August 12, 2013 Updated: August 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm
A sports medicine center with a high-altitude track that caters to wounded warriors could do for Colorado Springs what the Mayo Clinic does for Scottsdale, Ariz., said Pam Shockley-Zalabak, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs chancellor.
It could put the city on the medical tourism map, she said.
Clients would seek out sports medicine, sports nutrition and sports wellness at the UCCS center and because of its location in a tourist town, they would bring their families and stay a few days. At least that is her goal.
A sports medicine center and an Air Force Academy visitors center are among four tourism projects proposed by the city to receive state sales tax rebates.
The state's Regional Tourism Act was designed to give cities sales tax dollars to launch "extraordinary and unique" tourism projects that would boost visits from out-of-state tourists.
University and Academy officials believe their projects would attract out-of-state visitors and should be considered by the state for the RTA program.
In the years since 9/11 when security checkpoints were added, visitors to the Air Force Academy have dropped to about 440,000 a year from 700,000, said David Cannon, academy spokesman. It concerns the academy, which wants to boost its national presence.
Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, outgoing academy superintendent, envisioned a new, 32,000-square-foot, $20 million visitors center, just off Interstate 25 and east of Falcon Stadium. It would be open to the public without security checkpoints and officials believe it could draw as many as 800,000 visitors a year, Cannon said. Parents weekend alone at the academy brings in an estimated $7 million to the local economy.
"Anything we can do to bring more people to the Pikes Peak region helps business, restaurants and hotels," Cannon said. "When those visitors come in numbers we think that helps the city with its infrastructures."
Under the state sales tax rebate program, the projects would require private funding to supplement the costs. The academy would have to raise $11 million through its endowment organization to cover the costs of the total project. Cannon said that would not be a problem.
"The endowment can put together the right kind of program and sell this as a worthwhile investment," Cannon said. "It will help the Air Force Academy in telling our story to taxpayers."
Shockley-Zalabak said a UCCS sports medicine facility could draw 25,000 visitors a year with about 30 percent of those from out of state.
"There are historic examples of creating solid medical tourism," Shockley-Zalabak said. "That is a vision within the health care system broadly and in Colorado Springs."
A $27 million sports medicine center is part of the university's long-range strategic plan, which envisions an eight-building health and wellness village on North Nevada Avenue. If the state approves the project for the tourism dollars, the project would be accelerated.
UCCS would be responsible for raising about $17 million in private money to cover the balance of the project, which could open by 2016. Shockley-Zalabak said it could be done.
In January, UCCS will open the Lane Center for Academic Health Science building, a project that created a partnership among UCCS, private donors and private investors, including Peak Vista Community Health Centers. UCCS would follow a similar model for a sports medicine center, she said.
"These projects really advance the entire community," Shockley-Zalabak said. "We enter them to assist the university, but when we can be part of big projects, the community gets every bit of financial return as the university."