More than 14 months since the search started, there’s still no word on a vendor to operate and manage Colorado Springs’ City Auditorium.
City officials acknowledged that the process is taking a long time — the request for proposals went out Oct. 3, 2018 — but said it’s because it sought a wide variety of services, including a creative re-envisioning of what City Aud could be.
“We wrote the RFP to be open-ended and to be able to evaluate all kinds of solutions and innovative uses of the City Auditorium,” Colorado Springs Procurement Services Manager Nicole Spindler said.
“The idea is to operate it, but also for a capital infusion … to bring it up to a higher standard, and that whatever is put into play is something that the community would get behind. It’s taking some time, but we’re really trying to make the best decision for the facility and the operation.”
Spindler said that, under its procurement rules, the city cannot disclose how many proposals it has received, or from whom.
But Parks Administration Manager Kim King said, “We are at the point where we have a highest-ranked firm.”
King said she is hopeful that an award could be announced by the end of this year’s first quarter.
“However, that’s still going to depend on contract negotiations,” she said.
THE RFP AND THE AUD
Responses to the RFP for operation and management of the auditorium were due Nov. 2, 2018.
The list of desired services included exhibition, property, business and building management services; concessions, catering and vending; program development and management; real estate consulting and urban planning; and event planning.
The chosen vendor will manage and maintain the facility, market and promote events and bookings, provide quality customer service and operate the auditorium in a cost-effective manner. It will also develop a long-term maintenance strategy and capital improvements plan.
The 47,900-square-foot auditorium opened in 1923 and has hosted events — from basketball games to concerts — ever since.
It needs some big-ticket improvements, including a new roof and exterior windows and upgraded HVAC and fire suppression systems. The restrooms got a $270,000 makeover in 2015, but the main auditorium’s ceiling, 8,000-square-foot floor and original 1923 seats need to be replaced.
The city does not have a recent estimate of how much the improvements would cost. King said she did not think the broad scope of the RFP from the operational side limited the bidding. The capital infusion, however, likely determined whether an entity was able to bid on the project.
“The capital piece is a key component,” she said. “There definitely has to be that infusion in order for our vision to occur.”
In this case, the city is not required to select the lowest bidder, Spindler said.
“So we are able to select a firm or make an award based on multiple factors, which include price, approach and past experience,” she said, “and so we were able to select based on the city’s best interest.”
THE URA ZONE
The City Aud anchors an urban renewal area bounded by East Kiowa Street, North Nevada Avenue, East Pikes Peak Avenue and Weber Street. The URA was created in 2004.
Within the area, tax increment financing could be a boon to the City Aud project. Essentially, that means the city can use projected increases in tax revenue that accrue when a project is built to help fund improvements within the URA.
From the URA board’s perspective, the delay in settling City Aud’s future has not affected development on the block — in fact, just the opposite.
“The goal of development in that area was really to try to provide some income to the City Aud for improvements,” said Jariah Walker, executive director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority. “If anything, the City Auditorium has positioned itself more as an opportunity. I don’t think it’s holding anything up.”
At the time the RFP was issued, construction had not yet begun on the 120-room Hyatt Place hotel at the corner of Nevada Avenue and Kiowa Street, just adjacent to City Aud. The developer of the Hyatt Place is A & A Enterprises of Pueblo, and groundbreaking on that project went ahead early this year. Walker said he expects the hotel to “go vertical” by early summer.
Nor’wood Development Group owns property on the remainder of the block and on the adjacent block that extends along Pikes Peak Avenue to Tejon Street. That property is currently a surface parking lot and an office building.
Walker said Nor’wood presented “some conceptual ideas of something that they would like to create” on that property to the URA board in August 2019, “but it was very 30,000-foot [view] — no specific details as to exactly what type of things would be going in place.”
A rendering in Nor’wood’s presentation showed “parking with mixed use development” as a possibility for the current surface parking lot.
“Their idea was to expand the boundaries of the URA to encompass some other areas,” Walker said.
To amend the URA’s boundaries there would need to be a solid, specific plan of what would be built in those areas.“Simultaneously, we would be going to the taxing districts to get pledges in place of how much of the property tax or sales taxes they would allow to be fed back into the project,” he said. “So that’s always a possibility.”
Walker said the presentation to the board “was more of an update of like, ‘We’re working on all this stuff on the south side of downtown, but we haven’t forgotten about the auditorium block, and we still want to do something there too.’”
The Business Journal was unable to connect with a Nor’wood spokesperson who could talk about its plans, but Walker said “there is hope” that a more extensive proposal will be forthcoming from Nor’wood soon.
‘A VERY BELOVED BUILDING’
City staff is taking care of routine maintenance at City Aud, King said, adding that use of the auditorium has not slowed. Its event tracker lists 324 events in 2019, compared with 314 in 2018 and 330 in 2017.
“We are actually fairly busy on the weekends and in the evenings,” King said. “There are repeat folks that we have coming in such as the Pikes Peak Derby games, the metaphysical fair and mixed martial arts. Some of those are definitely long-term users of the facility.”
The auditorium also gets bookings for private events such as dinners, quinceañeras and wedding receptions, King said.
“Our goal hasn’t really changed to fill in more of the weekdays,” she said, adding that the RFP specified that bookings in place when the contract is awarded will be honored or relocated as needed.
City Councilor Jill Gaebler, who is a member of the URA board, said the board and council have continued to hear from the parks department that “it’s taking longer than they expected” to evaluate the RFP.
“I think that it is a difficult partnership for any group to undertake,” Gaebler said. “I am assuming that is part of the issue.”
Gaebler noted that City Rock, which occupies part of the Nevada Avenue side of the block, has invested a lot of capital to update its building and said she hopes that the Hyatt hotel will be a catalyst for the rest of the block.
The City Aud is “a very beloved building, so I think citizens want to ensure that whoever uses it, that it’s a use the citizens appreciate and that it’s supported by a lot of us,” she said.