Questions equal to dreams in City for Champions plan

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Do you have a major civic initiative tucked away in a drawer somewhere? Would you like to roll it out and get Springs residents so excited about it that they’ll fund it with their tax dollars?

The template is simple. You gather a group of core supporters who share your enthusiasm for the project. You meet for months, and reach out to as many people as possible. You round up the usual suspects — politicians, civic leaders, possible funders and media folks. You create some buzz, you get feedback and then you go public.

You invite everybody to the party. You listen to them, refine the package or even tear it apart, and finally go to the voters.

Don’t expect quick results. It’s a long, painful and unpredictable process. Springs voters, be they liberal, moderate or conservative, are notably skeptical. They’re particularly resistant to schemes that originate with city power brokers, or ones that seem to benefit private interests.

Consider the Trails and Open Space initiative, the Springs Community Improvement Program bond issue and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. In each case, core supporters carefully made the case for clearly defined projects that provided objective, easily understood benefits.

It’ll be interesting to see initial community reaction to Mayor Steve Bach’s City for Champions scheme. At nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, it’s as grandiose and ambitious as anything ever proposed for the city — and since taxpayers will have to pony up about a third of the cost, there will be a lot of questions.

None were answered at Mayor Bach’s carefully orchestrated Monday media event. A half-page press release named the individual projects: a U.S. Olympic museum, a downtown stadium and events center, a “U.S. Air Force Academy Gateway at Falcon Stadium Visitor Center,” and a UCCS Sports Medicine and Performance Center.

The release also noted that the city would seek $78 million (we’ve also heard it might be $82 million) in state funding for the package. No further details were available, yet some things were glaringly obvious.

The project was completely insider-driven. No input was sought from community groups, City Council was out of the loop, and information was shared only with “friendly” media.

Fueled by $75,000 from the city, as well as money from private sources, an anonymous committee of community power brokers made all the decisions. No names were available; a flustered Susan Edmondson, who spoke in support of the package, said she that didn’t know who was on the “RTA committee.”

Given that the city is “in partnership” with El Pomar and the Anschutz foundations, we can make a few guesses.

Just as army generals are often accused of preparing to fight the last war, the secret committee wants to fund the wish list of the 1980s.

Three of the four projects have been under discussion for decades. Put plainly, they’re geezer projects designed for a geezer city. Visitor centers, Olympic museums, baseball stadiums — these are passive structures, roadside attractions that may not engage the next generation of visitors.

On the other hand, they may be perfect for an aging nation, full of spry oldsters with comfortable retirement packages.

The city’s position is simple. On the one hand, here’s “free” money from the state, in the form of tax increment financing for visitor-related projects. On the other hand, here are some projects backed by serious people who can raise and/or provide serious dollars for their projects.

So let’s make a deal, or four deals.

That’s the way the private sector operates. You find a government program that you can tap into, you enlist partners, and you make a deal. It’s nobody’s business but yours.

But in this case, one of the parties to the deal had no part in structuring it. If the state economic development commission approves the city’s submission, city voters will have two choices — yes or no.

Project backers will have some ’splainin’ to do. The economic impact analysis, prepared by Tom Binnings and Paul Rochette, will be interesting reading, and it’ll be equally interesting to look at construction cost estimates.

What about operating costs? And how can a baseball stadium also be an “events center?” Is this a convention center with a different name? Who will own it — the Sky Sox or the city? And were any other projects considered?

The package may not be inspirational, but it’s amazing. To the frustrated legions who have yearned for such projects for decades, it’s a dream come true.

For the rest of us … well, we’ll see if their dreams are ours as well.

3 Responses to Questions equal to dreams in City for Champions plan

  1. Any project designed to benefit private companies and developers should not recieve any form of public tax money. If Anschutz and Little Stevie Wonder want a new ballpark to play in, then pony up, Phil. Next thing the boys from Broadmoor will want is a subsidy to build an underground tunnel so Steve Bartolin can play golf with his PGA cronies. Just say “no” to Bach and his buddies!

    Mike Hunt
    July 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm

  2. Cities whose citizens believe in the concept of investing public tax dollars in joint public/private partnerships with developers to enhance the economic viability of an entire region are doing well. Omaha’s mayor is not contemplating his city facing bankruptcy. Sitting in the cheap seats does not give a great view of the stage.

    Richard D Wehner
    July 10, 2013 at 12:47 pm

  3. Colorado Springs is not facing bankruptcy, Rick. Stop with the false comments – you’re not helping! We will never be like Denver, no matter how much we soak the taxpayers. If things are so groovy in Nebraska, why don’t you move there and take Staci with you?

    Mike Hunt
    July 11, 2013 at 8:38 am