City could have second shot at millions

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More often than not, January offers us the chance to assess, revise and sharpen our long-term plans, both in our business and personal lives. Nothing is moving too fast early in the new year, so we take a deep breath and rearrange our priorities.

Usually. But in the first days of 2013, Colorado Springs faces a situation that might require immediate, aggressive action.

On Jan. 30, the Colorado Economic Development Commission will gather in Denver for its regular, every-other-month meeting. But the agenda’s headline item will be anything but regular.

That day, the state commission will hear an update from the city of Aurora on the progress (or lack thereof) toward a planned $824 million, 1,500-room convention hotel south of Denver International Airport. The project had looked promising enough last May that the state EDC had awarded $81.4 million in tourism tax incentives to help make it happen.

At the time, the Economic Development Commission also gave a smaller grant to Pueblo as a boost for plans to revamp and upgrade that city’s popular Riverwalk.

When those decisions were made, it came out that Colorado Springs had not bothered to apply for a chunk of the available Regional Tourism Act money. Given the array of visionary concepts just in our downtown vicinity, from museums to the Fountain Creek waterway and a possible ballpark, our city looked foolish for not having pursued some of that state windfall.

Now, though, there could be a second chance. That mega-hotel near DIA might not become reality. Gaylord Entertainment, which had been working with Aurora, changed its corporate direction and no longer is pursuing the project. Aurora officials, who initially committed $300 million in incentives to Gaylord, asked the state commission in September for more time to seek another developer and perhaps salvage the convention hotel.

That report will come at the Jan. 30 meeting, with no indication that Aurora will be able to utilize the state money. And the EDC might reopen its consideration of possible options.

Colorado Springs should do whatever it can to pounce. For starters, Mayor Steve Bach should plan to send a contingent of leaders to that meeting, and the city should put together a proposal, as quickly as possible, for the state EDC to consider.

We wouldn’t be alone, of course. Last year, applications also came from Glendale, Estes Park, Douglas County and Montrose. Any or all of them might try again.

It’s not a matter of leaning on the state EDC members. Not one of the nine-member group lives in Colorado Springs. They’re from the Denver area, Greeley, Grand Junction, Snowmass Village, even one from Alamosa. We need representation on that commission — but that’s an issue for another day.

We’re not talking about pocket change. We’re talking about $80 million or more, enough to accelerate the campaign for a downtown revitalization that would enhance our tourism industry.

This isn’t just a one-time gamble, either. More money from that Regional Tourism Act will be available later in 2013, and Colorado Springs should make sure to be first in line for that competition. But preparing a case now, in case the Aurora-Gaylord money becomes available again, would be the right way to start.