By the end of 2016, years of planning and working with the state will start to pay off for the city of Pueblo.
That’s when the city plans to break ground on the first phase of its Regional Tourism Act projects: expanding the city’s convention center, adding a global training center for the Professional Bull Riders, improving its Medal of Honor exhibit and building necessary parking facilities for additional tourists.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy, says Rod Slyhoff, CEO of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s never easy when you’re the first out of the box,” he said. “The legislation is somewhat flawed. The bond market isn’t all that confident with sales tax guarantees.”
The city received the tourism act designation in 2012 and was the first city to obtain state funding for tourism projects under the act. Pueblo must have a significant start by May 2017 in order to retain the money.
Colorado Springs received state financing later through the legislation for its City for Champions funding — and Slyhoff said the state learned from working with Pueblo.
“Our biggest issue was the financing,” Slyhoff said. “I didn’t think at all that it would take us this long to get started. I think that’s going to be the biggest issue anywhere, to find a guarantee until the increased sales tax starts coming back to help service the debt.”
Pueblo’s projects also hit a bump in the road when the Professional Bull Riders only signed a letter of intent for its planned training facility — and the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which oversees the implementation, worried the organization might pull out of its side of the arrangement.
“We worked all that out, about 30-45 days ago,” Slyhoff said. “The PBR worked with us and the state to address their concerns. So we’re all ready to go.”
The Professional Bull Riders training facility is a vital part of the tourism plan, he said. The group plans to operate a site to train interested people in the sport.
“It’s not just putting a kid on the back of a bull and seeing if they don’t get hurt,” Slyhoff said. “It’s more than that. It’s athletic training and conditioning, nutrition. There’s nothing else like it in the nation.”
The tourism projects will drive economic development throughout Pueblo, said Jeff Shaw, president of the Pueblo Economic Development Corp.
“The PBR is a big economic development driver,” Shaw said. “It will strengthen what we already have in the county. The hope is that more tourism will bring more retail development, more amenities.”
Shaw said the city’s economy is starting to pick up.
“We are building an additional spec building,” he said, “because our other facilities are full. We’re also rehabbing some existing space, so we’re ready for those new companies.”
The speculative building already under construction is 75,000 square feet.
And there could be more big announcements.
“We’re very close with two or three companies,” Shaw said. “I’d expect we will have an announcement in the next three months — an announcement that could bring about 200 or 300 new jobs to the city.”