Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Colorado Springs City Council won't say yea or nay on proposed tourism projects

By Monica Mendoza Updated: September 10, 2013 at 7:42 am

Their mamas must have told them if they couldn't say anything nice, they shouldn't say anything at all.

When it comes to the City for Champions - a proposal backed by Mayor Steve Bach for four major tourism projects - the Colorado Springs City Council officially remains silent. The council will not endorse the city's proposal as two neighboring cities, Monument and Manitou Springs, have done.

"I'm very disappointed," said councilor Jill Gaebler, who wrote a draft resolution asking councilors to pledge support for the city's application to the state Regional Tourism Act, a program that awards state sales tax rebates for "extraordinary" projects that attract new out-of-state visitors. She said it was a chance for the council to find common ground with the mayor and support ideas that could transform the city.

Gaebler said the council didn't have to endorse the individual projects - a U.S. Olympic museum, an Air Force Academy visitors' center, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs sports medicine center and a downtown baseball stadium, the project that has drawn the most criticism. She was asking the council to support the vision.

Councilor Jan Martin agreed with Gaebler. "We could start from the beginning when we found out we had not been included in the conversation or we can be leaders now and have the opportunity to support this vision," she said.

Earlier this year, a small group of civic leaders, attorneys and developers quietly put together an application seeking $82 million in state sales tax rebates that, if approved, would be the seed money to start construction on the projects that they say will boost local sales tax revenues. Details of the proposal were released just days before Bach hand delivered the application in July to the state's Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which oversees the program.

The secrecy didn't sit well with councilors, who said they had not been given a chance to weigh in on the type of projects that could be included in the application. They learned about the mayor's proposal in the press, they said.

For something touted as transformational to the city, residents should have been asked for their input too, said councilor Joel Miller, who on Sunday night posted 10 reasons why he does not support the proposal on his Facebook page.

If the state approves one or any number of the projects, the city cannot change them, he said. There is no room to come back after the fact and get public input on what the tourism projects could be, he said.

"To say you support the proposal but not the individual projects, you can't, they are connected," he said.

There is no guarantee that the state will approve $82 million in sales tax rebates. It could be less, said councilor Don Knight. He said he could not support the proposal until he has more details. For example, if the state approves less in state sales tax rebates, how would the city cover the difference? he asked.

If approved by the state, the $82 million would fund a little more than one-third of the proposal's $218.6 million cost. Organizers pledged to raise about $61 million in private money and would seek about $74 million in public money, which could include $24 million from the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority; $10 million from new market tax credits, which are used to attract investment capital through federal tax credits for individual and corporate investors; and $40 million raised from the sale of municipal bonds.

"All those numbers are estimated and the unintended consequences have not been spelled out," Knight said. "I don't want to derail this but the information I've asked for isn't there yet."

Knight said he would rather remain silent as a council until the state makes a final decision on the city's application, which is expected in December.

Meanwhile, state officials sent letters to Colorado Springs' neighboring communities and asked elected officials to comment on how the four projects, if built, would affect their cities. The state wanted the comments by Sept. 16, said Bob Cope, principal analyst in the economic development division.

Monument and Manitou Springs city councils approved resolutions endorsing the proposal. In an Aug. 26 statement, Monument Mayor Travis Easton, said he "applauds this effort to significantly contribute to the region's economy." Cope said other neighboring cities are considering resolutions of support.

Councilor Merv Bennett said he's worked on 10 capital projects in his career and they all started with an idea and vision. He would have supported a council resolution endorsing the tourism projects proposal.

"At some point you have to have a vision and test the waters and build the off ramps and the road map as you go," he said.

Of the four projects, the downtown stadium has received the most push back from residents who say there is no need to move the Sky Sox baseball stadium from its eastside location. Councilor Andy Pico agrees.

"I've been trying to stay open minded about this," he said. "I have heartburn with this thing and one of them being the Sky Sox - the idea of downtown development is great but not at the expense of other areas."

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