Mayor Steven Bach’s dreams took one step closer to reality Monday afternoon.
The Colorado Economic Development Commission announced that it has decided to award Bach’s City for Champions proposal roughly $120 million over the next three decades, pumping funds into a development plan city leaders hope can boost and brighten Colorado Springs’ economic outlook.
The proposal, which calls for the construction of a multipurpose sports stadium, a satellite visitors center for the Air Force Academy, an Olympic hall of fame, and new buildings for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is expected to bring in more than one million new visitors to the region each year and pump more than $300 million in new sales tax to local government entities.
The infrastructure is to be built southwest of downtown near America the Beautiful Park.
The funds stem from Colorado’s Regional Tourism Act, which appropriates money — some hundreds of millions of dollars — to different Colorado cities hoping to boost their economies. Taxpayers in Colorado Springs and El Paso County will have to pick up much of the remaining tab for the project, which is expected to cost about $250 million.
“The Regional Tourism Act establishes a program that gives local governments the opportunity to apply with the Economic Development Commission for approval of a large scale regional tourism project that is of an extraordinary and unique nature, is anticipated to result in a substantial increase in out-of-state tourism, and that generates a significant portion of the sales tax revenue by transactions with nonresidents of the zone,” according to the program’s doctrine.
“Local governments must provide reliable economic data demonstrating that, in the absence of state sales tax increment revenue, the project is not reasonably anticipated to be developed within the foreseeable future.”
The proposal raised controversy when Bach presented it in June, raising questions among City Council members and local citizens who questioned if such sums should pay for such grand economic development in a city with a troubled financial past.
A citizen survey distributed this summer revealed that the City for Champions proposal was unpopular.
“This has meaning far beyond what we could possibly envision today,” The Gazette reported Bach said during a news conference announcing the funding. “I don’t think that overstates our circumstance. What this will do for so many generations of people in this region and for all those will visit here. The jobs it will create, not only directly, but catalytically through this wonderful state of Colorado and the Pikes Peak region.”
At the news conference, which was held at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Bach lambasted those who opposed the proposal, according to The Gazette.
The City for Champions proposal was altered several times leading up to Monday’s decision after an independent contractor raised doubts over how impactful the proposed infrastructure would be.
One of the biggest changes was the decision to switch plans for a stadium to be used for Colorado Springs’ Rockies minor league affiliate team, The Sky Sox, to a multi-purpose one.
CC Emeritus Political Science Professor Bob Loevy, one of the foremost experts on Colorado politics, told The Catalyst in October that he sees the proposal as the first “major payoff for those looking to a strong mayor for a more dynamic city government and local economy.”
The city switched to a strong mayor form of government in 2010 with Bach’s election, granting the mayor more power in decision-making. Since that change, Bach and the City Council have clashed on various occasions, including recently the Council’s city budget, which Bach vetoed parts of last week.
“This would never happened under the old government,” Loevy said of the proposal a few months back.