On Dec. 16, 2013, the state Economic Development Commission voted to allocate $120.5 million in state sales tax money over 30 years to four new tourism attractions in Colorado Springs. Four months later, Mayor Steve Bach appointed a 16-member Regional Tourism Act Advisory Board, co-chaired by himself, City Council President Keith King and El Paso County Commission Chair Dennis Hisey, to oversee all four "City for Champions" projects.
One, the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, has since reported significant advancement. The others? Not so much. In fact, the most controversial and costly, a downtown stadium and sports events center, has given rise to a dust-up over whether voters should have a say in using local tax money to build and/or run it.
Here's an update on each component of the $250 million plan.
U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame
Backers of this $60 million project recently said $15 million in new commitments have been received, though they didn't say from whom. Museum spokesperson Kristen Downs says more information will be released in 2015.
It's only the most recent in a string of museum-related developments. Downs, a former banker in Chicago and CIA intelligence officer, was hired as full-time executive administrative coordinator in March. On July 17, the museum board headed by Dick Celeste, two-term Ohio governor and former president of Colorado College, signed a 30-year agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee. The agreement, which hasn't been released, reportedly designates the museum as an official repository of Olympic history.
Two months later, Nor'wood Development Group said it would donate 1.7 acres west of Sierra Madre Street at Vermijo Avenue for the project, noting the site "provides extraordinary visibility to motorists traveling the I-25 corridor, walkability to the core of downtown Colorado Springs and provides museum visitors with sweeping views of the Front Range and Pikes Peak."
On Oct. 3, El Pomar Foundation announced a $10 million grant, noting the project "draws on the strength of the Colorado Springs community," home to the USOC and 23 national governing bodies for individual Olympic sports. El Pomar Chairman and CEO Bill Hybl called the project "a powerful economic driver for the region."
The John and Margot Lane Foundation also donated $1 million this year, and more than $70,000 has been donated through Enterprise Zone giving, a type of contribution that affords donors significant tax advantages.
Celeste says the board wants to have $50 million in hand before breaking ground, and a total of $70 million to cover construction costs and a $10 million endowment. The museum is expected to receive about $25 million in state money over 30 years.
On Oct. 27, Celeste announced that GE Johnson of Colorado Springs had been chosen to build the facility, and will employ 150 people during construction. The architect of record will be Anderson Mason Dale of Denver, and design architect is Diller Scofidio + Renfro of New York.
Downs says preliminary designs will be posted at usolympicmuseum.org in 30 to 60 days. The museum plans to open before the February 2018 winter Olympics in South Korea.
Air Force Academy Visitors Center
In July, the U.S. Air Force Academy announced it had chosen a site for a new visitor center, northeast of the north academy entrance, west of I-25.
The center will be built and run by a vendor. But before bids can be taken, the academy is conducting an environmental study, due for completion in early 2015.
The academy is expected to get $6 million from state tax money over 30 years toward an estimated project cost of $20.5 million.
Sports Medicine and Performance Center
"Not much to report," is how the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' Tom Hutton describes progress on a $27 million project promising clinical research, sports rehabilitation, orthopedics and research space. At 77,000 square feet, it will be located either north or south of the Lane Center for Academic Health Services on North Nevada Avenue.
According to the city's application, the center would be built with $17.5 million in private money, $1.35 million from UCCS and $8.2 million from the state sales tax allocation.
Asked via email how much has been raised so far, Hutton says, "Lots of discussions but nothing completed/ready to announce."
He has a similar response to questions about what, if any, leases have been inked with clinicians and physicians. "No leases/contracts now," he writes. "These are anticipated in 2015."
The state consultant's analysis of the project in 2013 noted that UCCS' invitation to doctors and others to express interest in participating, issued in July 2013, netted four responses.
Timelines for construction and opening the facility, Hutton says, "are not established," although the city's original application stated it would open in July 2015. He adds that UCCS expects to receive a memorandum of understanding in January from the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, which is the funding vehicle for City for Champions.
Downtown Sports and Events Center
Initially proposed as home to the Sky Sox baseball team with outdoor seating for 10,000 and indoor for 3,000, the state's resolution, approved in September, allows for a downgrade to 8,000 outdoors and 2,000 indoors to afford the $92.5 million project "flexibility," according to city economic vitality official Bob Cope.
Since the Sky Sox don't want to move from the east side to downtown, it's unclear what events will take place here, although the newly formed Switchbacks pro soccer team is interested, according to comments made by team owner Nick Ragan at public meetings. "They did say if we build it, they will come," says C4C spokeswoman Laura Neumann in an email, "with the understanding it is designed in a manner conducive to their sport."
Due to myriad questions of whether the stadium would be viable financially, opposition has centered on whether voters will have a say.
In October, Anita Miller, wife of former Councilor Joel Miller, who resigned his post in November to run for mayor, began circulating petitions to place a measure on April's city election ballot that would require voter approval to use city money for a city stadium. She bagged that effort recently, saying she was unlikely to gather all signatures needed by the Jan. 7 deadline.
Several versions of a Council-sponsored ballot measure have emerged, with C4C backers favoring one from Council President King. It would require a vote of the people only if sales and use tax revenues or any city general fund revenues are to be used specifically for the stadium. King's version, then, would allow use of city parking revenues, for example, without a vote of the people.
"I think if done right, this has the opportunity for success," King said during a Dec. 9 Council meeting. "But it has to be done right."
While local businessmen and community leaders support public funding of the stadium, saying it will bring prosperity, others urge caution.
"Please get all the documentation together and make sure we don't go down a blind alley," retired Army colonel Bill Murray said at the Dec. 9 Council meeting.
Neumann recently said the project lacks a financing plan, because no one has stepped forward to either build the facility or partner with the city. But those types of arrangements take time, she says, and will come together in coming months.
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