There are many business deals percolating downtown that will drive the economy in a positive direction, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told a group of Middle Market Entrepreneurs last week. Suthers joined City Council President Merv Bennett and Al Wenstrand, chief business development officer with the Regional Business Alliance, at the MME breakfast to talk about the economic condition of the region.
Suthers credited these examples for his optimism:
- The Olympic Museum “will be built,” he said.
- The Catalyst Campus, developed by the O’Neil Group in southeast downtown is edging closer to filling with 1,300 jobs.
- Some 750 apartments are slated to be built downtown in the next three years.
Suthers has greatly improved the political climate of the Springs, Bennett said.
Contrasting the council’s “dysfunctional” relationship with the previous administration, “We actually talk,” he said of Team Suthers. “Mayor Suthers has been empowering and proactive.”
Wenstrand agreed, saying he almost declined the RBA’s job offer, “Because of the dysfunctional leadership affecting the community on an international scale. But positive news is getting out.”
Moderating the panel, Amnet CEO Trevor Dierdorff asked Suthers his top priorities. Suthers’ answers were no surprise: improve the political climate to create more collaboration; invest in the city’s infrastructure, roads and stormwater; and create a business climate that encourages growth.
Suthers also emphasized to the group to take the .62 percent sales tax infrastructure ballot issue “very seriously. It needs to pass. I need you to sell a positive message about Colorado Springs. It’s amazing how quickly you can change a community,” he said.
Wenstrand said representatives of an unnamed company interested in moving to the area visited last week. Considering that good infrastructure is the top item on a poll taken of businesses looking to relocate, Wenstrand said, “We used a Red Noland Cadillac to ensure good structure and we avoided the potholes.”
A top goal is to have a balanced economy, Wenstrand said. A well-balanced economy includes these components: community development, taking care of existing businesses, growing businesses so the Springs becomes a headquarters city, and attracting new people to leadership.
“If we can keep all four sides in balance, we’ll create a better business climate,” he said.
Colorado Springs Utilities, vagrants
Bennett responded to a Dierdorff question about the future of Colorado Springs Utilities.
“Utilities is doing great work,” Bennett said. “[The Southern Delivery System] is going to come online in April, $180 million under budget.”
The Martin Drake coal power plant, “is not going to close down … right away,” Bennett said. He cited the cost per megawatt hour using different sources: $57, wind; $44, solar; $30, natural gas; and $22, coal.
City Council is studying the structure of the Utilities board, Bennett said.
“In 1950, the same board worked just fine. Now, maybe not,” he said.
Bennett and Suthers both referred to the problem of panhandlers in the city.
“Some vagrants make $30,000 to $50,000 a year, and they have a place to live,” Suthers said.
“Please don’t give to the panhandlers. They are not homeless,” Bennett said. He added that the panhandlers arrive in vans, are dropped off and make $60,000 to $70,000 annually, “and it’s tax-free.”
Regional Business Alliance
Michael Pennica of the Pennica Financial Group asked Wenstrand if it’s time to “rethink the Regional Business Alliance brand and bring back the chamber of commerce.”
There has been discussion to that effect, Wenstrand said.
“I can’t speak for the board … the issue will be addressed,” he said. “You will see a debate on rebranding.”
While the RBA has not polled small businesses on this topic, “We’ve been in discussion with small businesses, trying to determine why there’s been a drop in membership,” Wenstrand said. “We’re looking at how to be fore efficient in how to deliver what the community wants … and the community wants everything.”
Suthers responded to a question posed by Peak Startup’s Chris Franz that Lodging and Automobile Rental Tax has increased about 15 percent this year.
The rates for LART, 2 percent levied on hotel rooms and the 1 percent levied on car rentals, “are ridiculously low,” Suthers said.
There is discussion about asking voters to double the LART rate and begin collecting a tax from tourist sites in the region, but “you have to convince every single person [in Colorado Springs], what’s in it for them,” he added.