Published: February 12, 2014
The many sights I view from my office at City Hall remind me of why my family moved to Colorado Springs all those many years ago - to be near the mountains and a thriving cultural city center, and to spend time with those who share these values.
During these years I have watched Colorado Springs become a middle-aged city; a city that once struggled through the many changes of young adulthood, but now knows itself, its strengths, and its possibilities. Colorado Springs, like many of us in the middle years, can continue down the road toward old age, doing what it can to stave off its sagging infrastructure and decaying heart, otherwise known as downtown. Or, it can take another, more difficult road, and reclaim youth, its image, and its destiny.
This is why I strongly support the vision of City for Champions. I believe it's time for Colorado Springs to create a bucket list, reinvest itself, and find ways to say 'yes' to big and often controversial ideas and visions that could forever change the city and its image throughout the state and nation. Colorado Springs' unemployment rate is consistently higher than other Colorado cities, its average resident age is rapidly increasing, and our young professionals are moving to other cities along the Front Range. As a middle-aged city we can choose to ignore these statistics, along with our crumbling infrastructure, or we can focus on the quality of life our residents demand-as verified through the annual Quality of Life Indicators Report - and work harder to create a city that is vibrant, engaging, supportive, and one where people from all walks of life want to visit and live.
City for Champions has received approval from the Colorado Economic Development Commission, who has promised as much as $120 million in new sales tax revenue to fund our C4C projects. These are our tax dollars that typically stay in the Denver area, supporting their projects and infrastructure. Any local funding will support only the two downtown projects and will come from established urban renewal bonds and tax increment funding. This means residents won't be asked to increase sales taxes, but to only provide up to 13 percent in future tax revenues, to be realized from tourists who visit our city because of these new projects. Yes, that also means that at least 87 percent of these new tourist taxes will go directly to the city's general fund. I call that a great return on our investment.
Does the public need more details regarding the downtown projects? Probably. But I guarantee the public and City Council have seen far more details for these two projects than we've ever before seen for any local urban renewal project.
Should the people vote on these two downtown projects? Maybe. But for the record, local citizens have never before voted on an urban renewal project, so any vote to allow private bonders to invest in these projects and allow increment financing would be setting quite a precedent and would not be consistent with established city policies.
City for Champions will be a much needed catalyst for many other important projects and visions for our city. As sales tax revenues rise from the increase in new tourists, we will have the funds and momentum to address critical infrastructure needs like stormwater, along with projects that are dear to my own heart, like the Public Market, a Science Center, downtown streetcars, additional creek side amenities, and the revitalization of S. Academy.
As construction begins along the horizon, Colorado Springs will experience an exciting vibe that will reverberate throughout the state, catching the attention of many intrepid young professionals (and hopefully my own teenagers, who currently have very few career opportunities in Colorado Springs) and primary employers, who will notice the change in our direction and will want to travel the road with us toward this new destiny.
It's time to catch this vision. It's time to fight for our community and its future. It's time to find a reason to say 'yes'. As a city we can drift aimlessly toward old age, losing ground with other Colorado cities, or we can take control of our destiny. We can choose scarcity or abundance. We now have this choice before us.
Let's choose the road less traveled, because that will make all the difference.
Jill Gaebler represents District 5 on Colorado Springs City Council.