After nine months of mostly budget and procedure discussions, the Colorado Springs City Council has turned its focus to economic development.
The council on Monday discussed ways the city can attract businesses and create jobs.
It will consider creating a tax-free zone around the Colorado Springs Airport that supporters say could attract aviation businesses.
Council President Keith King said economic development is an area in which the city and the council could be doing better.
"We are excited about an opportunity to try and create jobs in Colorado Springs and open a process that will hopefully encourage other business to come to Colorado Springs," he said.
King announced the proposed commercial aeronautical zone at a news conference Monday morning at the National Museum of World War II Aviation. He then introduced the ordinance to the council at its work session Monday afternoon. King said a tax-exempt zone around the airport could draw back businesses that pulled out of the airport in recent years because of a 2.5 percent sales and use tax.
It would also be a selling point to attract new businesses, he said, and give the Colorado Springs Airport a competitive edge.
The city currently collects about $200,000 a year in sales and use tax from the aviation businesses in the proposed tax-exempt zone. King said the upside to losing the tax money would be the attraction of new businesses and jobs.
The proposed tax-exempt aeronautical zone has the backing of Mayor Steve Bach and aviation director Dan Gallagher.
"This is one of the strategic planning goals of the council," King said. "How can we better the economy and how can we bring more jobs to Colorado Springs?"
The council also will consider developing regulations that influence how the North Nevada Avenue and South Academy Boulevard corridors redevelop. Members of the North Nevada and South Academy economic opportunity zone task forces - created by Bach - presented recommendations to the council Monday on how the city could jump-start the two economically declining areas.
For instance, the council could develop regulations with the city's planning department that affect the types of businesses attracted to the areas. Councilman Don Knight, who served on the North Nevada task force, said the council's role in economic development is to reduce bureaucracy.
"We could create a faster permitting or approval cycle, for example," Knight said.
Nevada Avenue north of Garden of the Gods Road was declared an urban renewal site in 2004 and was transformed from a string of old motels and businesses into the University Village Colorado shopping center.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is making improvements along Nevada's east side. It just opened the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences and it envisions more development, including a sports medicine and performance center as part of the City for Champions project.
The North Nevada task force was charged with considering land from UCCS to the Old North End. In that area, the council could consider city-funded infrastructure improvements including roads and utilities, or reducing city fees.
The South Academy zone, which covers 12 square miles between Maizeland Road and Drennan Road, has a population of 70,000.
There, the council could consider a partnership with Colorado Springs Utilities to bury power lines. Councilwoman Helen Collins cautions against declaring any part of South Academy blight, which she worries would lead to the use of eminent domain.
Task force members said blight and use of eminent domain were not considered in their report. Instead, the city could look for grants to help businesses and homeowners improve their property, they said.
Councilman Andy Pico said council members have been working on a number of economic development issues.
"It's taken awhile to develop concrete proposals," he said.
The task force reports are only a first step, Knight said. One of the recommendations is for Bach to appoint a project manager to oversee the two corridors and coordinate efforts among city departments, the council and private businesses.
Meanwhile, the council is ready to act on the airport tax-exempt zone. Pico, who co-sponsored the proposed ordinance, said the council is expected to vote on the proposed zone in two weeks.
"This is a step in the way of trying to make the city very business-friendly," Pico said. "It's a first step and I think a significant one."
Gallagher said the tax-exempt zone won't solve all the problems at the airport."Right now this tax abatement will put us on par and far exceed what other cities offer," he said. "It's not going to open the flood gates, but slow growth in this economy is what we need."