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City for Champions organizers aim to shine light on projects through public meetings

February 7, 2014 Updated: February 8, 2014 at 10:29 am
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photo - El Paso County Commissioner for District 2 Amy Lathen greets supporters Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at the Doubletree Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
El Paso County Commissioner for District 2 Amy Lathen greets supporters Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at the Doubletree Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Saying there are no secrets to keep or decisions being made in smoky back rooms, the organizers of the City for Champions projects will launch monthly meetings to give progress reports to the community.

Beginning this month, organizers will host a meeting every third Tuesday of the month, featuring representatives from the four proposed projects, as well as city and county staffers and legal and finance experts, said Amy Lathen, El Paso County commissioner.

"I'm not talking about drowning people in PowerPoints," Lathen said Friday. "I'm talking about a progress report."

After giving the progress reports, organizers will field questions from the media and residents, Lathen said. And there could be more than just monthly meetings if residents desire, she said.

"That is the bare minimum," she said. "Once a month, count on it like clockwork."

Some City Council members and residents have voiced concern that the public has been left out of the planning and discussion of the $250 million City for Champions projects: a downtown sports and events center, a university sports medicine facility, an Air Force Academy visitors center and an Olympic museum.

But Lathen said there are no secrets. The plans for the City for Champions project are in development, Lathen said.

"In the grand scheme of things, I think one thing that has been difficult is that people assume that this has to happen tomorrow," Lathen said. "It doesn't. We are simply in a process of vetting the numbers and the entire project."

In December, the Colorado Economic Development Commission awarded an estimated $120.5 million in sales tax rebates over the next 30 years to help finance City for Champions.

The commission's approval allows for state tax increment financing, in which a percentage of the net new sales tax generated in that specific zone over the next 30 years can be used to pay bond debt.

The plan also includes the creation of a city and county TIF, which needs to be approved by the Colorado Springs City Council. A local TIF would work the same as the state, collecting a certain percent of net new sales tax to pay down bond debt.

Some City Council members, including Andy Pico and Joel Miller, have said they won't approve the creation of a local TIF without first asking voters if they want the projects. But Lathen said the creation of the city and county TIF also is in early discussion stages, and it's too early to pose a question to voters because organizers still don't have details ironed out.

"Although there are dates that are around the corner for some of these agreements, we are not talking about local TIF financing that is going to be approved in the next month or two months," she said.

"We are talking about a process, and all of those things are going to be looked at."

The city has five years to begin the construction of the four projects and 10 years to complete them.

"We will be public about this," Lathen said.

"We won't be smoking in a back room."

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