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City Council meeting Monday to discuss City for Champions projects

January 30, 2014 Updated: January 30, 2014 at 9:09 pm
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From left, Colorado Springs City Council members Jill Gaebler, Andy Pico, Helen Collins and Don Knight listen to testimony as the council prepares to vote on proposed electric and natural gas rates Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at City Hall. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Colorado Springs City Council President Keith King wants the council to take a lead role in the development of the City for Champions projects, despite having been cut out of the initial planning.

King will ask the council at a special meeting on Monday to approve a resolution that details the City Council's responsibilities in the finance and land use plans for the City for Champions tourism projects.

"If we are going to be the financial gatekeeper of this project and we don't' do our homework on the finances, then I think we've been derelict in our responsibilities," he said.

King also will ask the council to set up town hall meetings for citizen input on the four planned tourism projects: a downtown Olympic museum; a downtown sports and events center with a 10,000-seat stadium and 3,000-seat arena; an Air Force Academy visitors center; and a sports medicine and performance center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. A 1,500-space parking garage and pedestrian bridge, among other downtown improvements, also are part of the estimated $250 million proposal.

"Let's get real," King said to council this week during a retreat. "This is going to be contentious. We might as well cut to the chase - are we willing to make those decisions, and when do we want to make them?"

King said council could have input into the governance of the new advisory board that will be created to oversee the projects, and could also play a role in the financing, taxing and management of the projects. The council also could let those decisions be made without input, he said.

King made a pitch for taking a lead in the projects, saying it could be one the biggest decisions the council makes for the next 30 years.

"Will we drive the issues that we've been elected to?" King asked the other council members.

Last summer, Mayor Steve Bach submitted an application to Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade seeking funding under the state's Regional Tourism Act. 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.

The council was not included in the planning and development of the city's application to the state. King said he learned about the multi-million dollar plans for four major tourism projects in The Gazette.

In December, the Colorado Economic Development Commission awarded an estimated $120.5 million in state sales tax revenue over 30 years to help finance the projects; the rest of the money must be raised from private and public sources.

Council member Jan Martin said the City for Champions is not the council's project, and it should not try to run it.

"This is not a process for council to lead," Martin said. "I don't see that as our role."

But the state guidelines for the projects reveal that the City Council has primary approval authority for the City for Champions financing, said council member Joel Miller. For example, the creation of a sales tax incremental financing district would require council's approval.

"I don't want us to run it, but I want us to do due diligence and get the facts," Miller said. "This process has been going on for a year and the only reason they brought us in now is for financing decisions."

King said if the council wants to be a player in the projects, it needs to act quickly. The city's first deadline is March 16, when it must submit a plan outlining phases of the projects' development to the state. Then, by April 16, the city needs to have a contract with the state that spells out the finances for the projects. King will propose that the council review the contract with the state and provide input before it is submitted. He also says the council should review all the finance plans for each of the four projects, and that each phase of development should get council approval before proceeding.

"I think we should be a major player," King said. "We have been excluded and we have not been allowed to be a major player."

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