A new federal program that makes tax breaks available to those who invest in economically distressed areas is designed to benefit the 35 million people living in those areas, not rich investors, a White House official said Friday in Colorado Springs.
Scott Turner, executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, called charges that the Opportunity Zone program included in the 2017 tax cut is “just for the rich” a “lie” and said the program is a nonpartisan effort to promote investment and redevelop in some of the nation’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods.
He made the comments during a roundtable discussion with 30 local officials at the National Cybersecurity Center in northern Colorado Springs.
“People will find a way to make money. There is no minimum for a capital gains investment. Through this program, 35 million people will benefit from your actions, prayers and investment,” Turner said. “Poverty doesn’t have a party, neither does revitalization. It is not about politics but about people, the 35 million people who live in these zones.”
Colorado Springs has eight opportunity zones where investors can delay paying federal income taxes on capital gains from investments thanks to the 2017 tax cut. An eight-story hotel in downtown Colorado Springs that will carry two Marriott brands and open in 2021 as well as two hotels planned in the business park of the Colorado Springs Airport are among several projects underway, or being considered, in the local zones.
Turner said Colorado Springs has been near the forefront of the promoting its opportunity zones, citing a coalition of 11 local agencies that have assigned staff to be points of contact for each of the eight zones. The coalition created a prospectus with maps, economic data and other information on the zones. The El Paso County Assessor’s Office also has loaded maps onto its property database that allows users to look at individual parcels in each zone.
Chelsea Gaylord, who coordinates the Opportunity Zone Program in the Economic Development Department for the city of Colorado Springs, said nine projects tied to the zones are underway or in the planning stages in the Colorado Springs area to build 13.4 million square feet of commercial space, 561 housing units with a value of $422 million.
Turner’s council was created this year to give priority to applications in opportunity zones for grants from 17 federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Economic Development Administration and the Small Business Administration. As part of that effort, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded a coalition led by Colorado Springs $600,000 to assess vacant and underused lots along Fountain Creek and Shooks Run.
“This is a new kind of investment that also has social impact. Lives, families, communities and generations are changing as a result of this program,” Turner said. “But (an opportunity zone project) has to work economically to have impact socially. The goal is to have long-term sustainability and generational impact. We are targeting investors who have the resources to do this.”
Turner is a former defensive back for the Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins who worked for the National Football League after he retired. He later was an executive for a Dallas software firm and was elected to the Texas House of Representatives for two terms before President Donald Trump appointed him to the council post.