January 16, 2014 Updated: January 17, 2014 at 9:13 am
Concerns that the Colorado Springs City Council cannot get financial information about the City for Champions project should be laid to rest, Mayor Steve Bach said.
The full financial picture on four tourism projects is being developed, he told council members and El Paso County commissioners on Thursday at the first joint meeting on the City for Champions project.
"I know some of you are very concerned about finances," he said. "We will have to look into the costs of this, particularly the event center."
Bach hosted the meeting to discuss the timeline of the City for Champions project, which includes a downtown U.S. Olympic museum, a downtown 10,000-seat stadium and 3,000 seat events center, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs sports medicine complex and an Air Force Academy visitors center.
In December, the Colorado Economic Development Commission awarded an estimated $120.5 million over 30 years to help finance the project. To get the state tax increment financing - a percentage of the net new sales tax generated in a specified zone - the city must break ground on the projects within five years and complete them within 10 years.
The city's first deadline is March 16, when it must submit a phasing plan to the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the office that oversees the state's Regional Tourism Act program. By April 16, the city should have a contract with that office, said Jason Dunn, an attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck who worked on the city's application.
Dunn and city and county attorneys are working on drafts of the phasing plan and contract that could soon be reviewed by the council and the commissioners. He said the contract between the city and state office will spell out finances, meeting and audit requirements.
Another short-term requirement is for the city to establish an advisory board to oversee the City for Champions project. Bach suggested that he, City Council President Keith King and County Commissioner Chairman Dennis Hisey could co-chair the advisory board, which also would include a representative from each of the four projects plus some community members.
Council member Joel Miller was disappointed that financial details were not discussed at the joint meeting because of the looming deadlines. The projects' combined cost, along with a downtown parking garage and other public improvements in the area, would total $250 million. It's the gap between $120 million in state funds and the $250 total cost that has Miller said has him worried.
Miller said he has repeatedly asked for the financial breakdown from the city's economic vitality specialist but has not received any information. Instead, he filed requests, under Colorado Open Records Act, for the documents that were part of the city's application to the state.
Miller said he worries there will be no public discussion on the projects before the April 16 deadline to sign a contract with the state.
"We are giving the impression that we want a robust community conversation, but behind the curtain we're drawing up construction plans and barreling forward," he said.
Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said there have been at least 40 community presentations on the City for Champions projects. In fact, he said, it was through those meetings that organizers of the project learned that residents did not want a baseball stadium downtown. That's when the baseball stadium plan changed into a Olympic-style stadium, he said.
Council members said the concept has been well explained. But the council needs financial details because it is responsible for updating the Urban Renewal Plan. "Council has to come up to speed - we have to be educated," said council member Don Knight, who said the only City for Champions document he has is the city's initial application, which was modified.
Bach said financial details would be rolled out in a three-hour Jan. 27 City Council meeting, when the city's economic vitality specialist has time to go through the project.
"Let's consider this a new day," Bach said.