Wednesday, February 19, 2014

True, half-true, false: C4C hosts first public meeting

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Overall, promoters of City for Champions should be pleased with the first public meeting about a plan to spend $250 million building four tourist venues in Colorado Springs. Those include a downtown sports stadium, Olympic museum, Air Force Academy visitors center, and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs sports medicine center.

click to enlarge Bill Murray uses signage to dispute or verify the veracity of what's being said at a City for Champions meeting Tuesday. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Bill Murray uses signage to dispute or verify the veracity of what's being said at a City for Champions meeting Tuesday.
There were only two allegations of corruption leveled at promoters, one of them being money laundering. Bill Murray, a retired Army colonel who's been investigating the tourism proposal, didn't have to use his "false" sign much. But he did display his "half-true" sign occasionally as promoters spoke.

And whenever things got dicey, it was quickly quelled by moderator Stephannie Finley, who used to work for the local chamber and now is a part-timer at UCCS.

For example, Kat Tudor, founder of Smokebrush Foundation, asked what will be done and how much it will cost to clean up 100 years of pollution at her building adjacent to Cimino Drive where a coal gasification plant once stood. When the city demolished a city building there last year, dust blew onto Tudor and her property that later proved to be laced with carcinogenic substances; groundwater, too, is laced with toxins. She's suing the city. ("Chemical reactions in downtown Colorado Springs," April 24, 2013)

"My question is about the elephant in the room," Tudor said, noting the property lies squarely in the path of the City for Champions' downtown Olympic museum and sports and events center. When Tudor began to elaborate, saying experts had ruled the property a "public health hazard," Finley said, "We have a very long line" of people waiting to comment.

There were four people in line.

When Tudor continued, Finley cut her off, saying, "That's good. I think that's good."

Another time, Finley interrupted a citizen who was expressing opposition, saying, "What's the question?"

And another time, El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen took the mike to discuss how the county hopes to conduct a third-party analysis of the financial viability of the downtown stadium — as six people waited to speak.

Addressing the pollution problem, Dick Celeste, former Ohio governor and ex president of The Colorado College who's heading the museum effort, said, "Any construction is going to have to take care of challenges at that site."

Mayor Steve Bach later backed up that statement, saying, "Clearly, an environmental assessment will be done." Later, when asked again about that, he said, "I will ask for a thorough environmental assessment."

But Don Goede, who works with Tudor, said, as he held up the city-funded Walsh Report done in 2007, "You did that. It's actually quite awesome, but they didn't follow the [cleanup] plan, and in the process I learned that contamination is a huge issue. I love what you're selling, and I want to believe you, but there's something going on underground."

Giving an update to project status, Celeste said requests for qualifications for an architect and other possible contracts will be issued within the next 30 to 60 days, and within 120 days the private foundation overseeing the museum project should have "some serious indication of who's doing the project," he said. Celeste also said the museum might not need any tax money to build, despite being included in the city's proposal that received a pledge of $120.5 million in state sales tax rebates over 30 years.

Responding to a question about local taxpayer support, El Paso County Administrator Jeff Greene said there's no intention to ask voters for a tax increase. He went on to say the city and county will cooperate on an outside consultant's analysis of funding for the $92.7 million sports and events center.
click to enlarge The Regional Building Department meeting room was full for the City for Champions meeting; about 140 attended. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The Regional Building Department meeting room was full for the City for Champions meeting; about 140 attended.

Someone submitted a question to Finley via text about building the sports center for the Sky Sox, prompting Bach to say that four to five months after he took office in June 2011, he was contacted by both the Sky Sox, a AAA team for the Rockies, and the Rockies organization itself about the city building a stadium for the team.

"I didn't call them," he said. "They called me." After a public outcry last year against moving the Sky Sox from Security Service Field in northeast Colorado Springs, City for Champions promoters dumped the plan and reconfigured the stadium for soccer, rugby and other sports.

Bach also distanced himself from those who conceived C4C, saying he was approached over a year ago by El Pomar Foundation president Bill Hybl, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley and Broadmoor hotel president Steve Bartolin who urged him to apply for state Regional Tourism Act funding for four projects.

"You'll have to ask them how they came up with the four venues," Bach said.

He further cast doubt on the downtown stadium when a citizen asked who would own it. "It won't be owned by the city, I can tell you that," Bach said. "The city doesn't want to take that liability."

The city's pro forma provided to state economic development officials in support of the tax subsidy application showed the stadium would not make enough money year to year to cover its debt. The city has refused to release the pro forma, saying it contains proprietary information that could jeopardize an operator's competitive advantage. But the state released it to Murray through a Colorado Open Records request.
click to enlarge Mayor Steve Bach, left, chairs a meeting of the City for Champions inner circle. To his left, Commissioner Amy Lathen. To his right are Council President Keith King and Council President Pro Tem Merv Bennett. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mayor Steve Bach, left, chairs a meeting of the City for Champions inner circle. To his left, Commissioner Amy Lathen. To his right are Council President Keith King and Council President Pro Tem Merv Bennett.

At a meeting of the inner circle of planners an hour earlier, Bach noted Interim City Attorney Wynetta Massey has opined he has authority to appoint the Regional Tourism Advisory Board, although the City Charter vests appointment of all board and commissioners with Council. It will be comprised of Bach, County Commission Chair Dennis Hisey, Council President Keith King, representatives from the four venues and citizens. Though initial talks pegged the membership at 15, Bach balked, saying he wasn't sure it would be a good idea to give citizens a majority on the panel, given the city has a fiduciary responsibility and a citizens majority might post "a risk." He didn't elaborate. 

Bach also asserted he could appoint the board without Council input, but noted he hoped there would be consensus. There apparently will be no open call for citizens to apply. Rather, Bach and Council President Pro Tem Merv Bennett said "names" are being vetted by a handful of people, and then Bach will choose members, with input from Lathen and Bennett.

"We're looking for people who can identify solutions, not just problems," Bennett said.

Bach also said he alone has the authority to sign the resolution in April with the state, cementing the deal.

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