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Hostility and hucksterism runs rampant in Pueblo and it is choking our city

It’s pretty clear when a group of city officials all congratulate themselves after killing a baseball hotel deal that maybe we should rethink who the hucksters are around here — the developers or the people who deal with the developers.

I don’t think Jeff Katofsky, the owner of the Orem Owlz, a minor league baseball team, and hotel developer will look back at Pueblo and think too much of it. But what Pueblo saw was a city and county that couldn’t work together. A city intent on killing the project because its own pet projects wouldn’t have been prioritized. A newspaper that went on the attack because — well, no one is quite sure why the Gatehouse Chieftain attacked the developer and helped to kill the project. And then a room of 35 people, mostly candidates for mayor, saw Pueblo City Council congratulate itself after it was known the project was dead for good.

Pueblo lost big on the baseball deal, but not only because it lost a minor league team. It was estimated the team may have only pulled in a 1,000 or so people a night when the Pueblo Owlz played baseball. Honestly, what else on the Riverwalk attracts about a 1,000 people during random Thursday nights in the Pueblo summer?

And with the Pueblo Convention Center expansion coming online the city will be in even more need for hotels and nighttime activities.

A baseball stadium doesn’t solve that equation, but having baseball, festivals, farmers’ markets and large scale concerts do offer more to visitors than just walking in circles around the Riverwalk.

But Pueblo didn’t simply lose development; we were finally shown the true character of ourselves who claim everyone who wants to build in Pueblo is a huckster. Maybe it’s we who have the problem.

How does a city that wants to grow, a city that has amenities beginning to return to their pre-recession goals, go on the offensive to push out new ideas?

Nothing about the opposition made much sense. With the Owlz moving to Pueblo, you had a legitimate baseball organization wanting to move to Pueblo. There was a developer and attorney that wanted to build hotels with retail space to complement the stadium. And with the Pueblo Convention Center expansion coming online, with a rather static Riverwalk at present at least in terms of land development, there was a project that could have spurred a boom in Pueblo’s historic district.

The opposition led by Pueblo City Council President Chris Nicoll and Pueblo County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz made it clear that they believed the project would put Pueblo County into deeper debt, kill county jobs, steal the money from other projects and break Colorado’s TABOR laws.

Let’s say this was the case, that there was no way this project was ever going to get off the ground and that it was little more than a huckster’s sham. And that Commissioners Sal Pace, Terry Hart and Pueblo County Economic Development Leader Chris Markusson bought into the scheme.

Even if you buy this position, it doesn’t explain why the anti-baseball denizens would want to portray Pueblo as a town that kills big ideas. Why even make this about Pueblo, about its lack of communication, lack of partnership, the bickering, the infighting. All Ortiz and Nicoll really did was make us look like the frauds.

Real leadership would have put the entire onus on Jeff Katofsky’s plan.

Each side could have put controls in place to push most of the risk of the project away from the city and county and onto Katofsky’s group. If he failed, the city and county could recover losses from the project.

The county and city could have locked down staff from talking about the project, like they do with half-cent projects, to allow for a final product to be released instead of misconstrued emails being leaked to the Chieftain because the Chieftain prints anything these days apparently. Both entities could have travelled the several blocks it takes to visit each other and hashed out the details.

But we saw none of that happen because of the hostility and hucksterism that runs rampant across our daily lives. And it is choking Pueblo.

Here you had one developer who wanted to build hotels, move an MLB-affiliated ballclub, and enhance youth sports but Pueblo couldn’t make that work. Or, at least, our own leaders and a newspaper couldn’t avoid making Pueblo look like a bunch of not-in-my-backyard yokels.

The shell game always seems to come back to the line that it’s always someone else’s fault for why Pueblo is stuck. Colorado has one of the most explosive economies in the nation, but somehow it’s the 1980’s fault for why we’re stuck; few developers want to come to build in Pueblo but that’s the fault of the recession.

Just this year alone, Jeff Katofsky’s hotel group, RKJ Hotel Management has rebranded and reopened a Detroit airport hotel. Early this year, Katofsky announced a $35 million revival for another Michigan historic hotel, The St. Clair Inn. It is to open in 2019. He plans to buy another historic hotel property in Lake Huron, Michigan. His ownership group took control of the historic Sugar Loaf Ski Resort in Michigan. In an article in the skiing magazine Powder he said on the viability of Sugar Loaf, “We have to make it a year-round resort, otherwise it won’t work. That property is going to need tens of millions of dollars to put it back together. It’s a long-term investment and you have to be able to make a profit and make money back.”

That doesn’t sound like the talk of a swindler. It sounds like the talk of a developer Pueblo once desperately wanted to attract but now publically attacks.