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Enthusiastic crowds greet kickoff of effort to win support for City for Champions proposal

September 5, 2013 Updated: September 5, 2013 at 9:05 pm

A public relations campaign to win community support for a package of proposed tourism projects began Thursday with those behind the City for Champions speaking at community meetings and launching a new website.

Doug Price, Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO, and Chris Jenkins, a Downtown Partnership board member and president of Nor'wood Development Group, outlined the city's proposal for tourism-related projects - including a downtown baseball stadium and U.S. Olympic museum - at a Downtown Partnership meeting in the morning and later at an alumni meeting of Pikes Peak Leadership and Colorado Springs Leadership Institute. Each venue had about 100 people in attendance that seemed enthusiastic about the plan.

"I am excited about this," said Belinda Cornelius, a recruiter at Pikes Peak Community College. "We need something to happen in Colorado Springs - we need to bring people here."

Not everyone has been as excited about the proposals, including the City Council. The plan has been criticized by some residents and council for not including public input and instead being kept secret until the application was turned into the state in July.

Price and Jenkins, both instrumental in putting together the city's application to the state's Regional Tourism Act program, say Thursday's events were the first of many speaking engagements to discuss the proposal. Mayor Steve Bach also is promising town hall meetings in the coming months to discuss details of the $218 million proposal, which he believes will generate $200 million in new sales tax revenue over the next 30 years.

Colorado Springs is the only city that applied this year for state sales tax rebates through the tourism program, which was created in 2010 for local municipalities to get sales tax rebates on projects that bring in out-of-state visitors.

State law says the projects must be of "extraordinary and unique nature and contribute significantly to economic development and tourism." A decision by the state is expected in December.

The city is asking for $82 million in state sales tax rebates to jump start the construction of the four projects, which also include a U.S. Air Force Academy visitors' center and a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs sports medicine and performance center.

Organizers of the plan believe $61 million can be raised in private money. The rest of the funds, about $74 million, would come from 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 from the sale of municipal bonds. The venues could be open by the end of 2016.

The details beyond winning the state money have not been hashed out, Jenkins said. Part of the state requirement is that the rebates are for projects that would not happen if not for the state funds. So, there is no pot of private funds collected, he said. Instead, backers of the plan believe private money could more easily be raised if the state commits to funding a third of the cost of projects, he said.

Part of the proposal includes a downtown multi-use stadium, which has been pitched as the future home to the Sky Sox minor league baseball team. The stadium could be used for concerts and home shows, Jenkins said. Critics have said there is no need to move the Sky Sox stadium downtown.

"I want to be clear here, this is designed for 200 events a year," Jenkins said. "There are only 75 baseball games a year."

Price said the city's general operating budget relies heavily on sales tax. The projects are meant to drive up the city's sales tax collections.

"We are asking you to talk to elected officials," Price said to the crowd. "If you like this let them know - send letters, emails, get on social media. We really could use your support."

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