Colorado Springs’ application for state funding of four projects under the provisions of the Colorado Regional Tourism Act was duly filed this week with the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, finally going public with details that had been kept secret for months.
Officials thought to be involved in the process had repeatedly claimed that confidentiality was of paramount importance to avoid tipping off other applicants. In fact, there were no other applicants. Cañon City officials had attended a preliminary briefing, but decided not to apply after the recent wildfire that damaged the Royal Gorge Bridge.
Colorado Springs’ 80-page application is replete with soaring visions, fanciful architectural renditions, unlikely hypotheses, and hopeful projections. It paints a picture of a revitalized and recreated downtown, a mecca for hundreds of thousands of out-of-state visitors. It describes a UCCS Sports Medicine and Performance Center that might eventually rival the Mayo Clinic as a destination for medical tourists.
The new “Gateway at Falcon Stadium will serve as the starting point for Air Force Academy tours, for circulator bus connections to the Academy campus, for young people on the path to becoming cadets, and for access to a myriad of Pikes Peak region activities.” The application envisions multiple spinoffs, even including a new, remote-controlled observatory on the summit of Pikes Peak.
It’s a pretty picture, but one painted in very broad brushstrokes. The city relies upon blue-sky projections of event attendance, increased incremental revenue from Colorado state sales tax, very preliminary project construction cost estimates and sketchy funding plans. It’s clear that city officials and their private-sector partners will have to come up with far better data in months ahead to satisfy the state’s stringent standards.
Some of that data may be contained in appendices that accompanied the full submission, but which the city has so far refused to release. That information will be posted on the state’s website after state analysts have examined the application and given the city the opportunity to correct or amend its proposal.
Much of the proposed increase in state sales tax revenues will come not only from visitors to the proposed new facilities, but also from subsequent private-sector development. City estimates of such development are optimistic, to say the least.
The proposal anticipates at build-out “… these areas are anticipated to receive approximately $100 million in public investment and leverage nearly $900 million in private investment. Permanent jobs are anticipated to exceed 22,000, generating $997 million in annual personal income and more than $8 million in annual sales tax revenues.”
The city’s anticipated funding structure makes interesting reading, if you’re willing to plow through 51 pages of rhetoric to get to the hard numbers.
The $60.6 million downtown stadium and events venue will be funded entirely with public money, including $18.2 million from the state and $42.4 million from “public sector” sources. These might include “Downtown Development Authority, Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, improvement districts, New Market Tax Credits, municipalities, bonding, etc.”
The $59.4 million Olympic museum, by contrast, will be funded entirely by state and private sources. The private sector will provide $32.6 million, with the state kicking in $26.8 million. Two unidentified private foundations have indicated they would consider grants of $5-10 million, and another has informally committed to a matching grant in the same amount.
Given that both El Pomar and the Anschutz Family foundations ponied up $75,000 to help develop the application, it’s a safe bet that they’re involved.
Neither the $27 million UCCS sports medicine center nor the Air Force Academy visitors center will receive local public sector funding, although the state would contribute $17.3 million to the two projects.
Funding for southwest downtown public improvements would be entirely provided by public sources. The $51 million pricetag includes $14 million for an “iconic pedestrian bridge” linking America the Beautiful Park to the stadium and museum, as well as a 1,500-space, $29.5 million parking garage located beneath those two facilities. Local sources would be responsible for $32 million of that total, with the state expected to provide $19 million.
Other details remain obscure. Questions that the state may not wish to pursue, but that Colorado Springs residents will certainly be interested in, include the following:
Who will own the stadium? The plan addressed the issue in general terms, stating only that an entity that includes the city and the Sky Sox would own and operate the facility. No mention is made of revenue allocation, lease terms, property/sales tax payments or maintenance responsibility. Sky Sox owner Dave Elmore owns the team’s present stadium and all revenue it generates. For him to move, the city would have to craft an appropriate package that might include finding a buyer for the existing stadium.
Parking structures in the city traditionally have been financed through revenue bonds. When the World Arena was built, however, the city paid for the parking but the facility has received all revenue since. Given that its construction is lumped with other district improvements, it may be that the new structure will be financed through an umbrella bond issue by the city, with revenue shared by the museum and stadium.
Private landowners in southwest downtown stand to see the value of their land increase dramatically. Who owns the proposed stadium and Olympic museum sites? The sites are only roughly delineated on maps and illustrations. It appears the stadium would be located west of the Pikes Peak Center and south of Colorado Avenue, while the museum will be just south of the stadium. Has the city already contracted to buy the land, or are owners making partial donations of land to bolster the value of their remaining holdings?
What about attendance at the new stadium? Will northeast residents who have loyally supported the Sky Sox want to make the long drive downtown? Will they strenuously oppose relocation and help marshal opposition to any public financing of the move?
Who’s in charge? The city has refused to release names of members of the “RTA Committee” who decided upon the projects, raised the money to fund the proposal and developed strategies for introducing, promoting and publicizing it. The “project managers” were the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Doug Price, Bob Cope of the city’s economic vitality office and Nor’wood Development Group executive Chris Jenkins.
The city included a list of several dozen “contributors” to the project, but many were peripheral. City Council member Jan Martin was listed (as were all the members of the last Council, six of whom left office in April), but Martin recently confirmed that she knew absolutely nothing about it before the public release. The city is expected to name a formal steering committee soon.
Yet, as secretive and high-handed as the city has been in creating and pushing the project, many residents will be glad that Mayor Steve Bach and his administration are ready to push big transformative projects.
What’s worse — overhyped projects that don’t deliver as promised, or no projects at all?
If a few developers get rich, and city residents pay for iconic pedestrian bridges to nowhere, is that worse than continued blight and municipal dysfunction? If the state agrees to provide 38 percent of the total funding via sales tax revenues, it’ll eventually be up to city voters to decide.
Will they approve? We’ll know sometime next year.