Champions backers say it’s premature to put issue on ballot

By Monica Mendoza                                          Updated:  March 18, 2014 at  10:40 pm •             Published: March 18, 2014 | 10:35 pm                                                           photo - City for Champions United States Olympic Museum rendering December 18, 2013

City for Champions United  States Olympic Museum rendering December 18, 2013

It will take at least a year to determine how to structure and pay for a  proposed $92 million downtown sports and events center, according to City for  Champions organizers.

That is why it is premature for the Colorado Springs City Council to say it  will put the issue on the ballot, said Amy Lathen, El Paso County  Commissioner.

Five Colorado Springs City Council members on Monday, released a letter they  sent to Mayor Steve Bach saying they will not approve a special financing  district to help pay for the proposed sports and events center without asking  voters. Of the four City for Champions projects, the events center would be the  only one to require local tax dollars.

Council president Keith King, along with council members Joel Miller, Don  Knight, Andy Pico and Helen Collins, said they would not spend local tax money  on the project without the OK of voters.

“My question to the City Council is, ‘What would the (ballot) question be?'”  Lathen said. “We need time to cultivate private investors.”

Lathen was among the panel of City for Champions organizers who hosted a  second City for Champions community meeting Tuesday to update residents on four  proposed tourism projects: a downtown sports and events center, a university  sports medicine and performance center, an Air Force Academy visitors center and  an Olympic museum.

About 150 people attended the meeting, although only about a dozen asked  questions or commented. Resident John Hawk said the city should spend tax money  on other priorities, like roads and stormwater projects.

But organizers say the projects, once built, will generate increases in sales  tax collections that could be used for purposes such as streets.

The City for Champions project was approved under the state’s Regional  Tourism Act program, which allows cities to keep a portion of state sales tax  generated in a special taxing district. The money can be used to finance bonds  that would pay for the construction of the projects. The state approved the  program as a way to attract more out-of-state tourists.

The Regional Tourism Act provides funding through a tax increment financing,  or TIF. That money is calculated as a percentage of increased state sales tax  revenue expected to be generated by tourists who come here because of the new  venues, said El Paso County Commission chairman Dennis Hisey. It’s money that  would not exist if not for the tourism projects, he said.

In December, the Colorado Economic Development Commission awarded the city  13.08 percent of increased state sales tax revenue collected across a large  portion of Colorado Springs over 30 years, an estimated $120.5 million.

“It’s not money that would have gone into the general fund,” Hisey said. “I’m  not sure I see a downside.”

According to the preliminary financial plan, the $120.5 million will be used  to pay off a bond issue of $47.5 million. But the project also describes the  creation of a local tax increment financing district, and that would affect the  city’s general fund, King said.

The City Council can create TIF districts without going to the ballot, and it  has. But King said this issue has been too controversial to ignore voters. “We  have to go to a vote if we are going to spend local sales tax,” King said.

City for Champions organizers said they don’t know if or how much local tax  money will be needed. There is a possibility that a private developer will want  to pony up money for naming rights or ownership of the center.

“It’s disingenuous to go to voters when you don’t’ have all the information.”  Lathen said.

Meanwhile, the county has hired a economic consultant to review estimated  costs, tourists and sales tax dollars. The county hopes to have the report back  in three months.

Here is an update on the other projects:

–UCCS has two sites picked out for its sports medicine and performance  center. Both sites are being evaluated, said Brian Burnett, UCCS vice chancellor  for administration and finance.

–Air Force Academy officials are evaluating possible sites for the visitors  center, said Carlos Cruz-Gonzalez, academy director of installations. They  expect to have a decision by the end of the month.

–The Olympic museum may be the furthest along in development. Its board  recently sent out requests for qualifications for construction manager, design  architect and exhibit designer.

The Regional Tourism Act Advisory Board, which will oversee the four  projects, will be co-chaired by Bach, King and Hisey. It also will have a  representative from each of the four projects, along with eight community  members. About a dozen names were submitted for consideration, Lathen  said.