Colorado Springs and its private-sector partners are asking for a year extension on starting “substantial work” on two City for Champions projects after conceding they won’t meet the December deadline for retaining millions in promised tax-increment financing from the state.
Such a request is allowed under the agreement the city and state reached in 2013 when the Colorado Economic Development Commission granted Colorado Springs $120.5 million in state sales tax rebates over 30 years for the City for Champions initiative.
Bob Cope, the city’s economic development officer, said the request for extra time was submitted Tuesday to the commission.
The two projects are the new Air Force Academy visitors center and a sports and events center, split between two downtown locations.
Cope and others involved on the sports and events center project pitched the commission their business plan last month, ahead of the December deadline.
But, neither has begun excavation or other types of physical construction, and city staff was told their plans likely wouldn’t make the grade for the “substantial work” required, said Jeff Kraft, director of business funding and incentives for the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
“We made the case at the September meeting and we thought we made a strong case, but the threshold for commencement is a high threshold and it’s not perfectly defined,” Cope said. “So we’re just working with OEDIT staff and the EDC to come to a mutual understanding of what that will be and then we’ll have a definite road map in front of us that we can work toward.”
More than a year ago the sports, and events center project was considered all but dead, and losing the attached $28 million in state financing a foregone conclusion. But Cope, Mayor John Suthers and others unveiled plans to resurrect the project in July.
The first part of those plans include a 10,000-seat outdoor stadium for the Switchbacks minor league soccer team at CityGate, a vacant block southwest of Cimarron and Sahwatch streets. That stadium would be accompanied by a seven-story building to the south with hundreds of apartments and businesses.
The second part is a 3,000-seat indoor arena built on the south side of Colorado College’s campus, which will serve as the new home for the men’s ice hockey team.
Together, the stadium and arena are meant to bookend downtown from north to south and flood the blocks in between with cash and out-of-state visitors.
In tracking down private investors — Suthers repeatedly said no city taxpayer money would be used — and submitting a business plan and timeline to the EDC, Cope said in July the city expected to meet the “substantial work” requirement.
But Kraft said after the September meeting, EDC and OEDIT representatives agreed the city had not yet met that threshold and wouldn’t be able to by December.
So Kraft sent Cope an email last week recommending the city request an extension.
Earlier this year Suthers acknowledged the possibility of the need for an extension.
The state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade works under the umbrella of the Economic Development Commission. Ultimately the commission will decide whether to release funds.
Work is well underway on the remaining two City for Champions projects, Kraft said. The Olympic Museum is under construction and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is expected to issue bonds before the Dec. 16 deadline for the sports medicine and performance center planned there.
Assuming an extension is granted through December 2019, Cope said substantial work can begin at the Air Force Academy and on the downtown sports venues by the middle of next year.
Cope said the year extension shouldn’t delay the timeline for completion of the sports and events centers. The Switchbacks are expected to launch their 2020 season in the new stadium while the Tigers will play at The Broadmoor World Arena for a few more years before moving into the new facility on Colorado College’s campus.
The city and its partners just need to come to an understanding with the commission as to what milestones need to be reached by December 2019, Cope said.
“Then the projects can feel comfortable spending their own funds to get where we need to be to meet the commencement of substantial work,” Cope said.
Kraft said the commission would vote next month at the earliest whether to grant the extension, though he and his staff are recommending its approval.