Published: July 1, 2013
If Colorado Springs is successful in its bid for state sales tax rebates to build four major tourist attractions, the City Council would have to be involved.
That hasn't been the case so far.
On Monday, Mayor Steve Bach unveiled a plan that has the city going after $82 million in state sales tax dollars to build a downtown multiuse stadium, a U.S. Olympic museum, a university medicine and performance center and an Air Force Academy visitor center outside the base gates near Interstate 25.
Bach and a group of civic leaders have quietly been working for six months on the 75-page application to the state's Regional Tourism Act program, created as a way for local governments to get sales tax rebates on projects that bring in tourists. The projects must be "unique and extraordinary" and must show an increase in out-of-state tourists, according to the application guidelines. The state expects to approve the winning projects by mid-December.
The city's proposal has gained support from organizations that include the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Downtown Development Authority, the El Pomar Foundation and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.
But City Council President Keith King said the council members learned about the proposal by reading a story in The Gazette on Saturday.
"I think it would have been beneficial for council to hear about this besides reading it in the paper," King said. "I think communication is always better . . . it would have been nice to have a heads up."
The previous council approved spending $75,000 to hire consultants to help put the application together, but "the council did not know the specific projects," Bach said. He said he thought the former council would have briefed the new council, which includes six new members who were sworn in April 16.
Bach said he was sorry if the council felt left out.
"It is the mayor's responsibility to develop ideas that have a major impact on the community," Bach said.
Those involved with writing the proposal said keeping the details under wraps was critical, because they didn't want to tip their hand to other cities that might apply for the sales tax rebates. The process is competitive, and the state will choose only two cities to participate in the program, said Bob Cope, the city's principal analyst in Economic Development Division.
The state program was set up for two cities to be approved each year for three years.
Last year - the first year of funding - six cities or counties applied to the program and two were approved - one in Aurora, the other in Pueblo. City officials say the four projects included in the proposal could attract 1.1 million visitors a year. Of those, about 372,000 would be new out-of-state visitors. Over 30 years, the four venues could see $500 million in new state sales tax revenue, according to the application the city plans to turn in by Monday. Locally, the city expects those out-of-state visitors to spend 6.7 million a year in the region.
One proposed project is a downtown multiuse stadium which is envisioned as the new home to the Sky Sox minor-league baseball team but could be used for other events and activities. An analysis by Summit Economics, a Colorado Springs-based research firm, said a downtown baseball stadium would put about $320,000 a year in sales tax revenue into the city's coffers; create 224 jobs; increase tourism; and bump up downtown retail sales by 16 percent on game days and 5 percent overall per year.
In May, Bach's office, working with the Regional Business Alliance, sent out a survey to gauge community interest in a downtown stadium. However the results of the survey have not been released and were not part of the city's application to the state.
Bach said other projects that are in various stages of planning for downtown, including a childrens museum and a science center, were considered as part of the proposal, but the four that made the cut were chosen because there was momentum behind them. For example, a board of directors has been working on obtaining private funding for a downtown U.S. Olympic museum and has set up an endowment fund. The goal would be for the museum's board to raise about $32 million of the total $59 million project, according to the city's application.
If the state approves the four projects the state sales tax rebate, which would be about $2.7 million a year, would be used to fill in the gap and jump-start the projects, Bach said.
He would look within the city's budget to find the public portion of the money.
"We will begin a conversation with the City Council and with the community to find other ways to provide funding," Bach said.
King said he is not sure if the council deliberately was left out of planning the city's application to the state. But if the state approves the four projects, council would need to be involved in issues of zoning and possible bond sales, and would need to approve any general fund spending, King said.
"It would be great to have had the opportunity to be involved in it," King said. "I'm optimistic the council will have its voice heard."