Updated: March 18, 2014 at 10:03 am
A proposed City for Champions downtown sports and events center took a new turn Monday when five City Council members signed a letter saying they would not authorize the creation of a special taxing district to finance the $92 million center without asking voters.
The move puts further strain between the City Council and Mayor Steve Bach, who with a group of community business men and women advanced the City for Champions proposal.
"This is political grandstanding - it's about a power struggle and it's not necessary," Bach said. "I'm really disappointed. I hope we can get back on track."
CITY FOR CHAMPIONS MONTHLY COMMUNITY MEETING: Organizers of the City for Champions project will host a community meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Regional Development Center, 2880 International Circle. Project organizers will give an update on each of the four projects.
The City for Champions project also includes a UCCS sports medicine and performance center, an Air Force Academy visitors center and a downtown Olympic museum.
Of the four projects, the events center would be the only one to require local tax dollars. Under the City for Champions proposal, the downtown, 10,000-seat venue would be financed using a special tax district that could be created by the council and would not require a vote of the people.
But council President Keith King, with council members Joel Miller, Don Knight, Andy Pico and Helen Collins, said in their letter to Bach that, "we are in agreement that, prior to the expenditure of any local public funds of the city of Colorado Springs, the proposal should be approved by the voters of the city of Colorado Springs."
Bach said the City Council has approved other financing districts for economic development. He said the move appears to be an effort to tank the project before all the options have been fully studied.
"If the sports and events center is something that a majority of thoughtful, reasonable community leaders can't support, I will agree to drop it," Bach said. "But shouldn't we go through a due diligence process?"
Not all council members approved of the letter.
"I really resent Keith giving the impression that this letter is the will of council," said council member Val Snider. "I'm shocked Keith King would lead an effort like this and not include the whole council."
King said he called all council members Monday but did not reach everyone. He said it was important to move quickly before the city finalizes its contract for the City for Champions project with the state, which is due April 16.
In December, the Colorado Economic Development Commission awarded the city an estimated $120.5 million over 30 years to help finance City for Champions tourism projects. Called state tax increment financing, the city would receive a percentage of the net new sales tax generated in a specified zone over 30 years.
On Friday, Bach released a draft resolution, which is a contract with the state that promises the city will use the state sales tax to finance the four tourism projects. The resolution, among other things outlines the creation of a Regional Tourism Act Advisory Board to oversee all of the projects and ensure the organizers are meeting state guidelines and reporting deadlines. Bach co-chairs that board with King and El Paso County Commission Chairman Dennis Hisey. Council member Merv Bennett and El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen were asked to submit names of interested community members for the RTA advisory board. Bach expects to have the eight members named in the next couple of weeks.
But Bach's co-chairmen were not happy with the proposed resolution. They hosted a news conference Monday to express concern that Bach has too much control over all aspects of the City for Champions project without checks and balances. For example, among the details spelled out in the resolution is the setup of an advisory board to oversee the governing structure of the proposed events center. Options include a city-owned center or a partnership with a private developer. According to the resolution, Bach would head up that board and appoint six other members.
King and Hisey said the city and county partners should be involved in the setup of the board. Hisey said the events center board would make decisions about governance and ownership, therefore making it more than just advisory.
He said he wants to see changes to the resolution before the final version goes to the state.
"It is so important that we lay the foundation properly with these important documents," he said.
Bach said he has every intention of collecting input for the resolution from the City Council, County Commission and the mayors of outlying cities. He met with King and Hisey on Monday but said he was caught off guard by the news conference.
The city attorney has said Bach has unilateral authority to appoint the members of both the RTA advisory board and the sports and event center advisory board.
"Nonetheless, I will work on a collaborative basis with the RTA advisory board and key City for Champions stakeholders . in standing up the board membership," Bach said.
Bach said the council recently approved a tax increment financing district for Copper Ridge development on the north side of the city, which includes Bass Pro Shop, and rebates a portion of sales tax back to the developer.
"We are talking about the same kind of financing here for the sports and events center," Bach said.
Bach said his support of the events center is contingent on how the finances shake out.
The City Council has the final word on the events center, Bach said. The council has authority over the city's Urban Renewal Plan, which must be updated to include the events center and the Olympic museum.
"All they have to do is vote against updating the urban renewal plan," Bach said. "They know that. I don't understand why there are these continuing attempts to disrupt this before we can even get through due diligence."