Colorado Springs City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday on a resolution that will allow the Colorado Springs Airport to receive funding through a charitable giving program managed by the Pikes Peak Community Foundation.
The resolution, which was ardently supported by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, authorized the creation of an Aeronautical Enhancement Fund designed to lessen the city’s financial burden.
“It is a trust fund that private foundations or individuals can donate to that can be used by the airport to offer community-based incentives for air services,” Suthers said.
The airport will pay the nonprofit community foundation $2,500 each year to manage the funds, which are earmarked to help pay for marketing, improved ground transit and services, more non-stop flights and overall business improvement and expansion, according to the resolution. The foundation has a long history of managing grants for the local community.
“It’s very important to the economic development of Colorado Springs,” Suthers said, adding that he thinks it is “something we need to do in order to enhance our ability to attract commercial airline activity.”
During the Council’s regular meeting Tuesday, Suthers announced that three local philanthropies — the Anschutz Foundation, the El Pomar Foundation and Colorado Springs philanthropist Lyda Hill — will kick-start the fund with a total initial investment of $6 million.
“Acceptance of charitable grants by private foundations and others fosters economic development which creates economic activity for the city’s poorest neighborhoods,” Airport Advisory Commission Chairman Andrew Biancur wrote in a letter to Council endorsing the resolution. “Enhanced air service would have a direct, positive effect on the economy.”
“Hopefully it will make us more competitive, and help us attract more commercial airlines.”
– Mayor John Suthers
Based on current interest in improving the airport, as well as on studies of how the model has worked in other communities, Suthers and Airport Director Dan Gallagher said they expect the fund to raise millions of dollars each year.
“It’s becoming more and more common at small and medium-sized airports to do things like this,” Gallagher said.
He said there are several examples of communities throughout the country who have been successful in creating funds for air service development.
“A few examples in Colorado are Eagle County and Montrose,” Gallagher said. “Denver just landed direct Munich service through a collaborative effort with community partners. … There are dozens, if not over 100 various community-based programs throughout the nation.”
Both Gallagher and Suthers said they expect the fund will also provide the airport and the city with leverage when working with companies considering locating within the airport’s Commercial Aeronautical Zone or elsewhere in Colorado Springs.
“Hopefully it will make us more competitive, and help us attract more commercial airlines,” Suthers said. “It’s very essential to our economic development that we expand the commercial flight offerings at the airport, that we get new direct destinations. This is important not only for businesses that are here or businesses that we might attract here; it’s also vital for our tourism industry.”
The Colorado Springs Airport has struggled in recent years to maintain its airline contracts and flight offerings while competing with Denver International Airport, which continues to offer more affordable flights more often.
“Total enplanements at the Colorado Springs Airport were 625,680 in 2014, which is down from 650,530 in 2013,” according to the Southern Colorado Economic Forum’s 2015-16 report, released Oct. 23.