City snoozes and loses 

City Sage

Got a worthy project that will bring quantifiable economic benefits to your city or county? Can your project pass a rigorous benefit analysis by an unbiased private firm? Can you present and defend the deal to the nine skeptical hardasses of the Colorado Economic Development Commission, including such luminaries as former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, attorney Howard Gelt and business magnate Dick Monfort?

Could you use $25 million in tax rebates from the state?

Well, if you're not already at the table, you're late. Six projects are under review, and only two will make the cut. To qualify for incentives under the Regional Tourism Act, applicants must prove their projects will bring new visitors and tax revenue to the state. The best receive a portion of the sales taxes their project generates, which they can put back into the infrastructure.

So what's our entry? Maybe a visionary scheme for downtown revitalization, or an Olympic Hall of Fame, or a new Pikes Peak Summit House, or a private-public partnership to revitalize South Academy Boulevard?

Nope. It's none of those. Our project is ... we have no project.

"I don't know why we don't," says city Chief of Economic Vitality and Innovation Steve Cox. "Somebody must have dropped the ball, but I don't know the history [of the project]."

"I don't know anything about it," says City Councilor Tim Leigh. "I've never heard anything about these state incentives."

The program isn't exactly a secret. Approved in 2009 and expanded in 2011 — with media stories tracking both moves — the act allows cities and counties to put forward project ideas as long as they meet fairly rigorous criteria. The criteria include a realistic financing plan and a rational nexus between the amount requested and the sales tax expected to be generated.

Why didn't we put anything forward? Have there been any public or private regional initiatives that might have qualified? Not to my knowledge — and it's certainly arguable that the recession, the virtual collapse of the development industry, and turmoil at the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the city all contributed.

"Obviously, there was so much going on that this didn't rise to the top," says City Councilor Brandy Williams.

It's a sad reflection of the sloth and lassitude of our business and political leaders since '09. And it's strange that the city, which has never been shy about oinking up free cash from the state, let such an opportunity pass.

"We don't directly involve ourselves with community investment projects," says the Chamber and EDC's Dave White. "We're mainly concerned with attracting primary employers and new jobs. But we'd welcome support from the state to help fund such projects, since they help attract and retain employers."

Compare us to Aurora, which asked for 95 percent of the $123.8 million in sales taxes it believes a proposed 1,500-room Gaylord hotel and conference center will bring in during the next three decades. Pretty nervy, especially since there's only $50 million available. (The state's consultant, Economic and Planning Systems, Inc., has since reduced Aurora's number.)

And let's consider Pueblo, which hopes to get $33.1 million to support expanding its downtown convention center, building a regional aquatic center and indoor water park, and creating a professional bull riders university and training center. The 87-page application was filed last June by the Urban Renewal Authority of Pueblo, in conjunction with the city, the Pueblo Chamber, Pueblo Economic Development Corp., and other partners.

"We started working on this project right after Gov. [Bill] Ritter signed the bill in 2009," says Pueblo Chamber CEO Rod Slyhoff.

As the application claims, "the expansion of Phase III would position Colorado as [having] one of a handful of U.S. cities to boast a sustainable urban Riverwalk environment, complete with shopping, dining, Visitors Welcome Center/Boathouse, and a Heritage Tourism Plaza that connects to an expanded convention center..."

Oh well. As fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers used to say, "Wait till next year!" We'll show 'em.

You hear us, ya bums??!!


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