This year will go down as an eventful (and mostly positive) one for the business community. Here’s a breakdown of the biggest business stories of the year, as ranked by the Business Journal’s editorial staff.
The passage of 2C and a sales tax increase.
Seen by some as a must-win for fledgling Mayor John Suthers, a 0.62 percent sales tax increase was voter-approved in November by a 65-35 margin. The money collected during at least the next five years will go toward fixing crumbling roads throughout the city. The significance of the passage goes beyond merely fixing infrastructure, however. It’s been seen as a symbol of collaboration for a city government marred by years of acrimonious infighting and little (if any) progress. Plus, the economic benefits of the much-needed work should have a ripple effect for years to come.
Perry Sanders buys the Antlers
In August, Perry Sanders and his partner, attorney John Goede of Florida, purchased what was the Antlers Hilton in downtown Colorado Springs. Local magnate and owner of the Mining Exchange Wyndham Grand Hotel & Spa, Sanders said at the time, “I can tell you that this is a serious deal – some of the biggest national names in the business were bidding, there were multiple rounds of bidding, and these little guys from Colorado Springs came out on top.”
Sanders purchased the old Mining Exchange building and spent several years renovating it to turn it into a luxury hotel at the corner of Pikes Peak and Nevada avenues. He has already begun to renovate the hotel on Cascade Avenue.
Gen. William Jackson Palmer built The Antlers, which opened in 1883. The original hotel burned in 1898, and was rebuilt in 1901. It operated until it closed in 1964. Later that decade, the hotel was torn down and was rebuilt in the same spot. The property last sold Nov. 26, 2013, when it was transferred in foreclosure from CEPA Hotel Owner to MSCI2007 – IQ16 Cascade Lodging LLC. The assessed 2015 market value o the 2.37 acre, 228,000-square-foot property is $22.5 million. In 2007, the hotel sold for $50.3 million.
Sierra Nevada commits to Springs
Aerospace firm Sierra Nevada Corp. announced in February that its subsidiary, Sierra Completions, chose Colorado Springs as the site for an $88-million high-end aircraft completions complex, which will create an estimated 2,100 jobs and a $5-billion economic impact.
Sierra Completions, a subsidiary of SNC that launched in October 2014, chose the Colorado Aerospace Park at the Colorado Springs Airport after months of negotiations with cities including Charleston, S.C.
“This is really exciting for the community and for the airport,” said COS Director of Aviation Dan Gallagher. “This is going to have positive ripple effects throughout the community, and we’re really excited about that.”
The decision followed what the company referred to in a news release as “crucial local and state economic development incentives,” which included $23.2 million through the Colorado Economic Development Commission.
Those incentives included $18.8 million in job growth tax credits, for which the company agreed to locate 1,323 jobs here paying an average annual wage of $83,720. The commission also approved $4.4 million from the state’s strategic fund, which Colorado Springs and El Paso County agreed to match from local coffers.
The young company specializes in the modification, integration, modernization and maintenance of jet interiors to create what the company calls “office[s] in the sky.” The facility will be one of only a few completion centers in the U.S. capable of accommodating the giant Airbus A350, Boeing 747 and Boeing 787 aircraft.
The BRAC that wasn’t
A sense of impending doom was palpable within both the military and business communities during the summer, as base relocations and closures were top agenda items for The Pentagon this year. The Department of Defense drives nearly half of the city’s economy, but the sense of dread was all for naught when the community found out Fort Carson would lose only 365 of the 23,349 soldiers at the Mountain Post.
“Although no one wants any reductions at Fort Carson, just 365 cut out of 23,349 soldiers shows that we are viewed favorably by the DOD and the Army,” U.S. Congressman Doug Lamborn said this summer. “Fort Carson is still one of the most funded, most staffed, and most active installations in the entire Army, operating on the very cutting edge of the future of warfare. The influx of money, missions and soldiers to the Mountain Post over the last few years has had a significant impact and has reinforced the uniqueness of the training settings that we can provide to our brave men and women in uniform.”
Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, estimated the economic impact on Colorado Springs to be around $25 million — opposed to the potential $1 billion hit the region faced as a worst-case scenario.
Lamborn and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet have been in staunch support of Fort Carson and its troops in Colorado Springs since the Department of Defense announced last year its plans to reduce Army forces by up to 70,000, and Fort Carson by up to 16,000, by 2020. That worst case scenario would have translated to a loss of around 40,000 residents and $1 billion from the Pikes Peak region, according to some estimates.
Recreational weed finds niche in county
While El Paso County’s first recreational marijuana dispensary (Maggie’s Farm) opened in 2014, the town of Manitou Springs maxed out its recreational dispensary licenses with the opening of it second operation, Emerald Fields, last year.
Manitou leaders reported early last year, with only Maggie’s Farm operational, a 15 percent uptick in tax revenue, which Mayor Marc Snyder said translates to an increase of around $100,000 per month.
In October, the Business Journal reported the Manitou Maggie’s Farm location had about $2.25 million in sales for August and September.
Emerald Fields opened in April, taking the city’s second and final recreational marijuana license. Colorado Springs and other county municipalities have banned recreational sales, creating a vacuum.
“[In Manitou] we’re in the desert with one other competitor and a gallon of water, and everyone is thirsty,” Emerald Fields’ Vice President of Operations James Bent said.
How long the ride will last remains a mystery, but Manitou’s niche oligopoly should keep the town rolling in green for some time to come.