Southwest, Colorado Springs on each others' radar screens

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In remarks at an April 8 Southern Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association luncheon Mayor Lionel Rivera touched on the recently-signed water agreement with Pueblo, new financial programs designed to increase access to low-cost housing in Colorado Springs and concerns about financing for a downtown convention center.

But his key points centered on a recent local delegation’s visit to Southwest Airlines’ headquarters in Dallas.

“I am hopeful that by April 2007, Southwest Airlines will offer service to Colorado Springs,” he said. Conversations between Southwest’s schedule planning department and Rivera, City Manager Lorne Kramer and Mark Earle, aviation director at Colorado Springs Airport, focused on what the city could do to attract the discount carrier sooner rather than later.

The group learned that Colorado Springs is the No. 1 most-requested new destination named by travelers throughout the United States. And the airline wants to see Powers Boulevard extended past Research Parkway to Interstate 25 before making a commitment, Rivera said. “They are looking to attract passengers not only to and from Colorado Springs but from Castle Rock and South Denver as well,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Joel Hefley recently announced that the federal government had allocated $20 million, in addition to $8 million already approved by the House Transportation Committee, for a grade separation at Powers Boulevard and Woodmen Road. At least $5 million of that allocation is earmarked for land acquisition for the future expansion of Powers Boulevard to I-25. No date has been set.

Although he wouldn’t comment about details, the mayor said at the luncheon that a $2 million incentive package had been discussed with the airline. He said later that a similar incentive package would be available to any discount carrier that brought air service to the Springs.

Southwest Airlines spokesman, Ed Stewart, verified that Colorado Springs is a well-recognized name in his company’s 3,000 employee headquarters building. “We’re always looking at over-priced and underserved markets, and Colorado Springs is a fit,” Steward said. “They’ve also got an abundant supply of available parking which is attractive.”

Stewart said that for now, his company is focused almost entirely on opening a Philadelphia operation. Asked if plans and financing in place to extend Powers Boulevard would impress Southwest’s decision-making team, Stewart acknowledged Colorado Springs’ proactive approach.

“Unlike a lot of cities, at least your community sounds like it has a plan,” he said.