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City attorney says City for Champions project is not convention center

February 25, 2014 Updated: February 25, 2014 at 7:58 pm
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City for Champions United States Olympic Museum rendering December 18, 2013

The proposed City for Champions downtown events center is not a convention center, interim city attorney Wynetta Massey said.

It was one of a dozen questions related to the proposed $250 million City for Champions tourism projects that City Council sent to Massey for a legal opinion.

Last summer, Mayor Steve Bach submitted an application to Colorado's Office of Economic Development and International Trade seeking funding under the state's Regional Tourism Act for the City for Champions projects. The law makes state sales tax revenue available for communities that show their projects would attract new, out-of-state visitors who would pump money into Colorado's economy.

In December, the Colorado Economic Development Commission awarded a percentage of future state sales tax revenue to help build the projects, which translates to an estimated $120.5 million over 30 years. The rest of the money must be raised from private and public sources. As part of the state's decision to allocate funds, the Urban Renewal Authority will act as the local financing entity - using its borrowing authority to help get the projects built.

Since then, the City Council has had questions about who is in charge of the projects and what its role might be in the projects, which are a downtown Olympic museum, an Air Force Academy visitor's center, a university sports medicine complex and a downtown events center.

Massey returned three memos this month with her answers and the council discussed the questions and answers Monday during its work session meeting.

City Council wanted to know whether the proposed 10,000-seat downtown events center could be classified as a convention center. The distinction is important, council members said. If the proposed downtown events center had met the legal definition of a convention center, then Colorado Springs residents would have had to vote on it, per city law.

Massey said the proposed event center will be a multi-use athletic facility and not a convention hall for conferences and trade shows.

"The proposed (Colorado Sports and Event Center) is not a convention or conference center," Massey wrote. "Rather, it is a multi-use athletic facility that is primarily designed to host various outdoor, and some indoor athletic competitions, such as Olympic qualifying events, amateur athletic tournaments and possibly professional sports in a stadium-like facility with a spectator seating capacity of approximately 10,000."

In 2005, Colorado Springs voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure restricting the council's ability to discuss plans for a convention center. Voters added the convention center issue to the city's charter. It says: "Colorado Springs shall be prohibited from planning, building, funding or financing a convention center with or without a hotel or another ancillary structure, unless a majority of voters gives prior approval to complete the project at a regular or special municipal election."

In two other memos to City Council, Massey outlined other issues related to the proposed projects.

- The milestone report from the city is due to the state's Economic Development Commission March 16 and is a letter of intent from the applicant, which is the city of Colorado Springs, and its partners, stating a plan to move forward with the approved Regional Tourism Act projects. The report will include financing commitments, land acquisition, target dates, engineering and architectural planning timeline and a construction timeline. Massey said she expects the report to be ready for the City Council to review by the end of the week. The council, however, does not sign the report. Mayor Bach will sign and present it to the state.

- The Regional Tourism Advisory Board's role will be to advise the city, as the applicant, and the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, as the financing entity, on matters for the proposed projects. The board is not advisory to City Council. Mayor Bach has the authority to appoint members of the advisory board, which will shepherd development of the City for Champions tourism projects.

In his monthly press conference Feb. 18, Bach said Massey told him he had unilateral authority to appoint the advisory board.

"I could on my own decide who is going to participate on that board," he said. "Instead of that, I have asked City Council President Keith King and El Paso County Commission chairman Dennis Hisey to co-chair -- not be vice chairs but be co-chairs, I understand that is the appropriate way to proceed."

- The meetings of the RTA Advisory Board - whose members will include Bach, King, Hisey, representatives from each of the four projects and other community members -will be open to the public and be noticed as public meetings. At the moment, the meetings have not been noticed as public meetings because the board has not officially been created, Massey said. A nomination committee is expected to meet with Bach Wednesday, and then Bach will make the final appointments to the board.

"We are in the midst of discussing possibly up to eight citizens to join the board from varies walks of life and perspectives and skill sets to add to the group," Bach said at the press conference.

- Mayor Bach has the authority to sign the city's resolution, also called a contract, with the state economic development corp. He is the applicant, Massey said, not the City Council. King said he was disappointed with Massey's ruling on this issue. He said he hoped City Council would be invited to sign all contracts with the state, along with Mayor Bach.

"The city is composed of two branches of government -- one is the executive and one is legislative and both have delegated authority on how we run the city," he said.

Bach said the City Council and County Commission will have an opportunity to comment on the contract before he sends it to the state.

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