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Parking and infrastructure deals lag as Olympic Museum plans move ahead


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The Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame is slated to open here before the 2018 Winter Olympics begin in South Korea.

While museum officials say their project is looking good, little if anything has been done on funding and building about $51 million worth of associated projects.

City economic vitality officer Bob Cope says the support projects will be built in phases and don't have to be completed until 2023 in order to qualify for state money. But it's worth noting that no location has been chosen for a parking facility, and no design completed for the pedestrian bridge to America the Beautiful Park.

The museum is one of four City for Champions projects funded in part with $120.5 million in state sales tax money over 30 years under the Regional Tourism Act.

The act requires that "substantial work" on all the projects, including the infrastructure, begin within five years of Dec. 16, 2013, the date on which the state approved the city's RTA application. All projects must be completed within 10 years.

The museum is well on its way. Designers and contractors have been hired, the 1.7-acre site at Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street acquired and more than $15 million raised toward the $60 million total price.

Jim Johnson, owner of builder GE Johnson Construction Co., says he's met with the designers in New York several times. "Those discussions are focused on lot line to lot line," he says, meaning they don't take into account off-site infrastructure improvements. Those are "somebody else's responsibility," he adds.

He says construction will take about 18 months, and exhibits another two to three months — well within the period between now and January 2018.

"We can move on this site without the city infrastructure underway," says Dick Celeste, the former governor of Ohio and president of Colorado College who's heading the museum project. "Hopefully, it would be finished at the same time." He also notes the museum wants to coordinate design of the bridge with the city, to assure it's consistent with the museum's design.

The state lists these needs and prices: streetscapes ($1.9 million), pedestrian bridge ($14 million), utility upgrades ($4 million), traffic signal ($429,000), 1,500-space parking garage ($29.5 million) and a "Wall of Fame" in the park ($1.2 million). Total: $51 million.

Cope says $19.5 million from the $120.5 million in state money can be used for that, although not until agreements are in place between the Urban Renewal Authority and sponsors of the attractions.

He says other funding could come from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, the city's Parking Authority, and tax increment financing (TIF) through the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority. TIF is the assignment of a portion of sales and/or property tax revenue growth generated by the projects themselves over time. So far there are no firm proposals.

Another possible funding source is the city's lodgers and auto rental tax (LART). A recent study by Tourism Economics, commissioned by the visitors bureau, noted that raising the LART rate or imposing it on attractions could raise more money for marketing of tourism, according to the Colorado Springs Business Journal. The tax — 2 percent on hotel rooms and 1 percent on rental vehicles — hasn't changed in 35 years and raises $4.4 million annually, according to the Journal. But if it were raised to be competitive with other communities' LART, it could bring in more than $10 million a year.

Council President Keith King says some of that money could build the downtown infrastructure. "Why don't we say the people coming from out of state would be the people who pay for the infrastructure development, and that way, it's paid for by tourist money?" he asks. "I think people in Colorado Springs would vote for that."

City officials have vowed to allow voters a say in whether to use tax money for C4C. The soonest voters could be consulted — whether on TIF funding or the LART tax — would be the Nov. 3 general election.

The city hasn't received any RTA money so far.


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