A year ago, Mayor John Suthers was worried about the progress of the City for Champions suite of projects, which he views as a tourism and development boost for the city.
Although the state had granted $120.5 million in sales tax increment funding through the Regional Tourism Act, the city was under pressure to meet a deadline to demonstrate substantial progress in order to tap the state funds.
“Two of the program elements, a couple of years ago, didn’t look very encouraging,” Suthers said. “We needed a lot more private investment to pull them off.”
This year, “lo and behold, we’ve got it.”
Ground was broken earlier this month for the downtown stadium that will be the home of the Switchbacks soccer club.
“I think that’s going to be a real accelerator for southwest downtown,” Suthers said. “The complex around it will include as many as 1,000 apartment units, and … commercial retail. I’m very pleased about that.”
The other C4C stadium, the Edward J. Robson Arena at Colorado College, is in the final planning stages.
“I think within a month or so we will be breaking ground on the indoor sports arena,” Suthers said. “The Council has approved that; the financing’s in place.”
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum is nearing completion and scheduled to open next spring. The city has launched an overhaul of Vermijo Avenue that will transform it into a signature street leading to the museum.
The William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center at UCCS also is well underway, and Suthers expects it to open in June.
The U.S. Air Force Academy Gateway Visitor Center has proved to be the most vexing C4C project, but it, too, is “well on the way,” Suthers said.
“The final thing to happen will be the issuance of bonds, and we expect that in January. So City for Champions, with an awful lot of hard work, is a ‘go’ all the way around,” he said.
Together, the projects solidify the Olympic City USA brand, which was further reinforced by the city’s new gateway sign on Interstate 25.
“We made an awful lot of progress in 2019, and I feel good about that,” Suthers said.
Suthers said the voters’ approval in November renewing Ballot Measure 2C for five more years was another victory for the city.
The measure extended from Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2025 the sales and use tax for road repairs and improvements, and reduced the amount of the tax from 0.62 percent to 0.57 percent.
Suthers is also happy that voters did not support collective bargaining for city uniformed fire employees in the April 2 election.
“I felt that for the fiscal welfare of the city going forward, that was very important,” he said.
Finally, Suthers said the city is implementing red-light enforcement through additional intersection cameras.
“We have way too many people seriously injured or dying as a result of people running red lights,” he said. As many as six more red-light cameras could be added next year to those currently operating at four intersections.
Both Suthers and El Paso County Commission President Mark Waller applauded the consolidation this year of the city and county offices of emergency management.
“We are all better served by recognizing that disasters and emergencies don’t pay attention to governmental boundaries,” Waller said in his State of the Region address on Dec. 12 at The Antlers hotel.
Waller characterized the county as “a region on the rise. We’ve done big things to promote the economy, to enhance transportation and to tackle the serious mental health issues plaguing our region and nation.”
The county committed more than $53 million to redevelopment and urban renewal in the past year, Waller said, including support of the AFA Visitor Center and Olympic Museum.
“This commitment is resulting in thousands of new jobs in our region.”
Transportation is key in a region growing as fast as El Paso County is, and Waller said the county has done a lot with limited funds.
He cited the county’s success in winning an $18.3 million federal BUILD grant that will be used to fix roads around Fort Carson and Shriever Air Force Base starting next year.
Waller noted that the county has begun efforts to develop a comprehensive regional master plan, engaging thousands of citizens and businesses in the process. The county also has developed a new water master plan for long-term water management.
“This is a big deal, because it’s imperative to ensure a sustainable water supply,” he said.
He praised collaborative efforts to combat teen suicide, which were down nearly 50 percent in El Paso County from 2016-2018, according to El Paso County Public Health.
“We also have a responsibility to stand up for our most vulnerable citizens,” Waller said. That includes assisting people with mental health issues through the county’s Behavioral Health Connect Unit.
“This keeps people out of jail by getting them the help that they need,” he said.