Amid silence, big plans evolve to pursue tourism funds

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“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

— Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze

Several months ago, the Colorado Springs City Council approved a $75,000 supplementary appropriation to prepare an application for funds that might be available through the Colorado Regional Tourism Act.

Sounds boring enough, but we’re talking real money here. The act creates “a mechanism for a Local Government to undertake a Project to attract out-of-state visitors/non zone residents, to create a Zone in which the Project will be built, and to create an Authority or to designate other Financing Entities” that would benefit from sales tax revenues to help fund a project.

In other words, the city can create its own project, or choose one created by the private sector. The city and project sponsors must then make their case to the cold-eyed business people on the Colorado Economic Development Commission. If approved, the project can tap an agreed percentage of the projected increase in state sales tax levied in the “Zone,” which would be defined as the city itself.

Those revenue flows could in turn finance project construction — and given that the EDC can approve up to $50 million in annual incremental revenue for such projects in any given year, the opportunity is huge.

The program has been in effect for several years, but local governments have never bothered to submit an application. They had a wake-up call last year, though, when Pueblo’s application to build a Professional Bull Riding Hall of Fame and make multiple improvements to its ongoing Arkansas Riverwalk project sailed through the long, convoluted approval process.

Applications for the next process are due June 13. You’d think, with so much on the line, the noise would be deafening.

We’d know all about the project: what it is, who’s backing it, where it’ll be built, how much it’ll cost, how much the city would invest, how much the state would kick in, and whether any private funders have committed to help. We’d have architectural renderings, glowing Gazette editorials, and the usual suspects would offer a supportive amen chorus.

Instead, silence.

Here’s the city’s official line, in response to a CSBJ query:

“The City is giving careful consideration on whether to submit a Regional Tourism Act application. Further information will be provided once a decision has been reached.”

The Big Dogs may have marked their territory, but the public still isn’t in the loop. Yet one thing is certain: An application will be submitted. Mayor Steve Bach’s administration isn’t about to blow $75,000 and delay a major economic development project. So what can we expect to see?

Many local projects might qualify: a new Air Force Academy Visitor Center, a downtown baseball stadium, upcoming UCCS sports-medical projects, the Pikes Peak Summit House, the proposed children’s and science museums, and (drum roll) the Olympic Hall of Fame museum.

The Summit House (disclosure: I was involved earlier with a feasibility study) is a non-starter, because it won’t generate enough verifiable incremental revenue. The science and children’s museums will attract mainly local visitors, so they could be add-ons. That leaves three lead dogs: the Olympic Hall of Fame, the AFA Visitor Center and a downtown stadium. Don’t count out the UCCS part, either.

The Olympic HOF has topped the regional wish list for 30 years. Given the possible availability of primary financing, supplemental funders would line up immediately. El Pomar and the Anschutz foundations would be on board, as would the Daniels Fund. Corporate supporters would want a piece of the action.

And a new AFA facility at the north entrance is a no-brainer. It’ll provide a vastly enhanced visitor experience, as well as improved safety and security.

Packaging those two guarantees a successful RTA package, particularly in the rumored absence of strong competition from other jurisdictions.

Next week, county commissioners will be asked to co-sponsor the application, which likely will be brought to Council on June 11.

Worthy as they are, both projects are designed to capture “sedentary tourists,” folks who want to look at things, not do things. They were also conceived and created by the beating heart of the Colorado Springs establishment.

Who are these decision-makers? Let’s call the roll: A is for Philip Anschutz, B is for two Steves and a Scott — Bach, Bartolin and Blackmun, C is for Dick Celeste, H is for Bill Hybl, M is for Chuck Murphy and his colleagues on the Economic Development Commission, and Y is for what the rest of us soon will likely say …

Yes, sir!