How much will it cost to construct the new Pikes Peak Summit Complex? A few years ago, advocates (myself included) believed $25 million was the upper limit. The probable cost, if all went well: perhaps less than $20 million.
Feasibility studies and funding analyses were structured thusly. It seemed easy enough to get to $20 million.
Revenue bonds secured by Pikes Peak Highway tolls — that might cover $10 to $12 million. The Army would kick in another $2 to $3 million for a new high-altitude research facility attached to the Summit House. Colorado Springs Utilities could pony up around $2 million for its communications building, the Cog Railway would be good for $2 million and Aramark (the concessionaire) would add the same, maybe more.
Voila: $20 million!
$20 million? So sorry, but that estimate isn’t even halfway there. The complex is now estimated to cost $47.5 million, less than half from public sources, including most listed above.
• Demolition and site preparation: $9.5 million
• Construction (including contingency): $33.5 million
• Interpretive displays: $2 million
• Living Building Challenge: $1 million
• Other project costs: $1 million
The city and its partners are now “asking donors in Colorado Springs and across the nation to consider a philanthropic investment of as much as $30 million,” according to documents by the Benefactor Group.
Acting through the Pikes Peak Highway Enterprise (also known as Pikes Peak America’s Mountain), the city has hired Benefactor, a company out of Columbus, Ohio, to do a fundraising campaign feasibility study.
It’s a daunting task. The Summit Complex isn’t a nonprofit, so contributions aren’t tax-deductible. Branding opportunities are limited — you can’t sell naming rights to Pikes Peak.
Local funding sources — be they wealthy individuals, prosperous companies or charitable foundations — are visibly stressed. Big projects such as the U.S. Olympic Museum and the Ent Center for the Performing Arts at UCCS have tapped the Big Dogs.
Dozens of worthy nonprofits such as The ARC, Cheyenne Village, Springs Rescue Mission and Silver Key target smaller donors. We’re a charitable community, but many potential private donors might see the Summit Complex as a project best funded by regional governments. In retrospect, the city should have included the Summit Complex in City for Champions, instead of the never-to-be built downtown stadium/sports complex.
Will the Benefactor Group come up with a viable fundraising strategy? It seems doubtful, but given focused leadership, the necessary $30 million can be found.
First, forget national fundraising. Any steely-eyed philanthropist will want local partners, and even though “public sources” are putting up $20 million, the project’s principal beneficiaries don’t have much skin in the game. El Paso County isn’t a player and the city’s relatively minor contribution is subject to annual appropriations from the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax.
Doubling the LART tax from its present rate of 1 percent on hotel rooms and 2 percent on auto rentals would bring in approximately $5.5 million annually. According to the 2017 city budget, “(LART) revenue not otherwise obligated may be used for the acquisition, construction, maintenance, and operation of public infrastructure or public improvements; which constitute, in part, visitor or tourist attractions.” Visitors pay almost all LART revenue, so if Mayor John Suthers backed an increase, pledging part of it to support revenue bonds to help construct the Summit Complex, we might have a done deal. It’s also possible that a Phil Anschutz-owned company, Xanterra, could acquire the summit concession when Aramark’s contract ends — and would then supply a portion of the money to update the Summit House.
Yet increasing the tax requires voter assent, and that’s always a crapshoot in our taxophobic city.
Do we believe our own propaganda? Do we believe the summit of America’s Mountain should be a sublime destination? Or are we shills and con artists, luring the marks up the mountain and chuckling as they debark at America’s junkyard? As H.L.Mencken wrote in 1926, “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”
So here we are, halfway there and living on a prayer … maybe a broken-down T-shirt and donut shop is more than good enough for the plain people.