Visitor Center still part of City For Champions project

More information on funding will be known in September

Colonel Carlos Cruz-Gonzalez, deputy director for installations for the Air Force Academy, answers questions from a concerned citizen regarding the new Academy Visitor Center during the City for Champions “Collaborative Information Exchange” party at the new 21st Century Library. Photo by Danny Summers
Danny Summers
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As of now, the Air Force Academy is still a major part of the ambitious City For Champions project. But just how that will play out in terms of the financial support for the building of a new $20 to $30 million Visitor Center is still to be determined.

“We will know more in September,” said Col. Carlos Cruz-Gonzalez, deputy director for installations at the Academy. “We are still planning on moving forward and being part of the City For Champions funding effort.

“There’s some discussion up in Denver on how that distribution will occur. I think we will find a resolution and the Air Force will remain part of the project.”

The City For Champions hosted a “Collaborative Information Exchange” party at the 21C Library on Aug. 19. It was more like a holiday party for 250 good friends. Singers performed, desserts were scattered throughout the room on decorative tables and people from various parts of the Pikes Peak region were on hand to hug, hold hands and party.

Organizers set up the format to be fun and interactive. Representatives from each of the four major City For Champions Projects were on hand to answer questions and explain why this ambitious $250 million project might be the biggest and best thing to ever unfold in the Colorado Springs area.

“We’re not only looking at the new Visitor Center project, but this will affect the overall experience people have with the Academy,” Cruz-Gonzalez said. “This is a cornerstone, but we have many other projects planned down the road, like museums and artifacts we would like to show the public.

“Our goal in 10 years is to really enhance the visitor experience for those who come to the Academy.”

Academy officials told the Tribune last year that they might receive upwards of $7 to $9 million of the Visitor Center project to be funded by City For Champions money. But those figures have been greatly reduced, according to Cruz-Gonzales and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, who also was at the event.

“We’re going to see what the commission in Denver finally works out with (Colorado Springs) in terms of a resolution,” Cruz-Gonzalez said.

“We’re in and just waiting for (Colorado Springs) to settle the funding with the commission.”

The new Visitor Center will be on Academy property just outside the North Gate.

Gould was on hand at the Air Force Academy station, where artists’ renderings showed off a 32,000-square-foot Visitor Center that he has been dreaming about since the number of visitors to the Air Force Academy plummeted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Gould, a former academy superintendent, helped drum up the City For Champions project in 2013 with a group that included University of Colorado at Colorado Springs chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, El Pomar Foundation chairman and CEO Bill Hybl and businessman and developer Steve Schuck.

The City for Champions projects, which by state law must be designed to draw new, out-of-state tourists to receive state sales tax money, has been opposed by several organized groups that have been very vocal about spending such a huge amount of money on the four projects.

City for Champions organizers reiterated at the meeting that as many as 5,100 jobs will be created over the next 10 to 30 years as part of the project.

Gould told a crowd that he was disappointed when the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which oversees the state tourism act program, recently downsized the percentage of state funds for which the Academy project qualifies.

Latest figures show that the Academy will receive more like 4-percent funding.

The new Visitor Center will be built by a private partner.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the Academy drew more than 800,000 people a year. But because of tightened security, that number has fallen. In 2013 around 440,000 visited.