Regional Tourism Act: What happened to sports-prehistoric park, other rejected projects?

The city of Glendale was one of four applicants whose tourism projects were not chosen last year to receive state sales-tax rebates under the Regional Tourism Act. But as explained in this week's cover story, "Fantasy Island," Glendale don't give a shit; the city known for its iconic strip club is going forward anyway with plans to build a riverwalk along Cherry Creek.

But what happened to the three other projects that weren't chosen to receive RTA funding? Our research indicates that they aren't faring so well.

The RTA allows local governments to apply to the Colorado Economic Development Commission to create a special district for a particular tourism project. Once it is built, a percentage of the state sales-tax revenue generated by the new tourism attraction is rebated to the district to help pay for the project.

In all, six entities applied last year: Glendale for the riverwalk; Aurora for the Gaylord hotel and convention center; Pueblo, which wanted to enhance its own riverwalk, expand its convention center and build a professional bull-riding academy, among other projects; Estes Park, which wanted to redevelop the historic Elkhorn Lodge and more; Douglas County, which wanted to build a sports park and prehistoric museum; and Montrose County, which was planning a host of small projects.

The RTA specifies that the Economic Development Commission can approve two projects a year for three years. After a failed attempt by Glendale and others to change the law to allow all six projects to be approved last year, the commission chose just two: Pueblo's riverwalk expansion and bull-riding academy and Aurora's massive hotel and convention center, which is now mired in controversy. More than twenty Colorado hotels are petitioning the commission to revoke the project's approval, saying that the finances and players have changed so much that the whole thing needs to be reconsidered.

But whatever happened to the projects proposed by Estes Park, Douglas County and Montrose County?

The man who spearheaded Montrose County's proposal, which included 141 possible tourism projects, did not return phone calls and e-mails. Officials at the county say they don't have any information and a call to the Downtown Montrose Visitors Center yielded a recording explaining that the center isn't open yet.

Estes Park's proposed project was called Elkhorn Adventure Area and would have included renovating and expanding the historic Elkhorn Lodge, in addition to building "a performing arts center, a museum and living history center and a ski adventure park with year-round skiing, snowboarding and tubing," according to a town webpage.

But Kate Rusch, the public information officer for Estes Park, tell us that the town has no plans to go forward with the Elkhorn Adventure Area. "We were disappointed to not get the RTA funding," she says. "It was critical for the project."

Continue for more, including the fate of Douglas County's project.   Douglas County isn't moving forward with its project as proposed, either. Called the Colorado Sports and Prehistoric Park, the idea was to combine a sports village capable of attracting huge youth sports tournaments with the Lamb Spring Archeological Preserve, a site at which the bones of many mammoths and other Ice Age creatures have been found. The proposal called for building a museum and educational facility there.

Randy Pye, a spokesman for Sterling Ranch, the planned 3,400-acre development where the ball fields would be built, says the sports complex still has a future. "We're working hard to find a way to make that happen," he says, though he notes that it will take longer to build without state funding.

But the outlook for the Lamb Spring museum is not so great. "The archeological part," Pye adds, "will never happen without funding from state. And that's a real shame. It is a major, major archeological dig."

The vision, says Harold Smethills, who is the principal of Sterling Ranch and a member of the Lamb Spring board of directors, was to build a glass-floored museum over part of the dig so visitors could watch scientists actively recovering bones. "There are very few places you can go and see an actual dig going on," he says.

Museums aren't money-makers, Smethills says, and without help from the RTA, it's been hard to find the funding to make the dream a reality. "Without RTA funding, it's not going forward," he says. "We're doing the best we can to find new sources of funding."

Neither Estes Park nor Douglas County reapplied for RTA incentives this year. In fact, there was only one applicant: Colorado Springs, which is proposing to build an Olympic museum, a baseball stadium, a new Air Force Academy visitors center and a sports medicine center. When asked why there were so few applicants this year, Ken Lund, the head of the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said the RTA sets a high bar by requiring that projects be "unique" and "extraordinary."

"It'd be better if you asked various applicants," Lund said. "From my standpoint, (the RTA) focuses on unique and extraordinary projects and in a state Colorado's size, there are only a handful of unique and extraordinary projects."

Others, including officials in Glendale, believe that the process was rigged from the start to choose Aurora and Pueblo. Pye agrees. "We were disappointed in the fact that it seemed to be geared initially toward two of the applicants," he says. "There was very little desire on anybody's part to go through that again. Everybody else just said, 'Forget that....' I will say Glendale was a dynamite application and the fact that they didn't get it or Douglas County didn't get it, I was really surprised."

Pueblo and Aurora seem to be moving forward with their respective projects -- for now. As for Colorado Springs, its RTA application is currently being reviewed by a third-party analyst, according to a timeline published by Lund's office. The Economic Development Commission is scheduled to make a decision in December.

More from our Business archive: "Photos: See plans for the new, improved Shotgun Willie's."

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