In 2005, the city of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority and the John Q. Hammons company signed a statement of intent to build and operate a 250-room Embassy Suites hotel near America the Beautiful Park.
As part of the deal, the city’s Parking Enterprise agreed to pony up $3.1 million to build an adjacent 200-space parking garage. The enterprise set aside $1 million, reserving it for the Hammons project, making it unavailable for any other project.
Five years have since passed. No hotel has been built. John Q. Hammons, the 91-year-old owner of the eponymous company, is in a Missouri nursing home and unavailable for comment. The two company executives who negotiated the deal, Scott Tarwater and Steve Minton, are no longer employed by Hammons.
So, where’s the million dollars?
The Parking Enterprise has it — and it’s still reserved for Hammon’s hotel.
“The statement of intent calls for us to put up $3.1 million for the parking structure,” said enterprise manager Greg Warnke. “We’ve kept $1 million in reserve, figuring that the project would take 24 months from start to finish, and we could fund the rest through operating revenues.”
Given the time that’s elapsed, does it still make sense to reserve the money?
“That’s up to council,” Warnke said. “So far, they haven’t taken any action to cancel or waive the statement of intent.”
The Urban Renewal Authority’s Mary K. Burnett confirmed Warnke’s account.
“There have been missed dates, non-performance of various things specified in the statement of intent, so I’m not sure whether it’s still in effect,” she said. “But council hasn’t formally revoked it.”
In part, that may be because, as a stand-alone city enterprise, funds from the Parking Enterprise can’t easily be raided by elected officials and diverted to other purposes.
“(As an enterprise) we’re pretty safe,” said Warnke.
All proceeds from the enterprise’s operations, according to the city’s website, “are reinvested back into the community in the form of increasing the Parking System’s capacity and funding parking and pedestrian projects aimed at improving the health, safety and welfare of the community.”
Unlike its fiscally challenged parent, the Parking Enterprise is remarkably solvent.
According to the city’s 2011 preliminary budget, the Parking Enterprise will have “estimated funds available for appropriation” at the beginning of 2010 of $7.19 million. Expected 2011 revenue of $4.10 million will be offset by expenses estimated at $3.82 million, leaving the enterprise with an even more robust balance of $7.47 million.
Warnke doesn’t think he actually has that much money.
“I’m not sure how (the city Department of) Finance calculates how much is available — what kind of accounting they use,” he said. “We try to have a year’s operating expenses in reserve, about $2 million, and we have to maintain an $800,000 bond reserve fund, and we have the $1 million for Hammons, so none of that is readily available.”
Council candidate Tim Leigh thinks the city ought to forget Hammons and use the $1 million for another project.
“Maybe we could build a downtown pedestrian mall,” he suggested, reviving an idea that has surfaced several times in the last two decades.
Chuck Miller of the Urban Renewal Authority has a different idea.
“We’d like to use the money for a southwest downtown project,” he said, “if they can figure out some logical way to spend it.”
Will the Hammons project ever be reality? Company officials couldn’t be reached.
Not incidentally, the company’s Renaissance Hotel in northeast Colorado Springs is a boarded-up shell. Construction stopped abruptly more than a year ago. The hotel’s website calls for it to open next summer, but no construction is under way.