City for Champions could become the spark we need

Why is Mayor Steve Bach’s quarter-billion-dollar plan to revive our economy titled City for Champions, not City of Champions?

Simple: “of” was already taken by, among others, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Detroit and Green Bay. “For” is fine, but it has a tentative flavor to it, implying that we’d be a really great city for champions to hang out in, but that we might lack any at the present moment.

Sadly, that may be the case. Consider our cantankerous City Council, some of whose members want to torpedo the deal completely. They don’t want no stinkin’ $82.5 million from the state!

The city’s application for state tax-increment funding says: “Downtown Colorado Springs is the heart of government, arts and culture, boutique retail and unique dining. It has yet to realize its potential as a vibrant, mixed-use residential and commercial center largely because southwest downtown remains an abandoned industrial area.”

That’s debatable on two counts. Downtown was once a vibrant, mixed-use commercial and residential center, but suburban flight combined with short-sighted urban renewal (read urban destruction) policies that began in the mid-1960s did most of the damage. Southwest downtown’s decline was more gradual, culminating in the early 1990s when locally owned industrial, wholesale and warehousing businesses exited the area.

The creation of the Southwest Urban Renewal Plan in 2000 may have exacerbated the area’s problems. The prospect of big paydays from future large-scale development made property owners reluctant to sell small parcels to prospective users. The kind of gradual redevelopment that has transformed so many urban industrial districts didn’t take place. Older structures that might have been targeted for adaptive re-use were demolished and replaced by parking lots.

But the past is the past. The fate of the city’s latest plan is out of our hands and now depends upon the Colorado Economic Development Commission. There are three possible scenarios.

Scenario 1: The EDC approves it and allocates the full $82.5 million to the project. We’ll have five years to build the two southwest downtown projects — the downtown stadium and events center and the Olympic museum.

Is it possible that we won’t follow through? One longtime local commercial real estate broker gave me an unvarnished, off-the-record opinion.

“Yeah,” he said, “I can imagine Colorado Springs voters turning down $82 million from the state. It sounds crazy, but I’ve been here for a long time.”

That’s only if you give voters the opportunity to nix it, so why not create a funding package that doesn’t require voter approval? If the direct impacts of the projects are as large as proponents claim, this deal is too important to be derailed.

City for Champions is expected to spark construction of urban housing, commercial office and retail space as well as restaurants and entertainment venues. Proponents claim development in southwest downtown will spill over to CityGate, an adjacent designated urban renewal area.

At build-out, according to the proposal, the two URAs “will comprise 4 million square feet with over $1.1 billion in private investment and $270 million in public investment, creating 8,500 permanent jobs and generating $350 million in annual income.”

If the direct impacts of the projects are as large as proponents claim, this deal is too important to be derailed.

Scenario 2: The EDC agrees to partially fund the proposal. The Olympic museum should make the cut, but any or all of the remaining three could be weeded out by the state’s vetting process. It’s doubtful that the Olympic museum could spark a downtown renaissance by itself, so expect downtown advocates to look for another companion project. A science museum? A covered market, like Seattle’s Pike Place?

Scenario 3: Dismayed by the apparent absence of community support, the EDC throws out the entire package. Uber-conservatives rejoice, Mayor Steve Bach blames Council, Council President Keith King blames Bach, and southwest downtown begins another decade of decay. Bach and Council resolve to work together and create an entirely new application for 2014.

But they’re too late. Noting that the program has spawned lawsuits, angry community debates and not much in the way of new tourism-related projects, the state Legislature defunds it. With $2 billion in flood-related damage to fix, the state has other priorities.

President King, City Council — wake up. So what if you’re mad at the mayor for being high-handed, secretive and domineering? This deal isn’t perfect, but it’s the deal we have. The decision before you is simple.

Deal — or no deal.

3 Responses to City for Champions could become the spark we need

  1. Deal!

    Let’s do this.

    Bryan Lee
    October 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm

  2. With those kinds of impacts from these developments, then yes, deal! For the City FOR Champions!

    Angel Mark
    October 4, 2013 at 5:46 pm

  3. I agree John. This deal isn’t perfect, but it’s the deal we have. It is impossible to conceive an idea that would get 100% support from everyone. If you support a vision for our city that will truly revitalize our city as a top tourism destination and add revenue to our businesses and city coffers then you should support this vision.
    There is plenty of time to have your opinion heard on how to get this funded beyond the RTA Grant. Let’s collaborate and make this a community unifier instead of a divider.

    Trevor Dierdorff
    October 7, 2013 at 10:46 am