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Bach promises big returns with 'City for Champions' plan 

Talking a good game

Mayor Steve Bach this week announced an ambitious plan totalling roughly $218 million to build four major attractions in Colorado Springs, without any new taxes needed.

They include two downtown sites: a U.S. Olympic museum and a baseball stadium and event center (which sounds a bit like the convention center voters have refused to fund several times in the past). The other two are a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs sports medicine and performance center and an Air Force Academy visitor center outside the base's gates.

Bach says the city will file its privately crafted application, dubbed "City for Champions," through a program under the Regional Tourism Act, which is designed to fund projects that will attract more out-of-state visitors. A state panel will assess the application and decide by December.

Calling the projects a "catalytic spark" to ignite growth and create jobs, Bach says the money will come from state sales taxes rebated to the city ($82 million), private investment ($61.4 million), and from a variety of public sources ($74.6 million), including city borrowing.

As for the latter, Bach points out that the city's nearly paid off a previous $88 million debt, issued in 1999, that funded drainage, public safety and transportation projects without a tax increase; when that's done, he says, the city can borrow again while sparing other departments.

Other types of public money also will be used, city spokeswoman Julie Smith says, including a tax credit for which details were not available as of press time.

Winning statistics

The new projects, Bach says, would draw nearly a half million out-of-staters here per year. They would bring $6.9 billion in new state retail sales taxes, and $312 million in local sales taxes, over 30 years.

That said, it's unknown where those figures come from. While the city hired Summit Economics to study the economic impact of moving the Sky Sox downtown, the study didn't venture into impact from all the projects.

The Summit Economics study was released to media late Monday, five days after the Gazette reported details from it. The daily is owned by Clarity Media, a company controlled by billionaire Philip Anschutz. The Anschutz Foundation was one of four entities that each gave $75,000 to fund the city's application, the others being the city, El Pomar Foundation and the tax-supported Downtown Development Authority.

Summit Economics projected that Colorado Springs Sky Sox attendance would grow per game by 57 percent, from 4,400 to 6,900, in the first year if the Triple-A baseball team moved to a new downtown stadium. Among other predictions:

• Fiscal impacts from a new stadium would be mainly driven by non-local visitors.

• The number of jobs at the ballpark would increase from 161 to 385, representing $6 million in annual household earnings.

• The stadium would quadruple the demand for hotel room nights among attendees, from 3,400 now to 13,600.

• By the fourth year after the new stadium opened, new city sales tax revenue from the venue would exceed $275,000. (By comparison, medical marijuana last year brought in $1.1 million in sales tax.) The stadium would cost about $60 million to build.

Bach forecasts the four projects would create 750 permanent full-time jobs and 310 construction jobs, boosting spin-off development in housing, restaurant and hotel markets.

Who's on first?

No City Council members attended Monday's news conference, but Bach will need Council approval to allocate debt payments. A vote of the people also might be required, depending on what type of borrowing method is chosen.

Councilor Andy Pico, who represents the northeast district where the Sky Sox stadium, Security Service Field, is located, sounds circumspect about the proposal to move the stadium. "I'm going to withhold comment until I've had a chance to look through this in detail," he writes in an e-mail. "So far as the stadium, I rather like the Sky Sox where they are in 'Downtown District 6.' But we'll see."

Council President Keith King says while the previous Council allocated $75,000 to prepare the application, current Council members, six of whom were newly elected in April, "have not been active in this proposal at all."

"I always think communication is better, to have an opportunity to know what's going on," says King, who had been given nothing outlining the program as of Monday night. "There's always room for improvement in communication."

While he says he understands the administration applies for grants without reporting that to Council, he adds, "This is a big one. We'll have a lot of discussion about it. It would have been nice if we had been informed of what was going on beforehand."

He also identified two areas where the city should concentrate its efforts: health care and sports. "There is much to be discussed to bring any of the four projects to Colorado Springs," he says. "I support economic development of the city and support looking at all options including the four projects" announced on Monday.

Partners in the project include the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Partnership, the Downtown Development Authority, the El Pomar Foundation, the Sky Sox, the Air Force Academy, UCCS and El Paso County, among others.

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