You don’t have to worry about that,” said former University of Colorado Regent Jerry Rutledge, referring to the proposed UCCS Sports Medicine Center, one of the key components of the City for Champions proposal. “If I know Pam Shockley-Zalabak — and I do! — she’s already got that deal put together, and she’s moving on to the next step.”
Rutledge has a point. In a city where things usually move at a glacial pace, Chancellor Shockley-Zalabak has UCCS permanently set on fast-forward. Don’t believe me? Just drive up Austin Bluffs Parkway and count the construction cranes, a bird long extinct in downtown Colorado Springs.
Similarly, the new Air Force Academy Visitors Center ought to be a shoo-in. Now that state funding is assured, project backers need only to tap a powerful network of private donors, including those with deep connections to the Academy. Like its UCCS counterpart, the AFA Visitors Center requires no local public financing — and is thereby insulated from the whims of our often-flighty electorate.
That leaves the two downtown projects, neither of which can go forward as planned without the assent of City Council, the Board of County Commissioners and the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority. It’s possible that project proponents might seek approval from Colorado Springs voters for a general obligation bond issue, but more likely that they’ll opt for less problematic — and more expensive — financial structures.
The fact that a five-member majority of City Council has refused to support City for Champions has to give proponents pause. It’s all very well to point out that all five are Council rookies, that most were elected with scant district-level pluralities in a low turnout election, and that they don’t accurately reflect the will of the people.
Most of that may be true, though some would argue the last point. On the other hand, many of the conservative residents of suburban Colorado Springs have no particular affection for downtown, and they tend to dismiss claims that a prosperous, vital downtown is essential to the city’s economic future. They might regard a downtown-centric debt package as a product of the economic philosophy that led the feds to bail out the big banks and General Motors. The many paid, and the few benefited.
Our economy seems to have improved since the dark days of 2008-2011, but it’s scarcely booming. Tying the fate of City for Champions to a citywide tax/debt special election would be a crapshoot at best.
Can we improve the odds? To start with, City Council, Mayor Steve Bach, the Downtown Partnership, and the Jenkins/Blessing/Murphy axis of southwest downtown property owners need to get on the same page.
When project locations have been established, City Council and the Urban Renewal Authority can create a greatly expanded downtown urban renewal district, terminating all of the smaller satellite districts. Once created, Council and the commissioners can authorize city and county tax increment financing for the new district, CSURA can issue bonds and, depending upon the degree of private support for both projects, the deal would be done.
It would be a complex path, and it could be blocked by a recalcitrant City Council, insufficient private support, soaring interest rates or higher project costs than presently estimated. Urban Renewal Authority bonds would carry much higher interest rates than city general-obligation bonds, thus requiring those projects to meet more ambitious annual revenue targets.
Given the patchwork ownership of properties within the southwest downtown area, there are bound to be skirmishes over the location of the stadium-events center and the Olympic museum. Backers shouldn’t allow the projects to be compromised by sweetheart land deals.
That means following the guidelines established by the Colorado Supreme Court in Williams v. Denver, 147 Colo. 195, 363 P.2d 171 and reaffirmed in County Commissioners v. Vail Associates, 468 P.2d 842 (1970): “A landowner is not entitled to recover an increase or enhancement in value of his land caused by the proposed improvement for which his land is being taken.”
Following such guidelines would negate the argument made by project opponents that the C4C downtown package is a developer giveaway.
The selling landowners might argue that they’re being penalized while neighboring property owners profit, but there’s a way to overcome their objections.
The various owners of blighted southwest downtown properties could merge their holdings, benefit equally from future development and boost public confidence in the deal.
Such confidence might make it possible to go to a citywide vote without much risk, thereby lowering project costs and giving us all a sense of ownership and involvement.
That’s what you call a win/win.