The Colorado Springs City Council will soon vote on whether to award $500,000 in Lodging and Automotive Rental Taxes (LART) to support the development of a planned downtown U.S. Olympic Museum. These funds are raised by those renting hotels and cars in our city and are designated to be used to bring more tourism to Colorado Springs.
The U.S. Olympic Museum is one of four City for Champions projects that was approved by the state and is planned to receive 42 percent of the overall $120 million award for the four projects. The museum is a fabulous vision for our downtown, and although I am one of its strong supporters, I cannot support the use of our very limited tax dollars to fund capital costs for a private project, even though this project will undoubtedly be a large tourism draw for Colorado Springs.
If the city has $500,000 in excess tax dollars that must be used for tourism-related projects, the city should prioritize these dollars to support public projects that are known to attract tourists to our city.
As we all know, our Garden of the Gods has been named the most popular city park in the nation and is being loved to death by visitors and locals.
This park is a known tourist draw and needs millions of dollars to repair its many overused trails. $500,000 would go a long way toward supporting this amazing local amenity and is most definitely a higher funding priority for public dollars than any privately owned project that has very little data to show its potential tourism draw to our city.
As Mayor John Suthers recently stated, "Colorado Springs has critical infrastructure needs for which our tax dollars must be prioritized." When year after year citizen polling returns our outdoor opportunities as the most important reason that we all live here, parks and open spaces must be thought of as a part of Colorado Springs' infrastructure.
But it is even more than that.
Our parks and open spaces are also the most important economic asset and the most powerful economic catalyst this city has. Government can't create business, but we can, and have, built a community that is welcoming, affordable, and desirable in which to live and do business. We do this by focusing and prioritizing our spending on our strengths - what we have that other cities do not. In our rush to grow, we can't forget to take care of the beautiful city that was gifted to us by our founder Gen. William Palmer.
We should start by infusing Garden of Gods with excess LART dollars and continue by supporting the master plan to renovate the Shooks Run corridor, complete the Legacy Loop, and build the Summit House at the top of Pikes Peak. These are all fabulous public projects that will secure the Pikes Peak region as a world-class tourism destination, all while keeping our tax dollars where they belong, supporting and maintaining public infrastructure that improves the quality of life for the residents of Colorado Springs.
Jill Gaebler is the District 5 representative on the Colorado Springs City Council.