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A history of Colorado Springs' secret tourism proposal 

City Sage

The best service I can provide to our community, as mayor, is to deliver a trustworthy, reliable and transparent government. — Mayor Steve Bach, June 2011

Perhaps the mayor misspoke, and inadvertently substituted "transparent" for "opaque." Consider the proposal that Colorado Springs will submit to the state Economic Development Commission by July 8, in hopes of receiving tens of millions in tax funding through the Regional Tourism Act.

If approved, the city could leverage a percentage of local state sales tax collections to fund its wish list: maybe an Olympic Hall of Fame, a new Air Force Academy visitor center, a downtown ballpark, a science museum.

A transparent city government would have opened up the process a year ago, held public meetings, encouraged community leaders and organizations to suggest projects, chosen one or two, and moved forward. Instead, the process was confined to a few insiders. The administration quietly asked for a $75,000 supplementary appropriation from City Council a few months ago to examine applying for RTA funding. Since then, silence.

No one will comment on the record. Privately, officials grudgingly concede that the city will submit an application. It's possible that Bach revealed the city's plan at his press conference Tuesday, after the Indy's deadline. Or maybe he'll wait until the July 8 submission deadline.

Regardless, would you have preferred that the community be consulted beforehand? Are you in favor of using local tax dollars to support an initiative like this? Save your breath — because nobody involved cares what you think.

The project was identified by a group of "community leaders" who short-circuited openness, transparency and community-based endeavors. They seem to believe public input is a waste of time, that community buy-in can be created after the fact, and municipal government should do their bidding.

Who are they? Without knowing for sure, I'll consider the usual suspects.

Start with the Iron Triangle: El Pomar CEO Bill Hybl, Broadmoor/Gazette owner Phil Anschutz and father/son developers David and Chris Jenkins. Next, add Bach, City Council President Keith King, and Doug Price from the Convention and Visitors Bureau. If an Olympic Hall of Fame is part of the plan, expect to see former Colorado College president Dick Celeste and U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun in the room.

Thanks to the Jenkins-funded initiative of 2010 that brought us the strong-mayor government, the bad old days are gone forever. No more boring public hearings, no more slow-acting committees including residents old and young, black, brown and white, male and female, retired and working, Republican and Democrat. No more endless, careful investigations of all options.

To qualify for Regional Tourism Act funds, you need tangible evidence of community support. Pueblo's successful 2012 application was driven by years of citizen involvement and absolute openness by government and business interests. Cañon City's RTA application plan isn't a secret: a$50 million resort and conference center on the edge of the Royal Gorge.

But if legislators intended that all projects — which must come from local governments — enjoy this kind of broad, public support and community buy-in, well, that's not the way we do things in Colorado Springs these days.

Thanks to the Iron Triangle and their myrmidons, our application isn't really ours. It's theirs. Does it seem as if we've become a smaller, less crooked and more efficient Chicago? No, we're just imitating America's most successful city: Michael Bloomberg's New York.

Is that bad? Maybe not. Community-based processes are flawed, messy and can easily thwart decision-making, not advance it. The exasperated folks driving this deal have watched initiative after initiative fail. Many are aging, and they'd like to see something done while they're still in the game.

Their impatience is understandable. But maybe they should have waited another year. Who knows what 400,000-plus creative, quarrelsome and fiercely independent residents might have produced?

Those untidy processes of local democracy gave us America the Beautiful Park, Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Colorado Springs Airport, City Auditorium and the Pikes Peak Center. That's a pretty impressive lineup.

But now it's time for the new authoritarians.

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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