Published: March 2, 2014
If opponents of City for Champions want to help Colorado Springs, they will direct a helping of their distrust and skepticism up the road to Aurora.
The Gaylord hotel/convention project, a scheme concocted by Aurora city officials and one private developer, will discourage tourists from making it to Denver, Colorado Springs or other parts of the state. The giant convention center, and a planned water park and assortments of other on-site amenities, will provide a one-stop wonder for visitors. Conventioneers will get off planes, gaze at mountains while attending meetings and such, then return to DIA without getting so far as Denver.
Two residents of Aurora filed suit last week, claiming the project violates Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) and a law that prevents urban renewal boards from declaring undeveloped agricultural land as "blight." The lawsuit has full support of the Independence Institute, Colorado's conservative, limited-government public policy research center. The Aurora project, like City for Champions, was awarded a rebate of state taxes under Colorado's Regional Tourism Act. That's where similarities end.
The Gaylord plan makes City for Champions stand out as a textbook example of fair, balanced and reasonable potential use of tax-increment financing. As outlined in the Gaylord complaint - represented by conservative lawyer Shawn Mitchell and liberal lawyer Mark Gruskin - the project will collect $800 million from a newly created tax district. The phony district will channel money to one prechosen developer. The subsidy, say the two lawyers and their clients, "would be the largest in the history of Colorado."
"Through this device, Aurora gave the Gaylord developer the power to set tax rates for its property which Aurora would, in turn, give back to the developer to be used to finance the development. Aurora allowed the landowner to appoint a Denver resident to cast the sole vote needed to support the subsidy, and bind Aurora taxpayers for over 30 years," the complaint explains.
Aurora did all this and more, says the lawsuit, after waiving requirements for "public notice, publication, hearing and the filing of a bond." The deal was done before most in Aurora heard anything about it. Supporting the lawsuit is Colorado's Independence Institute, a conservative, limited-government policy organization in Denver.
"Future generations will tell historic tales about the level of corruption involved in this development," said Jon Caldara, president of the Institute.
Meanwhile, a few Colorado Springs activists have tied themselves in knots over four ideas that come under the umbrella title "City for Champions." Key word: "ideas." No one has created a tax, much less one designed to channel 100 percent of proceeds to a prechosen developer. No one has concocted an election with one voter. No one has waived public process and notice. In fact, proponents have hosted more than 40 open meetings to discuss the ideas. Opponents will likely host a variety of meetings. More hearings will follow. Nothing has been decided, much less with sinister process, mock elections and backroom deals. It's merely a public discussion about whether and how to accept the state's offer for a 13 percent return of existing state sales taxes within an existing jurisdiction.
"The reasonable and rational process taking place in Colorado Springs serves as a testament to the grossly overblown, dangerous and corrupt nature of the project in Aurora," Caldara said. "City for Champions and the Gaylord deal are two vastly different creatures."
That's because the Gaylord project epitomizes abuse of power and blatant disregard for open process and other taxpayer protections. City for Champions, by sharp contrast, has unfolded in public for months without a single decision by the City Council, the mayor or a counterfeit election of one. Love or hate City for Champions ideas, we should all appreciate the fair and healthy public process surrounding them.