Events center scrapped, aviation museum may fill gap

City for Champions

Three and a half years after former Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach submitted the city’s application for state tax increment financing for the City for Champions proposal, one key component of the proposal is officially dead.

“It’s very unlikely that the downtown sports and events center can be built without public funding,” said Mayor John Suthers. “I don’t see a local appetite for funding such a project.”

Given the apparent reluctance of both voters and city councilors to allocate or approve any such funding, the project is no longer on the city’s radar screen.

Yet abandoning the sports and events center means that the city would forfeit almost $20 million in state TIF funding that the state economic development commission allocated to the project. The state’s funding commitment will expire on Dec. 18, 2018 unless “substantial” work has begun on the project.

Can another project be substituted for the center?

“There may be a way to take advantage of the potential funding,” said Suthers.

The city has been in talks with the National Museum of World War II Aviation, now located on a 20-acre tract at the Colorado Springs Airport. The museum is planning a substantial expansion of its facilities, including “a new 72,000 square-foot aircraft display hangar and an 86,000-square-foot building that will house new exhibit galleries, an events center, and a state-of-the-art education facility,” according to the museum’s website.

As now envisioned, the 86,000-square-foot Aviation Hall would be located on a four-acre site at Cimarron and Sierra Madre streets, within the CityGate urban renewal area. First approved in 2007, the Urban Renewal Authority has seen no development since. The 16.5-acre site was purchased by the John & Margaret Lane Foundation in 2016. According to the mayor , the foundation has offered to transfer the four-acre site to the aviation museum.

The museum began a $40 million capital campaign for its proposed expansion in 2015, and has already raised significant funds.

Obstacles remain, however.

“There’s no provision for substitution in the Regional Tourism Act, so we’d have to work with the legislature this year to amend the statute. I think we might have support from Pueblo and Loveland, who may want to change their projects as well,” Suthers said.

If the statute is changed, then project’s backers will have to persuade the state Economic Development Commission that the museum will be enough of a visitor draw to qualify for RTA funding. Summit Economics has been commissioned to prepare an economic impact study for the proposed downtown facility.

“We also need them to secure their collection [for long-term exhibition],” said Suthers. “Currently, much of it is on loan. The site will have to purchased or acquired and we have to be sure of their financial wherewithal.”

In sharp contrast to the sports and events center, which never progressed beyond the conceptual stage, the Aviation Museum is an established nonprofit that enjoys substantial private support, both locally and nationally. Provided that Mayor Suthers can persuade the often-fractious state legislature to amend the Regional Tourism Act, the way may be clear for the construction of a new downtown institution.