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City for Champions: Private donors stepping up in Colorado Springs

February 2, 2014 Updated: February 3, 2014 at 8:01 am
photo - City for Champions United States Olympic Museum rendering December 18, 2013
City for Champions United States Olympic Museum rendering December 18, 2013 

Organizers of the City for Champions proposal believe they can raise millions in private funding needed to complete three of the four planned tourism projects without a dime of public money, they said.

Private donors and project organizers have been huddled for weeks working the numbers, said Dennis Hisey, chairman of the El Paso County Commission.

City for Champions' four tourism projects, which organizers say could bring 5,100 jobs and $6.5 billion in economic activity to the region, have received a commitment of about $120.5 million in state sales tax money.

That leaves about $130 million to be raised in private or public money to build the four venues.

But, in a release given to The Gazette, project organizers said they are confident that private foundations and donors will kick in enough money - which could be upwards of $60 million - to construct the U.S. Olympic museum, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs sports medicine facility and the Air Force Academy visitors center without city or county tax dollars.

"There is a plan to make those commitments happen," Hisey said.

A 60,000-square-foot U.S. Olympic museum is estimated to cost $59 million; a 32,000-square-foot Air Force Academy visitors center is estimated to cost $20 million; and a 77,000-square-foot UCCS sports medicine center is estimated to cost $27 million.

There are no checks in the bank and details about who the private donors are and how much each would contribute were not revealed but eventually will be, Hisey said.

"The end is not in sight yet," Hisey said. "We are still putting the pieces together. The questions are good and need to be answered. I don't know that they need to be answered in the next 48 hours."

The City for Champions plan still leaves the financing for the biggest, and most controversial, project - the downtown event center - to be determined. That project, estimated at more than $92 million, would need tax money from the county and city, said Bob Cope, a principal analyst with the city's Economic Vitality Division.

City for Champions organizers were reacting late last week to the Colorado Springs City Council's call for a special meeting Monday to discuss its role in the four tourism projects. But with no city or county dollars spent on three of the projects, which together have an estimated cost of $106 million, the projects can proceed without input from the City Council.

"Three of the four projects don't need City Council to oversee those projects," Cope said.

Hisey said City for Champions organizers hope to find corporate sponsors and private investors to drive down the cost of the event center, which would include a 10,000-seat stadium and 3,000-seat arena, a 1,500-space parking garage and a pedestrian bridge.

Private money has been part of the City for Champions financial plan all along, Hisey said. But it had been viewed early on as less than one-third of the $250 million costs for the four projects.

In recent weeks, two anti-City for Champions Facebook pages have been created as forums for the growing swell of residents who oppose the projects or question the financial viability of the projects. Some residents fear long-term debt will be more than double the $250 million price tag.

Council President Keith King said it would be fantastic if the City for Champions organizers could raise more than $60 million to pay for three of the four tourism projects, but he still questions the finance plan for the downtown event center.

"Obviously they are feeling - with the websites popping up - that they need to change the game plan," he said.

King said the council still would meet Monday to discuss its role in the projects. It still would have oversight of any city and county tax increment financing district, which could be created to pay for the remaining portion of the $92 million event center.

"And there is still a bridge and a parking garage and infrastructure costs in their plan," King said.

About a year ago, planning for the City for Champions began with a small circle of influential civic, academic and business leaders including Bill Hybl, El Pomar Foundation chairman and CEO; Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, former U.S. Air Force Academy superintendent; Pam Shockley-Zalabak, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs chancellor; Dick Celeste, former Colorado College president; and Steve Bartolin, The Broadmoor president and CEO.

The group - which also includes Doug Price, Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO, and Susan Edmondson, Downtown Partnership president and CEO - met privately to discuss tourism projects that might have a chance of winning the state dollars under the Regional Tourism Act.

The group maintains that the four tourism venues would pump millions into the local economy and make Colorado Springs a real tourist destination. In fact, the state money requires it. State law says the projects must be of "extraordinary and unique nature and contribute significantly to economic development and tourism."

In December, the Colorado Economic Development Commission awarded the city an estimated $120.5 million over the next 30 years to help finance City for Champions. To get the state tax increment financing - a percentage of the net new sales tax generated in a specified zone over the next 30 years - the city must break ground on four projects within five years and complete them within 10 years.

But even state officials had questions about how many tourists and how much money would be generated by the four projects. During the city's application process, state officials recommended the state use more conservative numbers to determine the amount of net new sales tax revenue the project should be eligible for over 30 years. A third-party analysis recommended $53 million in state sales tax money instead of the awarded $120.5 million.

That analysis has been a sticking point with residents who question why the city would continue with its financial projections, King said.

"I have been concerned about the financial makeup of how the project goes forward," he said. "And I want to make sure it's done in a way that is viable."

A Regional Tourism Advisory board, which includes King and Hisey, will oversee the projects. Its first task is to hammer out a contract by April 16 with the state over RTA funds. Once that's signed, money will begin accruing in a fund that will be managed by the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority.

"The biggest misunderstanding is that people think they will be left holding the bag somehow - that this is going to cost them, that if you are living here today and you live here five years from now you will be paying," Hisey said. "That is not true."



Colorado Springs City Council President Keith King, El Paso County Commission Chair Dennis Hisey and Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach will lead the advisory group that will oversee City for Champions projects.

The group will meet at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at UCCS, Heller Center for Arts and Humanities to begin creating a contract with the state for Regional Tourism Act funds.

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