Group plans meeting to challenge Cog Railway tax breaks

Posted at 7:10 PM, Jul 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-17 21:10:53-04

The City of Manitou Springs and the Broadmoor struck a 50-year deal last month that will limit how much money the resort pays in certain taxes for the Cog railway. In exchange, the resort plans to completely rebuild the railroad at an investment of nearly $100 million. 

Some in the community think the City gave away too much, too quickly. Now they’re organizing a public meeting to discuss a petition drive to challenge the Council’s decision.

The attraction closed last fall for maintenance and repairs. Mayor Ken Jaray explained that the damage was worse than first thought.

"The tracks were put in without ballast, stabilization," he said. "Over 120 years, they’ve shifted. They’ve caused disruption in the operation of that equipment."

The Broadmoor wants to rebuild the railroad from bottom to top, replacing the train cars and other amenities. They asked for a tax break from Manitou Springs to help incentivize the investment and last month City Council agreed.

The 5 percent amusements excise tax collected from Cog passengers will be capped at $500,000 a year. After 25 years, that cap will increase to $750,000.

"I think that there are aspects of the deal that are really good for us, there are aspects of the deal I would’ve liked to have changed," Jaray said. "But negotiations are negotiations. They have to work for both parties."

It’s those negotiations that newspaper owner John Weiss is the most concerned about. The Cog Railway and the Broadmoor are both owned by billionaire Phillip Anschutz and Weiss thinks the City was heavily outmatched.

"We have never negotiated with a billionaire before and so we’re saying let’s take our time and do it right," Weiss said.

He points out that the ordinance was passed two weeks after it was introduced. One of his biggest concerns is that the subsidy doesn’t account for inflation.

"Just think, the Cog costs $40 to go up," he said. "Fifty years ago it was $6."

He thinks tickets could cost as much as $200 to $300 by the year 2070.  Weiss put together a community meeting to discuss a petition drive to challenge the new ordinance. They have a limited window of 30 days to gather the necessary number of signatures. If the drive is successful, the ordinance would be put on the ballot for voter approval.

Weiss emphasized that he wants to deal with the Broadmoor, but he thinks the City deserves better terms.

"We want to attach our brand with the Broadmoor which is a wonderful brand," he said. "But if they sell it in three years, we may have … who knows?"

Jaray believes the Broadmoor is committed to the Manitou Springs community.

"They’re looking at this as being a long-term project," he said. "Therefore, the agreement is long-term because it matches the nature of the construction, the risk involved, the cost involved and so forth." 

The community meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, July 18 at the Briarhurst Manor, 404 Manitou Avenue. Jaray and other local leaders will be there to address questions and concerns.?