City for Champions backers seeking $40 million more for Colorado Springs tourism projects

By Rich Laden Published: November 13, 2013 | 8:10 pm 0

City for Champions supporters say major revisions they've made to their proposal to develop four tourism projects in Colorado Springs will add to the cost, but bring in even more visitors than first projected. Now they want $120.5 million from the state - a nearly $40 million boost from their original request.

Backers revised their plan in response to an independent consultant's critical review of their initial application for state funding. In that first application, City for Champions backers sought $82.1 million in state funds to pay for the projects, which carried an original price tag of $218.6 million. The consultant said the projects should qualify for only $31.4 million.

The revisions made by City for Champions backers, and their responses to the consultant's review, were submitted to state officials last Friday and released Wednesday. The revised submission is the next step in the process in which City for Champions backers are seeking state money to help pay for a downtown sports facility, a downtown Olympic museum, a new Air Force Academy visitors center and a sports medicine and performance center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

A decision by a state commission on whether City for Champions will receive funding is due in December.

Highlights of the City for Champions response, and changes to the original proposal, include:

- Redesign of a 10,000-seat downtown baseball stadium and multi-purpose event center, which has increased the project cost.

The Colorado Sports and Event Center, as the venue is now being called, would become a site for Olympic and amateur sporting events and all but eliminate the original plan to make it a baseball stadium. Backers say they're "olympicizing" the venue to cement ties with the Springs-based U.S. Olympic Committee, the city's Olympic Training Center and 23 Olympic national governing bodies that have their headquarters here.

At the same time, a 3,000-seat indoor venue - including a half-dozen basketball courts, locker rooms, training facilities and other amenities - would be added. As a result, the project's cost would increase to $92.7 million from the original figure of $60.7 million. That, in turn, would drive up the overall City for Champions price tag to nearly $251 million.

- A one-third increase in the number of people expect to visit a downtown U.S. Olympic Museum. Backers now say the museum would draw 350,000 visitors in 2020 after it's been up and running for a few years, with 210,000 coming to Colorado for the sole purpose of seeing the museum. That's roughly three times as many as the consultant's estimate.

City for Champions supporters said the consultant's review underestimated the drawing power of the Olympic brand. The consultant compared the Olympics to baseball, basketball and NASCAR, but City for Champions backers and one of their own consultants said the Olympics have a much a broader appeal. An Olympic museum would have a similar draw to national venues such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the National WW II Museum in New Orleans and the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., supporters say.

- The addition of a "champions plaza," which would connect the Sports and Event Center and the U.S. Olympic Museum to the heart of downtown.

- A contention that the economic impact of the overall City for Champions proposal was shortchanged by the state-hired consultant. Backers say the consultant failed to take into account the economic benefits that will flow into the state's economy from several additional sources, such as income taxes on wages paid to employees whose secondary jobs were created as a result of the new venues, and sales tax collections on building materials used to construct new facilities.

- Additional information about the scope of a proposed sports medicine and performance center at UCCS. Backers say it would draw 26,400 new visitors a year by 2020, and would be comparable to facilities at Duke University in North Carolina and to facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania. The consultant didn't evaluate the project in its review because it said supporters failed to provide enough data about it.

To counter the consultant's criticism that City for Champions lacked financial support from locals, proponents also submitted letters indicating the proposal has backing from the city of Colorado Springs, El Paso County, the Springs-based El Pomar Foundation, UCCS and the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority.

In addition, Springs real estate company Nor'wood Development Group, which owns 21 acres in southwest downtown, said in a letter that it has committed to "sell, lease, 'condominiumize' or otherwise partner/convey" land for the sports venue and museum.

In July, City for Champions backers - including Mayor Steve Bach and a handful of civic and business groups - submitted their application for state funding to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

The funds are available under Colorado's Regional Tourism Act, which allows communities to vie for sales tax revenue to help pay for tourism projects that would attract out-of-state visitors.

As part of the process to determine whether City for Champions qualifies for funding, the state hired Economic & Planning Systems Inc. in Denver to analyze the proposal. That review criticized City for Champions in several areas, saying the project would generate less than half of the new visitors that backers estimated.

Doug Price, a project spokesman and president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said backers will conduct a media briefing at 1:30 p.m. Friday to discuss their latest plans. For now, he said, backers are "very optimistic and upbeat" in their responses to the consultant and some of the revisions they've made.

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Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228

Twitter @richladen

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