Pueblo's Economic Future Mortgaged
Source D. Ohmans
Date 11/07/02/05:56

Optimism high for state tourism grant

Touting its plan as shovel ready and right in line with the state's goal of drawing more out-of-state visitors, Pueblo met this week's application deadline for a state regional tourism grant.

The plan includes an additional major partner, the Professional Bull Riders.

PBR proposes a $6 million global training center/arena as part of the Pueblo Convention Center. PBR's headquarter office is on the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo and Pueblo already hosts a yearly tour event.

The one-of-a-kind training center, dubbed PBR University, eventually could attract as many as 30,000 additional out-of-state and foreign visitors, according to the city's estimates in its application.

Optimism is high that the state will award Pueblo a grant, said Rod Slyhoff, president of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, which is one of many local groups that collaborated on Pueblo's bid.

The overall improvements top $100 million and would come in phases over a six- to seven-year period, Slyhoff said. The city seeks an estimated $33 million in state support, he said.

"There's still a lot of work to do but it is a first-class proposal. It reflects exactly what the state is seeking," Slyhoff said.

Planners also note the proposal is construction-ready with the early phases to take place on land already owned by the city, he said.

The nine-member Colorado Economic Development Commission is expected to select the first two grant recipients as early as January. The panel will select up to six projects in coming years.

Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper visited Pueblo to sign the law that expanded the number of grants to six from two. The governor called the grants one of the state's biggest efforts to reignite the economy.

The state will help finance projects by pledging up to $50 million in future state sales tax collections from the project areas.

Pueblo's proposal envisions a series of public/private ventures that would build on the city's already heavy investment in the area of the convention center and riverwalk.

The plan also capitalizes on city's Home of Heroes patriotic offerings.

Also featured prominently is the city's longtime appeal as a host of multistate sporting events, including college playoffs and the annual Tony Andenucio Memorial Baseball Tournament. Next year, Colorado State University-Pueblo will host the NCAA Division II national track championships.

Besides PBR University, the other projects envisioned in the application, titled "PBR University and Heritage of Heroes" are:

* The addition of a large exhibit hall at the convention center and more improvements at the riverwalk, making the area a draw for more tourists and larger conventions.

The city also would continue to develop the area's themes highlighting patriotism, settlers and sportsmen. The proposed PBR arena would serve as additional convention center space.

* A regional aquatic center and indoor water park, filling a void in Southern Colorado and bordering states. The aquatic center would allow Pueblo to host large swimming meets and other events.

* An additional hotel in the Downtown area.
* A public parking garage similar to the one near AT&T.
* A number of new private retail and mixed-use developments.
* The renovation of Memorial Hall.

Gary Trujillo, chairman of the Urban Renewal Authority of Pueblo, which helped spearhead the application, said the proposal serves as road map for the future.

"We believe it is the stepping stone to combining the convention center to HARP (the riverwalk), and enhancing tourism and the economic vitality of our city," Trujillo said.

Other known applications for the state grants include a joint bid from Denver and Aurora for $91.5 million in state subsidies to build a hotel, conference center and stock show complex near Denver International Airport. The project is in the early planning stages.

Estes Park seeks $19 million for restoration of the historic Elkhorn Lodge, creation of a "ski adventure park" and construction of an arts center, according to The Denver Post.

Glendale seeks an unknown amount to construct a riverwalk and entertainment district, the newspaper said.

The status of another proposal, the building of a NASCAR auto racing track in the Denver metro area, is unclear. Two years ago, many considered the proposal a lock for one of the grants but talk of the project has quieted since the recession.

After the NASCAR proposal surfaced, Pueblo moved immediately to begin readying its proposal in hopes of securing the second of the two grants envisioned at that time. Pueblo leaders first presented much of the current proposal in 2009 with an updated version released in March of this year.

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