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Convention center, round three


Let's face it: Nothing's as much fun as watching the rich and powerful duke it out. And here in Colorado Springs, we're usually deprived of that pleasure.

Our local power structure is pretty good at keeping disagreements, if any, out of the public eye. So when we talk about what the developers want, or what the Chamber of Commerce wants, or what Da Mayor wants, we're usually talking about the same thing.

That's why it's so fascinating to watch the ongoing Convention Center War. In one corner, weighing about 185, Smokin' Steve Bartolin, CEO of The Broadmoor hotel! And in the other, tipping the scales at a guesstimated 175, Rocky "The Ripper" Scott, CEO of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation!

The beef: Bartolin's building a mini-convention center. And he don't want no friggin' competition, especially if hotel room taxes from The Broadmoor help finance it. So he's funding a proposed "citizen" initiative, which would forbid the city from even studying the idea of building its own convention center.

And guess what? This don't sit too well with Scott, who views a convention center as a real plus for our economy and for the continued revitalization of downtown.

In Bartolin's corner: the biggest dog in town, The Broadmoor. In Scott's corner: Jeff Smith of Classic Homes, David Jenkins of Nor'Wood, the Chamber and most of the political and business establishment. They know what's right -- a convention center/hotel/Olympic Hall of Fame, right next to the not-yet-built Confluence Park. Smokin' Steve had better just get out of the way or he'll get run over by the locomotive of history... But wait a minute... Tag Team!

Yup, there's another dog in the fight, and it looks to me as if Rocky the Ripper and Smokin' Steve are about to get tossed through the ropes. For the last several months, certain downtown business people have become increasingly concerned about the convention center. They foresee years of indecisive wrangling, and they're not happy about helping to pay for a facility that may not directly benefit downtown. Its currently proposed location, far from the Tejon Street corridor, might simply drain business from the core of downtown -- or so they believe.

That's why some of the city's biggest players -- club owners Sam and Kathy Guadagnoli, lawyer-developer Greg Timm and developer Ray O'Sullivan -- have come together and are even now shaping a breathtaking, even visionary, proposal for a convention center in the heart of downtown.

Here's what they envision: A medium-rise (12 to 14 stories) hotel would be erected on the east side of Tejon Street between Pikes Peak and Kiowa. The hotel would be linked directly to an expanded city parking garage, and connected, via a glass-walled skyway, to the new convention center, which would occupy much of the City Auditorium block.

Sounds great, but what would happen to the long-suffering Auditorium? Nothing but good things; according to the partners, the Aud would be renovated, restored and linked to the convention center. It'd remain the community center it has always been, but it'd also be available for convention center use. And remember, one of the original purposes of the City Auditorium was just that -- to be a convention/meeting center.

Are they just blowing smoke? Maybe, but consider this: The partners already control all of the properties they need to make this a reality. That's why, as I wrote last week, O'Sullivan has bought/optioned properties in the Auditorium block. And that's why the partners were wandering through the Aud -- not to convert it to condos, but to figure out how to restore it to its previous glory.

So what would this bring to downtown? Some breathtaking new buildings, more businesses and a sharply defined city center for our community. And citing the convention center hotel in the middle of the action, within easy walking distance of scores of bars, restaurants and shops, would make the center that much more attractive to users.

How do you pay for it? That's never easy; any convention center, including this one, needs to be financed via a private-public partnership. But, since the benefits of this deal are visible and immediate, as opposed to problematical and distant, it may be a lot more doable.

If it happens, who's the big winner? Sam, Kathy, Greg and Ray, who put it together? Nope -- it'll be berdeveloper Jenkins, a Confluence Park player who just happens to own half of the Auditorium block. So it doesn't matter to Jenkins where the ConCen goes -- he makes out like a bandit either way!

Now wouldn't it be nice to be that smart?


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