Citizens of Pueblo pay Colorado state sales tax of 2.9 percent whenever they purchase things, and about 25 percent of those tax dollars will be funneled directly back into the community over the next few years.
In 2012, the State of Colorado passed a Regional Tourism Act so communities could apply to retain about 25 percent of their state sales tax dollars to use for building infrastructure to attract more out-of-state visitors to their cities. Pueblo's RTA application was approved, and in 2016 the city can begin using its sales tax money for tourism infrastructure projects.
As a result, the city has begun constructing a large exhibition hall adjacent to the existing Pueblo Convention Center on the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk, a key entertainment destination downtown and the focus of the city's RTA dollars.
“We're all paying taxes anyway to the State of Colorado, and it's good to see our tax dollars used for our own benefit,” says Rod Slyhoff, president and CEO of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce. “The Pueblo Convention Center is currently only a banquet ballroom and has been in need of exhibition space to attract trade shows and other big events. The new exhibition hall will open in 2017.”
The exhibition hall will be the first of three phases of construction along the Riverwalk. The second phase will expand the Riverwalk to Santa Fe Avenue, and the third phase will feature construction of a new water park and aquatic center. The estimated cost of the three phases is $43 million in RTA sales tax money.
“I anticipate that the RTA initiative will also spur private development such as another hotel, more restaurants and so forth,” Slyhoff says. “The real number will be close to $100 million in private investment in the Riverwalk area.”
Plazas, Sculptures and Adventure Playground
Before finalizing plans for Riverwalk improvements, officials with the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (HARP) traveled to San Antonio to learn why that city’s famous river walk functions so well.
“The main thing San Antonio leaders recommended is that we connect our convention center with our Riverwalk, so we are,” says Jim Munch, HARP executive director. “Some RTA money will go to construct three spacious plazas, and that way people will walk out of the convention center or exhibition hall and immediately be in a plaza, then they can easily proceed to the Riverwalk. The overall goal is for all facilities to be linked to showcase one big, beautiful Riverwalk attraction.”
Munch says while RTA pays for infrastructure projects, the HARP Foundation will solicit gifts from private donors for additional cosmetic upgrades.
“We will eventually add several bronze sculptures that pay tribute to Pueblo’s Western heritage, and an adventure playground will be constructed for kids to climb rocks, forts and towers,” he says. “There are plenty of plans in the works. It’s an exciting time for Pueblo and its Riverwalk.”