Chief of Staff Laura Neumann confirmed that the Bach administration has issued a request for proposals from organizations interested in taking over the management of the City Auditorium.
The 1923 auditorium is now managed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
In the general election of April 5, 1921, city voters (1,806 to 1,120) passed a $390,000 bond issue to build the auditorium. At an eventual cost of $424,000, it was a big investment for a small community. Today, the city’s website characterizes the auditorium as “…a very viable and affordable venue and the only one in Colorado Springs capable of hosting a wide variety of events for the community.”
Although the auditorium is heavily used, it doesn’t generate enough revenue to fund long-deferred maintenance, let alone capital improvements.
“There’s no hidden agenda here,” said Neumann, “no preferred provider, no particular group driving this. It’s a facility that needs investment, and we’re interested in seeing if there’s a proposal out there that could help us get to where we need to be.”
The city auditorium block, bounded by Pikes Peak Avenue, Weber, Kiowa and Nevada avenues, was designated an “urban renewal area” by City Council in 2004 at the behest of developer Chris Jenkins, who owns most of the block.
According to the Urban Renewal Authority, “The purpose of the City Auditorium Block Urban Renewal Plan is to reduce, eliminate and prevent the spread of blight within the Urban Renewal Area and to stimulate growth and reinvestment within the district boundaries, on surrounding blocks and throughout downtown.”
Developers in an urban renewal area can take advantage of multiple tax incentives, including the use of tax-increment financing to fund their projects.
Other than demolishing the former Greyhound bus station at the corner of Pikes Peak and Nevada, Jenkins has yet to move forward with a renewal plan
Shantih Toll, one of the founders of the “Friends of the Colorado Springs City Auditorium,” a non-profit group that has long sought to persuade the city to devote more resources to the historic structure, believes that the RFP may be driven by specific agendas.
Toll said that the Friends will formally request that they be included in the process.
“I don’t oppose privatization per se,” said Toll, “but I’m concerned that the city may have a specific group in mind. I hope that they’ll be open to a nonprofit managing group, and I hope that there will be an open, public process.”
Toll said that neither the Friends nor regular auditorium users had been formally notified that the administration was seeking to change the existing management structure.
“(Auditorium manager) John Caricato told us that he had been instructed to research management structures in similar facilities in other cities, and that an RFP (requests for proposals) would go out,” Toll said. “Our biggest concern is that the new managers of the auditorium may want to change it from a public facility to one that’s operated for the benefit of a specific group – that it won’t be open to all.”