Colorado Springs is poised on the cusp of greatness, but lack of a single component blocks its ascension, believes Will Temby, president of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. But in recent years, the community has resisted efforts to build a civic, or convention center, proposed near downtown, west and south of the city’s center.
The resistance is shortsighted, supporters believe, and another effort has surfaced, this time with a group of heavyweights determined to reach its goal.
“The Chamber has chosen to lead this effort, as we believe that a new civic center will have a positive economic impact on the community and a new venue would complement existing facilities such as the Pikes Peak Center and the Colorado Springs World Arena,” Temby said.
Late last year the chamber assembled a group of community leaders interested in the plan to discuss issues to be addressed to make the project turn from dream to reality. Funding, as usual, is a primary issue. Once funding is in place, project design, marketing and construction could follow, Temby said.
The meeting resulted in formation of a finance committee lead by local attorney Pete Susemihl, Chairman of the Board of the World Arena, and Terry Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. Both were instrumental in construction of the World Arena.
A recent Chamber-sponsored trip to Washington, D.C., provided Temby and center supporters with information about how Richmond, Virginia, obtained funding to expand its Richmond Centre convention facility.
A study by KPMG Peat Marwick for Richmond looked at ways cities across the country funded their convention centers. Of 26 centers studied, 22 used a hotel tax to pay the bill, with some of those supplementing that source with taxes on meals, liquor, auto rentals and government grants. Only the Minneapolis Convention Center used sales tax as a source of funding.
The debt instrument of choice was general obligation bonds and revenue bonds.
Colorado Springs Councilperson Sallie Clark owns a bed and breakfast inn. She supports construction of a civic center, but doesn’t believe one group of businesses should bear the burden of funding.
“Certainly, it would be a benefit,” Clark said. “It would have a community-wide benefit.”
The public has voted down the proposal a couple of times, Clark said. “It would be unfair to put the burden (funding) on one (hotel) industry,” said Clark.
City Manager Lorne Kramer, too, sees many benefits from a convention center.
“A civic center would be very beneficial to this community,” Kramer said. “But I think we have to listen to what the public has said over the years.”
The public has clearly said it will not support construction of a convention with public dollars, Kramer said. “I think how the city government, how the city council collaborates with the private sector in that development could be very beneficial for the community.”
Temby sees the need to get the community behind any effort to construct the convention/civic center. Calling the facility a civic center rather than a convention center gives the public at large a sense of ownership in the building, Temby said.
Besides being used for conventions, graduations, home and garden shows, auto shows and other civic events could be held there, Temby noted.
Colorado Springs is the only community of its size without a civic or convention center, Temby said.
Temby added that the finance committee is looking for alternative funding measures.
“The committee surfaced the idea of forming a Metropolitan Tax District (MTD),” Temby said. “A MTD is a non-contiguous district that would solicit voluntary participants to agree to a self-imposed fee to assist in the financing of a civic center.”
The fee structure recognizes two important variables, Temby said. They are the classification of the participating business, and its geographical proximity to the civic center.
Such districts, while fairly new, have been successful in financing projects in other communities, Temby said. An example is Park Meadows Mall south of Denver.