Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach seeks citizens' support for tourism projects, airport in state-of-city address

By Monica Mendoza Updated: August 1, 2013 at 7:35 am • Published: August 1, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

Mayor Steve Bach will issue three challenges to Colorado Springs residents on Thursday that he believes could transform the city's economy.

Bach, who is set to address business leaders with his annual State of the City talk at the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance luncheon, will ask citizens to:

- Support a city-backed proposal to build four major tourist attractions;

- Fly out of the Colorado Springs Airport instead of driving to Denver International Airport for flights.

- Find a cause, like those who volunteered with Colorado Springs Together, and take action.

"We need the community pulling together in very important ways to propel our city forward," Bach said.

It will be Bach's first big push for community support of four proposed tourism projects, including a downtown multi-use stadium, a downtown U.S. Olympic museum, a university sports medicine facility and an Air Force Academy visitor's center.

Bach said the projects are vital to the city's economy and could be a solution for the city's growing list of capital, street and stormwater needs.

"We need more revenue and one way to get it is to attract out-of-state business," he said.

This month, the city applied to the state's Regional Tourism Act program, which allows municipalities to receive state sales tax rebates on projects that attract out-of-state visitors. The proposal is under review by state officials but has come under fire by Colorado Springs residents who question the need and the timing of the projects.

Bach faced off with a citizen at his town hall meeting Tuesday who criticized the city for developing tourism projects when there are $500 million in backlogged stormwater project needs.

Bach said the four tourism projects could attract 449,000 out-of-state tourists a year and put about $10 million of sales tax money into the city's coffers. The $10 million could be leveraged for bonds that cover big-ticket capital needs, he said.

"We have to play from our strengths," he said. "And we are absolutely a tourist attraction - 449,000 visitors is a good thing."

Bach described the city as one struggling to make a comeback from the recession. Since last summer's State of the City address, the region faced a second devastating wildfire, recent flash flooding, felt the impact of sequestration and has had a continued high unemployment - up to 8.4 in June.

From the start of his mayoral tenure, Bach's mantra and No. 1 goal has been job creation. His remarks Thursday will come 10 days after a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed Colorado Springs is one of two cities in the state that has not gained back jobs lost in the recession.

Last summer, Bach set a goal for the city of gaining back 6,000 civilian jobs. The number of residents holding jobs in June was up 5,975 from one year ago. He set that same jobs goal for the coming year, he said.

"It's encouraging to see we are seeing progress of civilians employed," he said. "Still, jobs continue to be a great concern to me. So many people are unemployed and underemployed."

The city saw some success with Bal Seal Engineering Inc. breaking ground on a 155,000 square-foot manufacturing plant that promises 200 jobs in the next two years and with WHPacific, an Alaska native-owned architecture and engineering company, announcing it will move its headquarters from Anchorage to Colorado Springs and employ 40 locally within five years.

But there were losses too. Quantum Corp. announced this month it would lay off 170 of its 305 employees in Colorado Springs and shift it's manufacturing to Texas-based Benchmark Electronics during the next six months.

"We have a lot of work to do," Bach said. "It's not only recovering jobs, but the quality of the jobs. We need to attract and retain, stable and well paying jobs for people."

Bach said the four proposed tourism projects could create 750 permanent jobs.

He plans to launch community meetings in the next few months to discuss the projects.

"I'm going to ask people to support the RTA proposal, or at least keep an open mind," he said. "We should be celebrating the fact that our community has some concrete plans on the table."

Bach will highlight other city initiatives in his speech, including the city's strategic plan, which will drive how the 2014 city budget is developed. He also will talk about economic opportunity zones, including downtown, North Nevada and South Academy and will call on developers to consider in-fill development. And he will issue a challenge to the Business Alliance to set specific job goals within industry sectors, particularly jobs that have economic multipliers such as manufacturing and high tech.

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