecting signatures on a citizen-initiated ordinance filed with the Denver Elections Division that would require a vote on the Olympics.
The goal, according to organizer Brad Evans, is to collect enough signatures by early January to get the proposal on Denver's May ballot. "We're halfway there," he says. "If public money is going into it, the public should vote."
Here's the relevant language:
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LET DENVER VOTE
The purpose of this ordinance is to submit to a vote of the registered electors of the City and County of Denver a proposed amendment to the Denver Revised Municipal Code concerning a prohibition on the use of public monies or resources towards a future Olympic Games without prior voter approval.
Section 1. There is hereby submitted to the registered electors of the City and County of Denver for their approval or rejection at municipal election on May 7, 2019, a proposed amendment to the Denver Revised Municipal Code as follows:
ARTICLE VIII. Election for Olympic Games §. 15-90 – Election required—Use of public monies or resources for Olympic 13 Games.
(a) The city and county of Denver may not appropriate, expend, guarantee, or otherwise use, directly or indirectly any public monies or resources for the purpose of bidding for, aiding, or furthering an Olympic Games or any event thereof without seeking and receiving prior voter approval from the registered electors of the city and county of Denver at a regularly scheduled municipal election or special election.
Section 2. The ballot for said election must contain the following title and submission clause:
Shall the Denver Revised Municipal Code be amended to prohibit the use of public monies or resources in connection with a future Olympic Games without prior voter approval?
Section 3. Each elector voting at the election and wishing to vote for or against the amendment must indicate the elector’s choice by indicating “YES” or “NO” on the ballot.
Denver has been here before...sort of. In 1970, after considerable lobbying by local boosters, the International Olympic Committee awarded Denver the XII Winter Olympics, set for 1976. “This is the icing on the cake of our Colorado centennial celebration,” declared then-mayor Bill McNichols.
And then the cake fell, as people who'd been left out of the planning process complained about the potential environmental impacts and the threat of runaway growth, not to mention the rapidly rising price tag. Led by 34-year-old state representative Dick Lamm, a group of savvy opponents launched a campaign to stop the project, putting the question of whether to spend public money on the Winter Games on a statewide ballot, as well as a separate initiative in Denver. And in 1972, Denver became the only city in history to be awarded the Olympics and then turn them down.
Will history be repeated? You can read the official report of Denver's Olympics exploratory committee here; find out more about Let Denver Vote on its website.