Civic leaders converge at real estate update

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It may have been the only time the director of the Colorado State Water Conservation Board and the chief of staff for NORAD/USNORTHCOM would ever be in the same room. On June 18, the University of Denver’s Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management hosted the Colorado Springs Annual Real Estate Update at the Antler’s Adam’s Mark Hotel. Several of Colorado’s community leaders and experts delivered presentations about issues facing Colorado Springs, the Front Range and the future of the Rocky Mountain state.

Big things are coming to Colorado Springs according to Mayor Lionel Rivera. “I’m excited about the future of Colorado Springs,” Rivera said. Confluence Park is expected to open in late summer or early fall between Interstate 25 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and Bijou and Cimarron streets. According to Rivera, the park could be named Olympic Park if an Olympic Hall of Fame is built in the downtown area.

The expansion of 1-25 to six lanes along the Front Range should be completed by 2009, according to Rivera. During his presentation the mayor said he wanted to bring a discount airline to the Colorado Springs airport. “We regret that many of our residents travel up to Denver to go to the airport,” he said. Rivera also mentioned his hope of leaving a mass transit system and a downtown Olympic Center as “legacies” for future residents.

Even without mass transit, Colorado Springs is still a city on the rise. Jeff Romine, regional economist for the Denver Regional Council of Governments said Colorado Springs and the Front Range area are competing with cities like Atlanta, Seattle and San Francisco. “We are the cheap alternative to major cities in the U.S.,” Romine said.

And despite recent economic slumps, Romine is optimistic that Colorado Springs will come out on top. In the last three years, about 100,000 jobs were lost statewide, according to Romine. Of those, 5,000-7,000 were in real estate. “Households had to tighten their belts at this time,” he said.

From 2000 to 2002, Colorado’s population increased by 2.1 percent, employment fell by 0.8 percent and average wages fell by 2.2 percent, according to Romine. “We lost some $50,000 to $60,000 a year jobs, but gained some $15,000 to $20,000 a year jobs,” he said. Romine predicted a slow and steady economic recovery for the state and said employment growth is up by about 1 percent for 2004. He projected that the employment rate will increase by 2.5 percent in 2005.

Employment rate increases are essential, especially when considering population growth projections from Romine and Rod Kuharich, director of the Colorado State Water Conservation Board. Colorado’s population may increase by 2 million people in the next 20-25 years, according to Romine. Kuharich estimated that there will be nearly 3 million more Colorado residents by 2030. Although their numbers differ slightly, Colorado is growing. Kuharich told the audience that Colorado has the third highest growth rate in the United States.

State Sen. Ron May of District 10 discussed the issue of highway expansion throughout Colorado. May voiced his support for highway expansion as the only solution to congestion. “We’ve never used state funds for mass transit&we need lanes,” May said.

And with all the talk of growth, the subject of water availability was addressed. “I kinda thought I had a good job ’til it got dry,” Kuharich said. Another 600,000 acre feet of water will be needed in Colorado by 2030, according to Kuharich. An acre foot is the unit used to measure the amount of water in one acre, one foot deep. During his presentation, Kuharich pointed out that there is a potential for further development of the Colorado River.

The event wrapped up with a presentation by Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees, the chief of staff for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). Rees discussed “Homeland Defense and Military Influence Affecting Colorado Springs” and talked about the role of NORTHCOM in national security.

“NORAD has been a part of this community for about 46 years,” Rees said. And according to Rees, the economic impact of the military in Colorado Springs is about $2 billion.

After the event, Rees said it was “unusual” for him to speak at a real estate event, but he liked the opportunity to talk to members of the community. “If they (the community) understand us better,” he said, “then I think we have a better relationship.”

- Stephanie.Cline@csbj.com