In a stunning and unanticipated victory for Mayor Steve Bach and his economic vitality team, the Colorado Economic Development Commission fully funded the city’s request for the City for Champions project.
Bach’s team had requested tax increment funding in the approximate amount of $123 million, while a third-party analyst and the EDC staff had recommended allocating only $53 million. In a unanimous vote, the Commission overrode their recommendation and awarded C4C the full amount.
“It’s almost hard to find the words,” said Mayor Bach on Monday morning, moments after the vote. “I hope we’ll look back on this as a defining moment in our city’s history. I think this ranks up there with Penrose, Stratton, and the Air Force Academy.”
While no public comments were taken at the meeting, a full contingent of C4C supporters sat in the audience, including City Councilors Jill Gaebler and Val Snider, as well as city economic development guru Bob Cope, County Commissioner Amy Lathen, City Attorney Chris Melcher, and downtown businessman Chris Jenkins.
Bach said that he’s looking forward to the next step.
“Let’s put aside all these petty politics,” he said, “and move forward to a real community discussion. This will turn heads, not just here but nationally. The next step is to show the community a structure that works, that won’t burden the taxpayers. I think we can show that these will be self-sustaining projects.”
An elated Jill Gaebler voiced similar sentiments.
“This is such an exciting time for our city,” she said. “The EDC showed such faith in our city. Now the community conversation begins and we can put together the best possible projects for our community.”
In common with other supporters, Bach was surprised by the Commission’s whole-hearted support.
“Like anyone else, I didn’t have any advance information,” he said. “I had obviously braced myself for something much less than we had asked for. I think we made the case.”
EDC members may have been swayed by the outpouring of support for the proposal from the Colorado Springs business community. Hundreds of letters of support from business and political leaders were received by the EDC, and dozens of community leaders braved the ice and snow to testify at least week’s EDC meeting in Denver.
Those community voices clearly drowned out those of the project’s opponents, including City Councilors Helen Collins, Joel Miller and Don Knight.
As Bach pointed out, the job is far from finished. C4C proponents still have to persuade Council to approve either an expanded urban renewal district as a source of local tax increment funding for the two downtown projects, or ask city voters to approve local public funding for a portion of all four projects.
The latter might be difficult, since Councilors Collins, Miller, Knight, Keith King and Andy Pico have all declared their opposition to public funding. What will they do?
“I guess they’ll either have to backtrack or find a way around it,” said Councilor Val Snider. “As for me, I support the concept and I’m looking forward to more information.”