Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

City for Champions backers optimistic they'll snag state money for Colorado Springs projects

By Rich Laden Updated: November 15, 2013 at 9:29 pm 0

Backers of the City for Champions proposal say they are confident they'll have enough money from Colorado Springs-area sources to nab state money for four tourism projects in their plan, but conceded they don't have the cash in hand.

It could be an important consideration as state economic development officials weigh next month whether to approve the plan, which calls for construction of a multiuse sports center, a U.S. Olympic museum, a new Air Force Academy visitors center and a sports medicine and performance center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

An independent consultant said in a recent report critical of the plan that the state money is to be used to push a project toward completion, not serve as seed money.

On Friday, Bob Cope of the city's Economic Vitality Division and part of the City for Champions team, acknowledged that the group doesn't have "iron-clad commitments," even though several backers - including the El Pomar Foundation and El Paso County - have submitted letters indicating financial support.

El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen said private sources are "there and ready" as soon a backers receive state funds, and Cope believes the commitments and other potential funding streams provide "as solid a financing plan as you could have at this stage in the process."

"Once we find out what the award is from the state, then we can begin to drop those numbers, those figures into the spreadsheets and leverage the private funding," Lathen said.

The comments came during a news conference in which City for Champions backers showed off a rendering of a new downtown sports venue, using it as a jumping-off point to tout what they say will be community and economic benefits from the projects.

Backers said they expect the revisions they made to their proposal in response to the consultant's report will help them make a compelling case to the Colorado Economic Developmenet Commission, which will decide in December if they get the money.

City for Champions' biggest change: Transforming what was to be a downtown baseball stadium and multi-use facility into what's being called the Colorado Sports and Event Center. It would host Olympic and other sporting events and play off the Springs' Olympic presence. The venue - which appeared in the rendering to be shaped more like a football or soccer stadium - still would seat 10,000 people, but now would include an additional 3,000-seat indoor facility for basketball and other sports.

"This new approach showcases our true Olympic identity," Lathen said. The center, she said, would be "wholly unique" to Colorado - providing a venue for events staged by some of the two dozen Olympic national governing bodies that have headquarters in the Springs. The center also would help the city recruit other amateur sports groups, Lathen said.

The upgraded facility, however, will cost $92.7 million compared with the original cost of $60.7 million.

The stadium and other projects now carry a price tag of nearly $251 million, up from $218.6 million.

At the same time Friday, City for Champions backers clarified the proposal's finances and the amount of money they say they're seeking from the state.

Despite comments made this week by a project spokesman, City for Champions backers said Friday they stand to receive less money - not more - from the state than what they originally sought.

In July, City for Champions backers submitted an application to the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade, seeking funds under the Colorado Regional Tourism Act. That law allows communities to qualify for state sales tax money to help pay for tourism projects, but only if they demonstrate the projects would attract visitors who otherwise wouldn't come to Colorado.

Backers originally estimated their proposal would qualify to receive $173.2 million in state sales tax money over 30 years, which they said would be used to pay off $82.1 million in bonds issued for the projects.

But Economic Planning & Systems Inc. of Denver, the consultant hired by the state to analyze City for Champions, questioned attendance figures and other economic projections in the proposal. As a result, the firm said City for Champions should qualify for only $31.4 million in state funds.

In turn, the response submitted last week by City for Champions supporters challenged some of the consultant's findings. Still, City for Champions backers accepted some of the consultant's conclusions, which lowered the outlook for sales tax revenue that the projects would generate.

As a result, City for Champions backers now say their projects would capture $120.5 million in sales tax revenue over 30 years - not the original $173.2 million - which will support a bond issue of less than $82.1 million.

How much less? Backers don't know, Cope said, but will have the figure before they present their proposal to state officials in December.

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Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228

Twitter @richladen

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