State gives Colorado Springs 1-year extension to get started on City for Champions projects

State gives Colorado Springs 1-year extension to get started on City for Champions projects

DENVER • Colorado Springs was granted a year extension by the state Thursday to meet the “substantial work” requirement for two of four City for Champions projects.

City officials and their partners requested an extension last month because physical work had not begun on the sports and events center, split between two downtown locations, and the new Air Force Academy visitors center.

Both projects had until Dec. 16 to meet the deadline to retain millions in state sales tax rebates over 30 years.

The Colorado Economic Development Commission’s decision was needed Thursday because the looming deadline had created uncertainty surrounding the projects.

“The sooner we can approve this we can alleviate that doubt and allow them to move forward on their projects,” Jeff Kraft, who directs the commission’s Division of Business Funding and Incentives, told the commission.

“Unanimous,” Bob Cope, Colorado Springs’ economic development officer, said with a smile and a nod.

Cope said the vote didn’t surprise him, “but it’s still good to have.”

With that extension, the commission will meet again with city staff next month to discuss specifically what must be done to meet the “substantial work” deadline.

After the vote, Cope said the requirement will likely involve physical construction, which can begin as soon as next summer.

The sports and event center and the Air Force Academy visitors center are two of four projects proposed in the summer of 2013 by city officials and civic leaders. The projects, dubbed City for Champions, were intended to boost tourism and inject life into the city’s then-sagging economy.

The city applied for funds under the state’s Regional Tourism Act, and the commission on Dec. 16, 2013, awarded $120.5 million in state sales tax rebates over 30 years

The other two projects slated for funding are expected to meet this year’s deadline for “substantial progress.” The Olympic Museum is under construction, and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs broke ground last month on the sports medicine and performance center planned there.

The sports and events center project was considered dead in the water a year ago, and the $28 million in promised state financing was assumed lost. But Cope, alongside Mayor John Suthers and others, unveiled plans to resurrect the project this summer.

The first part of that project is a 10,000-seat stadium for the Switchbacks minor league soccer team at CityGate, a vacant block southwest of Cimarron and Sahwatch streets. That stadium would be accompanied by a seven-story building to the south with apartments and businesses. The second part is a 3,000-seat indoor arena on the south side of Colorado College’s campus, which will serve as the new home for the men’s ice hockey team.

The stadium and arena are meant to bookend downtown on the north and south and infuse the blocks in between with cash and out-of-state visitors.

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Raymond Dean