More Colorado Springs tax dollars are on the way to fund an extension of Powers Boulevard on the city’s far north side.
The City Council voted 7-2 on Tuesday to increase from 1 percent to 1.75 percent the portion of the Springs’ sales tax rate earmarked for the Powers work.
Powers was planned decades ago as a north-south alternative to Interstate 25, and it runs along much of the city’s east side. But the road stops at Colorado 83, and the Colorado Department of Transportation has said it won’t have money for years to extend Powers to I-25.
Because of CDOT’s inability to contribute, city officials came up with another plan — tying the extension to Polaris Pointe, a more than 200-acre retail project southeast of I-25 and North Gate Boulevard. The Powers extension would run through the heart of the Polaris Pointe site.
In 2010, the council declared Polaris Pointe — then known as Copper Ridge at Northgate — an urban renewal project. Critics questioned that decision, saying the grassy, undeveloped property showed little, if any, signs of blight.
But the urban renewal designation allowed increased tax revenues generated by new development there to be set aside to help fund the Powers extension. So the council earmarked half of the city’s 2 percent general fund sales tax on Polaris Pointe retail purchases to fund Powers.
Since then, dozens of stores, restaurants and other sales- tax-generating businesses have opened at Polaris Pointe. Even so, more money is needed for the extension, city Economic Development Officer Bob Cope told the council Tuesday.
Also, Polaris Pointe developer Gary Erickson has said he can’t develop the south half of his retail project without that extension. More retailers want an assurance that Powers will be extended before they’ll commit to bringing their stores, restaurants and the like to Polaris Pointe.
Cope told council members the city would get a hefty return on its investment if it committed more tax dollars toward the Powers project.
Without an increase in city sales tax revenue, the extension wouldn’t be built, and only 687 new jobs at stores and restaurants would be created over the next 25 years. Payroll and spending related to those jobs would have an economic impact of $855 million over that span.
But by upping the city’s contribution, temporary construction jobs and permanent jobs at the new stores and restaurants would total nearly 10,000 over 25 years, Cope said. The economic impact would reach nearly $4.3 billion, he said.
Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler acknowledged that the extension is a critical project, but she voted against the increase in city sales tax money, saying CDOT and El Paso County should help .
Also, she said, Polaris Pointe wasn’t truly blighted and never should have been designated an urban renewal site.
“It’s neither urban nor renewal,” Gaebler said.
Councilwoman Yolanda Avila also opposed the city sales tax increase, saying that promoting growth on the city’s north side isn’t in the spirit of urban renewal.
Councilman Merv Bennett, however, said the decision to declare Polaris Pointe an urban renewal site was made years ago, and every tax dollar generated because of that designation would go for the sorely needed Powers extension.
Council President Richard Skorman and Councilmen David Geislinger, Don Knight, Bill Murray, Andy Pico and Tom Strand also supported more city sales tax money for Powers.
The council’s vote isn’t the last step in capturing more money for the project, though. Erickson said he plans to meet next week with El Paso County commissioners to discuss the county chipping in a 0.5 percent portion of the sales tax rate it levies on Polaris Pointe purchases. They’re not expected to vote for three or four months though, he said.
In 2011, commissioners voted 4-1 to reject funding for Powers and “postponed indefinitely” their participation in funding the extension. Some officials said that vote effectively killed the county’s financial help, but others said it only shelved a final decision on the matter.
In any case, Powers extension supporters are counting on the county’s participation.
Increased city and county funding would generate enough money to build an initial, $59.7 million portion of Powers from Voyager Parkway to I-25 and to upgrade the interchange at I-25 and North Gate Boulevard, Cope has said. The increased funding also would pay to build Powers between Voyager and Colorado 83, a project whose early price tag has been pegged at $71.6 million.
The Gazette’s Jakob Rodgers contributed to this story.