With Champions approved for Colorado Springs, planning and fundraising to begin

December 17, 2013 Updated: December 17, 2013 at 8:00 am
photo - Work underway on the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences on North Nevada Avenue Tuesday, November 26, 2013. Supporters of City for Champions envision an expansion of the health campus at UCCS beyond the Lane Center construction. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Work underway on the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences on North Nevada Avenue Tuesday, November 26, 2013. Supporters of City for Champions envision an expansion of the health campus at UCCS beyond the Lane Center construction. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Hours after City for Champions supporters learned Monday they would receive $120.5 million from the state to help fund four proposed tourism projects, and amid handshakes, hugs and high-fives at an afternoon news conference, former Colorado College President Richard Celeste had a message for the gathering:

Now, the real work begins, he said. As City for Champions backers cleared one hurdle, they face other logistical, funding and political questions.

City for Champions includes a downtown sports and events center, an Olympic museum, a new Air Force Academy visitors center and a sports medicine and performance center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Backers estimate the combined price tag at $250 million; that cost also would include about $50 million in downtown public improvements. The Colorado Economic Development Commission on Monday overwhelmingly agreed to earmark $120.5 million in state sales tax revenue over 30 years - generated by new out-of-state visitors who come to see the four venues - to help fund the projects.

A key next step in developing the projects will be creation of an advisory board, said Celeste, who heads a nonprofit group seeking to build the museum. That board would oversee allocation of state funds and make sure the projects would be developed according to the Regional Tourism Act, the law under which City for Champions backers successfully sought state funding.

Since the city of Colorado Springs was the applicant for state funds, it will have the responsibility to establish the board, Celeste said. The board should include representatives from the city and El Paso County, the four tourism projects and the public, he said.

Meanwhile, more vetting should take place on the projects' economics - in particular the sports center and museum, said Mayor Steve Bach. He wants talks to include his office, the City Council, El Paso County commissioners, the mayors of Woodland Park, Monument and other area communities and City for Champions backers.

"How are these all going to be financed, all these four venues?" Bach asked. "How are these not going to be a burden on the taxpayers, which I've said all along I cannot support. How are they going to be self-sustaining?"

Even though state funding was approved for all four projects, each is at a different stage.

UCCS - where a booming enrollment has triggered development of several buildings in recent years - might be the furthest along.

With state money set aside, UCCS will do what it typically does for capital projects - determine what elements will be part of the new building and identify other funding sources to get it done, said Brian Burnett, vice chancellor for administration and finance. Among other elements, the $27 million project would include a state-of-the-art rehabilitation clinic, research and lab space and faculty and teaching facilities; it's expected to attract athletes and others from around the country.

Burnett estimates it would take six months to figure out financing for the project, a year to design it and another year to build it. School officials have identified two potential sites northeast of Nevada Avenue and Austin Bluffs Parkway for the building.

The $59.4 million museum - which would display Olympic exhibits and seal ties with the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is headquartered downtown - also is poised to move forward.

The nonprofit group headed by Celeste was formed about 18 months ago and already has sent solicitation letters to individuals and foundations, he said. Project backers hope to have $500,000 in hand by mid-January and another $1.5 million by the first quarter.

As part of the project, museum backers expect to hire a general contractor, a local architect, a design architect that could come from anywhere around the country, an exhibits designer and an exhibits fabricator. Museum supporters also hope to have a full-time director on board to oversee administrative responsibilities, such as setting up a website and an accounting system and continuing solicitations.

Museum supporters also must finalize a formal agreement with the USOC that will spell out the types and quality of Olympic content that will be displayed, among other issues, Celeste said.

The $92.7 million Colorado Sports Event Center - a 10,000-seat outdoor stadium that would host multiple sports and other events and a 3,000-seat indoor arena - needs a stadium authority to oversee the proposal, much like those that operate Coors Field and Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, some backers say.

Unlike the academy visitors center and UCCS venue that would be built on each school's property, there is no land set aside for the museum and sports facility. The City for Champions proposal identified sites in southwest downtown for the venues, and Nor'wood Development Group - a major Springs downtown landowner - said it would do its part to help secure sites for the facilities. Still, those sites might require the purchase of privately owned land.

The City Council declared southwest downtown as an urban renewal site in 2001, and City for Champions supporters have said that sales and property tax revenue generated from spin-off development in the area - stores, restaurants and the like - could be used to help pay off money that would be borrowed to fund the museum and sports and event center.

But it's likely that the existing urban renewal district in southwest downtown either would have to be amended or one or two new areas carved out to accommodate the new venues, said Jim Rees, a consultant with the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority.

Those decisions would require City Council approval, which could be a sticky proposition. Some council members already have expressed concerns about City for Champions funding and complained about what they say has been a lack of public input on the proposal.

"We instrumentally want to involve City Council, because in the end, City Council has to approve the funding for this from a local point of view," Bach said.

"It's not just wanting their approval for funding," he said. "We want them to be part of how this is all shaped."

Academy officials weren't available Monday for comment on the $20.5 million visitors center.

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