City, county make progress on major projects in 2018

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While the city of Colorado Springs stepped forward on City for Champions projects, road work and stormwater improvements this year, El Paso County strove to make the development process easier for businesses.

The U.S. Olympic Museum continued to take shape, with construction more than 65 percent completed, and construction of the UCCS William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center was well underway.

But advocates for the other components of the City for Champions suite of projects — two downtown sports facilities and the Gateway Visitor Center at the U.S. Air Force — had some anxious moments that an important deadline was not going to be met. The projects were supposed to demonstrate substantial progress in order to tap their portions of $120.5 million in state sales tax increment funding through the Regional Tourism Act.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the state Economic Development Commission in November approved the city’s application for an extension on substantial progress until December 2019.

“I feel pretty good about where we’re at,” Mayor John Suthers said earlier this month.

The city announced last summer that Weidner Apartment Homes and the Ragain family, owners of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks soccer franchise, had partnered to build the $20 million outdoor Weidner Stadium on a tract of land at Cimarron and Sahwatch streets, and that Weidner would invest $40 million in adjacent residential, commercial and retail projects.

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Funding for the $39 million Edward J. Robson Arena at Colorado College also was in place. The two projects are in the design phase.

Together, the projects are expected to boost tourism, spur economic development and change the face of southwest Colorado Springs.

The Air Force was in negotiations with a private company to develop the visitor center on 57 acres of land near the Air Force Academy’s north gate.

ROADWAY IMPROVEMENTS

The transformation of several city streets began this year under a plan to calm traffic and make the city more bicycle-friendly. Bike lanes were added to Weber Street and Cascade and Pikes Peak avenues, which were narrowed to one lane in each direction. The changes were made under a bike master plan adopted in April.

Citywide, revenue from the 0.62 percent 2C sales tax is funding road work throughout the city. Projects thus far have focused on major arterials, Mayor John Suthers said.

Work also continued on the Westside Avenue Action Plan, a joint project of Colorado Springs, El Paso County and Manitou Springs. The WAAP plan achieved a major milestone in October with completion of the Adams Crossing bridge at West Colorado Avenue and Columbia Road, but the project is over budget and won’t be completed until late spring of 2019.

STORMWATER FEES

The city began collecting stormwater fees July 1. Commercial, industrial, municipal and federal property owners are being billed at $30 per acre per month. The fees for nonresidential properties that occupy 5 acres or more exclude undeveloped or unimproved land. Residential property owners pay $5 per month.

The fees will pay for stormwater infrastructure improvements and maintenance, and compliance with the city’s Clean Water Act permit obligations.

The city has billed about $2.03 million so far this year and estimates that 2018 revenue will amount to about $7.9 million. The fees will generate about $15.8 million in 2019.

Colorado Springs voters passed Ballot Question 2A in November 2017 authorizing the city to collect the fees. They enable the city to meet its obligation under a 2016 agreement with Pueblo to provide at least $17 million in annual funding each year to mitigate water quality issues downstream.

The city identified and prioritized 71 stormwater projects designed to enhance public safety, protect property owners, provide improved water detention and water quality, and reduce the amount of sediment that flows downstream via Fountain Creek.

Suthers said the city has been spending about $13 million a year on stormwater projects from the general fund, which is supported by sales and use tax revenue and covers most of the city’s operations. Having a dedicated revenue stream for stormwater projects allows the city to use those funds for other purposes, such as hiring more police officers and firefighters.

DEVELOPMENT REVIEW

El Paso County adopted a streamlined approach to development review that was fully implemented last spring.

The Planning and Community Development’s Electronic Development Application Review allows developers, builders, commercial and industrial businesses, and other landowners to submit applications, pay fees and access documents online.

The process is saving developers time and money, since they no longer have to make numerous copies to be sent out for review by multiple agencies.