USOC: This time, it's polarizing 

Will the new Olympic deal be a deal-breaker for the city come election day?

Sixteen eyes behind the City Council dais stare blankly at Assistant City Manager Mike Anderson.

"These documents represent — I hate to say it — thousands of hours of work on the part of the city staff, on the part of the USOC staff, on the part of representatives of LandCo Equity Partners and a miscellaneous, long list of attorneys," Anderson says. "I believe at one point we had 12 different attorneys involved in trying to reach these two agreements."

More blank stares.

"LandCo Equity Partners has agreed to all the terms and conditions in the proposed settlement agreement ... and as we're all aware, the USOC board met yesterday and authorized its management to move forward with a new economic development agreement."

This would be the moment when the crowd should erupt in cheers. But there are no cheers. Or jeers. There's no crowd, actually, just a few people under the fluorescent lights of City Council chambers July 31. The reception for the second U.S. Olympic Committee retention deal contrasts markedly from the back slaps and wide smiles of the first go-round in April 2008.

Apparently, the sequel just can't live up to the original.

Many Councilors will tell you they're right to commit about $31 million in incentives (financed at a starting cost of $1.7 million a year) to keep the USOC here, because losing it would be a huge economic blow. But at a time when the city faces a $23.7 million budget shortfall — when it soon may be abandoning parks and firing cops to save money — they're not ecstatic.

Voters might not look kindly on a city that throws money at business, even as it abandons its most basic services. Nor will they be pleased that the mayor's been the subject of an ethics investigation — which was just wrapping up as of press time — tied to the deal. Unhappy voters could sway the November mail election, when the city will likely be asking for a property tax increase, a small millage extension and lifting of the city's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights spending limits.

"We've known all along that the USOC may come at the same time as we're preparing ballot initiatives," Councilor Jan Martin says. "I'm certain that for some people, it will enter into their decision."

Tell 'em how you really feel

If people are mad to see more than $3 million extra go to the USOC than first planned, they're keeping it quiet.

Martin says she's received four or five constituent e-mails addressing the deal, and some have been positive. Councilor Randy Purvis says he's received about three, and wonders aloud if many will show up for the town-hall meeting scheduled for Thursday night.

"It might be a very short hearing," Purvis says.

There are a few bad signs, though. The majority of online comments on Gazette stories about the new deal have been negative, with some commenters linking the deal to the election.

And former Gazette editorial page editor Sean Paige has been rumbling on his Local Liberty Action blog. On July 26, he wrote, "A city that offers millions of dollars in handouts to the USOC isn't going to get much sympathy from voters when it comes to asking them to hike their taxes."

The first USOC deal included a new downtown headquarters building, a renovated building for member sports' offices, and improvements to the Olympic Training Center. The original price tag was $53 million, with the city chipping in $27 million and developer LandCo Equity Partners pitching $16 million.

But that deal fell apart in late 2008, when the economy prevented the city from issuing bonds and LandCo from obtaining loans. LandCo sued the city and the USOC. All parties now have settled. Under the new deal, most of the same goodies will be offered, but LandCo won't be paying for the OTC work, leaving a larger financial obligation for the city and private donors.

Not prime time

USOC or no USOC, this might not be the best time to ask voters to be generous. Off-year elections generally draw only the most fervent voters, and in Colorado Springs that includes a lot of tax-haters. And then there's the economy.

"My advice would have been, wait 'til November of 2012 presidential election, and you'll have a better chance," Colorado College political science professor Bob Loevy says. "But I don't think they can afford to wait 'til then; I don't think they can afford to wait until November 2010."

So, how can the city win?

"Remember, election campaigns are not fought on real issues," he says. 'They're fought on slogans."

Supporters of the city would do best, he says, to forget about explaining the budget to voters and simply to attack TABOR founder Douglas Bruce, an increasingly unpopular figure.

"The people who want to limit TABOR are going to have to pull the same trick Doug Bruce did [when he passed TABOR]," Loevy says. "They're going to have to find a simple way of expressing this idea that voters will want to vote for."


The new agreement

Casey Bradley Gent


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