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Champions backers say it's premature to put issue on ballot

March 18, 2014 Updated: March 18, 2014 at 10:40 pm
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City for Champions United States Olympic Museum rendering December 18, 2013

It will take at least a year to determine how to structure and pay for a proposed $92 million downtown sports and events center, according to City for Champions organizers.

That is why it is premature for the Colorado Springs City Council to say it will put the issue on the ballot, said Amy Lathen, El Paso County Commissioner.

Five Colorado Springs City Council members on Monday, released a letter they sent to Mayor Steve Bach saying they will not approve a special financing district to help pay for the proposed sports and events center without asking voters. Of the four City for Champions projects, the events center would be the only one to require local tax dollars.

Council president Keith King, along with council members Joel Miller, Don Knight, Andy Pico and Helen Collins, said they would not spend local tax money on the project without the OK of voters.

"My question to the City Council is, 'What would the (ballot) question be?'" Lathen said. "We need time to cultivate private investors."

Lathen was among the panel of City for Champions organizers who hosted a second City for Champions community meeting Tuesday to update residents on four proposed tourism projects: a downtown sports and events center, a university sports medicine and performance center, an Air Force Academy visitors center and an Olympic museum.

About 150 people attended the meeting, although only about a dozen asked questions or commented. Resident John Hawk said the city should spend tax money on other priorities, like roads and stormwater projects.

But organizers say the projects, once built, will generate increases in sales tax collections that could be used for purposes such as streets.

The City for Champions project was approved under the state's Regional Tourism Act program, which allows cities to keep a portion of state sales tax generated in a special taxing district. The money can be used to finance bonds that would pay for the construction of the projects. The state approved the program as a way to attract more out-of-state tourists.

The Regional Tourism Act provides funding through a tax increment financing, or TIF. That money is calculated as a percentage of increased state sales tax revenue expected to be generated by tourists who come here because of the new venues, said El Paso County Commission chairman Dennis Hisey. It's money that would not exist if not for the tourism projects, he said.

In December, the Colorado Economic Development Commission awarded the city 13.08 percent of increased state sales tax revenue collected across a large portion of Colorado Springs over 30 years, an estimated $120.5 million.

"It's not money that would have gone into the general fund," Hisey said. "I'm not sure I see a downside."

According to the preliminary financial plan, the $120.5 million will be used to pay off a bond issue of $47.5 million. But the project also describes the creation of a local tax increment financing district, and that would affect the city's general fund, King said.

The City Council can create TIF districts without going to the ballot, and it has. But King said this issue has been too controversial to ignore voters. "We have to go to a vote if we are going to spend local sales tax," King said.

City for Champions organizers said they don't know if or how much local tax money will be needed. There is a possibility that a private developer will want to pony up money for naming rights or ownership of the center.

"It's disingenuous to go to voters when you don't' have all the information." Lathen said.

Meanwhile, the county has hired a economic consultant to review estimated costs, tourists and sales tax dollars. The county hopes to have the report back in three months.

Here is an update on the other projects:

--UCCS has two sites picked out for its sports medicine and performance center. Both sites are being evaluated, said Brian Burnett, UCCS vice chancellor for administration and finance.

--Air Force Academy officials are evaluating possible sites for the visitors center, said Carlos Cruz-Gonzalez, academy director of installations. They expect to have a decision by the end of the month.

--The Olympic museum may be the furthest along in development. Its board recently sent out requests for qualifications for construction manager, design architect and exhibit designer.

The Regional Tourism Act Advisory Board, which will oversee the four projects, will be co-chaired by Bach, King and Hisey. It also will have a representative from each of the four projects, along with eight community members. About a dozen names were submitted for consideration, Lathen said.

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