February 19, 2014 Updated: February 19, 2014 at 10:41 am
City for Champions supporters got a big taste of public sentiment Tuesday when about 150 people attended the first of what backers say will be a series of monthly meetings to update the community on the direction of the tourism initiative.
And the public clearly came ready - questioning the proposal's finances, whether construction of two City for Champions projects in southwest downtown would pose an environmental hazard by disturbing contaminated soil and whether the downtown projects take into account the looming presence of the Martin Drake Power Plant, among other issues.
City for Champions, the proposed $250.6 million package of four tourism projects proposed by Mayor Steve Bach and civic and business leaders, has become a hot topic in the eight months since it was proposed. As envisioned, it includes a downtown Olympic museum, a downtown sports and event center, a new Air Force Academy visitors center and a sports medicine and performance center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
The projects would be paid for, in part, with money from the state's Regional Tourism Act, which makes state sales tax revenue available for tourism projects if communities demonstrate they'd attract new visitors to Colorado.
In December, the Colorado Economic Development Commission approved funding for City for Champions that equates to $120.5 million over 30 years; the rest of the money will come from private and public sources, although City for Champions' backers have said the projects' $250.6 million price tag is an estimate and will change.
During the meeting at the Pikes Peak Regional Development Center, City for Champions backers spent about 20 minutes giving an overview of the four projects before opening the meeting to questions and comments from the public - some of which were polite, but a few of which were pointed.
When it came to financing the projects, Bach reiterated comments he's made that there would be no tax increase for City for Champions - "not on my watch," he said. Bach also said that while he supports the projects in concept, and sees them as a potential boost for the local economy, their finances still need more scrutiny.
That will come, in part, from a consultant being hired by El Paso County and the city, said County Administrator Jeff Greene. As envisioned, the city and county would not be liable for any financial problems of the projects should they occur, he said.
Bill Murray, a former City Council candidate, complained that City for Champions proponents haven't been transparent - withholding financial figures that would show the true costs associated with operating the four venues. City for Champions backers have said such financial and operational documents - called pro formas - contain proprietary information that can't be released because they involve vendors and businesses who work with UCCS, the academy and the like.
Kat Tudor, founder of the Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts, said she's heard no discussion of the cost or potential problems related to the cleanup of contaminated soil in southwest downtown left over from the operation of a coal gasification plant from 1890 to 1931. The museum and sports and event center are targeted to be built near that area.
"Who could we trust to do this in a safe way that would not contaminate the area further?" Tudor said.
Bach said it's essential that the contamination be addressed; city officials have known of the problem for years.
Chip Landman, a city resident, suggested that whatever is done involving the downtown projects, planning should take into account the Martin Drake plant, which often spews a billowing cloud of steam and could have an adverse impact on the City for Champions projects in the area. The City Council, meeting as the utilities board, is scheduled to hear a report Wednesday on the future of the Drake plant.
Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228