Some business owners believe the city is playing favorites when it comes to economic development.
What we think:
More transparency would solve mistrust with city government.
Lately, we’ve heard from Colorado Springs developers who are frustrated by a perceived favoritism at the highest levels of city government — with one even saying the city “puts its thumb on the scale” whenever looking at projects from some developers, but takes it off the scale when it comes to others.
While they praise some city officials — such as Economic Development Officer Bob Cope — more than one businessperson with an interest in developing downtown has complained about an unfair playing field and a city government that doesn’t respond to proposals in a fair, transparent manner.
Here’s a solution to the issue, real or not, perceived or not: more transparency and more consideration of all proposals.
If there are multiple people and entities with a vision and a plan to create a robust, thriving city center, then everyone deserves a level playing field. And everyone deserves to know if each project has city support — and if it doesn’t, why it doesn’t.
As entrepreneur Perry Sanders puts it: “It shouldn’t matter who you are; everyone should be able to have the same opportunities. If there’s a window of opportunity, the city should allow everyone to jump through it.”
Case in point: The recent Colorado Springs City Council decision to grant Nor’wood Development Group three special taxing districts in southwest downtown for $325 million, the largest taxing district deal in the city’s history.
Businesses that are creating jobs, wealth and economic development in the city center deserve the attention from the government. And the Springs has put a Rapid Response plan in place to quickly move developments from blueprints to construction.
But what we need is more conversation about how the city chooses its case-by-case incentives; how it decides who will benefit from city-backed projects. And whom it allows to play in its sandbox.
Sanders, for instance, has put in a proposal to build a downtown stadium, part of the City for Champions project. The stadium concept is the only project not to receive support and funding from sources other than the state — without it, the City for Champions package loses about $27 million.
And if the city doesn’t give Sanders’ proposal a shot — for whatever reason — he says city officials just need to be open about the reasons why.
More transparency equals more trust. As the city pursues an initiative for a stormwater drainage plan that includes a fee, transparency with how it will use those funds and in how it has used other taxpayer money will only make it an easier sell. If people are sure they are getting a good deal for their hard-earned dollars, then they tend to vote yes. When they think the government is squandering money, that leads to no votes on projects that are needed in the community.
As Colorado Springs takes steps to bring its processes into the public purview — through its websites, its PlanCOS initiative and social media — the trust of its residents will grow.
But there’s still some ill feeling out there that must be addressed — and the concern is being expressed openly by some of the city’s leading residents and most successful entrepreneurs.
Springs leaders should remember: Government always operates better in the sunshine.