2009: The best laid plans of men that went awry

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Looking back at 2009…well, I’d rather not.

It has been a dreary and dismaying year for many in the business community.

The continuing impact of the “Great Recession” has made this a time of survival, not growth; of keeping existing customers, not finding new ones; of paying slowly, and being paid even more slowly; of bank credit lines being abruptly terminated, instead of generously increased; of developers going broke, instead of breaking ground; and of businesses going bankrupt, not expanding.

For those of us in the journalism biz, it wasn’t a recession, but a full-blown depression. During February, the Rocky Mountain News, arguably the best newspaper in the Mountain West, closed its doors forever, just short of 150 years of continuous publication.

Locally, the Gazette continued to shed employees, as its parent company, Freedom Communications struggled to service nearly $1 billion in debt. Faced with shrinking revenue, Freedom joined half a dozen other once-proud media companies in bankruptcy court, filing on Sept 1.

Things weren’t much better in the development community. A rising tide may lift all boats, but a falling tide strands those mariners who imprudently chose to sail in shallow waters. The confident power brokers who once announced plans to build a 24-story hotel/condominium project at Kiowa and Nevada quietly left town, and the project evaporated. No more skyscraper, no more hotel — instead, realism replaced hot air, and an ingenious couple converted the vacant and forlorn building that had once housed the Cooper theater into a climbing gym.

Mega-developer Ray Marshall, caught in a tightening web of lawsuits, shrinking credit lines, angry partners, and the remorselessly impractical demands of the USOC deal, suffered a truly spectacular fall from grace.

Once the toast of the town, the guy who had partnered with the city to keep the USOC in town, Marshall’s real estate empire collapsed, the USOC deal went south, and Marshall was indicted by a grand jury on 33 counts of the theft, conspiracy, securities fraud, and violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.

Marshall hired Denver attorney Pamela Mackey to defend him — a good choice, and one consonant with his earlier choice of attorneys to represent him when the USOC deal began to unravel. Whatever you may think of Mr. Marshall, he’s persuaded the ablest lawyers in the state to represent him — and Ms. Mackey, who represented Kobe Bryant when he was accused of rape a few years ago, is not accustomed to losing.

The Cooper Tower may never rise from the ground and help transform Nevada Avenue from a gritty downtown street to a graceful urban boulevard, but the once-resplendent Mining Exchange Building may yet be reborn.

Once the home of the Colorado Springs Stock Exchange, the exuberantly beautiful structure had been clumsily converted to a dreary, fake-modernist office building 50 years ago. Owner/developer Perry Sanders has stripped off the junky 60’s façade, revealing graceful granite columns and arches. He plans to convert the building into a luxury boutique hotel, providing that the city will give him a few tax breaks. That shouldn’t be problem, given that…

After nearly two years of political drama as the city sought to craft a deal to keep the USOC in town, Council decreed that the financially strapped city government would ante up $32 million to the USOC.

That decision did not meet with universal acclaim (except, perhaps, in the USOC’s boardroom). It did not escape the notice of city residents that the city was shoveling out the dough to the USOC while simultaneously cutting the city budget by tens of millions. Angry voters turned to Douglas Bruce, who had helpfully provided them with an initiated ordinance terminating the deservedly unpopular stormwater enterprise, and gave the city a couple of swift kicks in the butt.

When CSBJ first learned, during March of 2008, that the U.S. Olympic Committee had threatened to leave town unless the city paid ‘em to stay, assistant city manager Mike Anderson demanded that we keep quiet.

It was, he said, our civic duty to keep our mouths shut, and let our city leaders work out a deal.

When the paper refused to go along and expressed skepticism about the city’s ability to come up with enough cash to satisfy the USOC’s demands, Anderson brushed aside our objections.

“You’d be surprised,” he said, “I’ve got a lot of weapons we can use to put this together.”

Some weapons.

In the end, the city mortgaged a fire station and the Police Operations Center, and handed the USOC $9 million in cash and a $22 million office building at 27 S. Tejon. All’s well that ends well, right?

Mike Anderson retired at the end of the year, after 25 years with the city. In a fitting coda to his long career, his retirement party will be held in the building at 27 S. Tejon.

We’re not invited…

John Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.

One Response to 2009: The best laid plans of men that went awry

  1. Uh, John? Me thinks the Anderson party has already come and gone. And, the old theater/antique store was named something other than the Cooper. The Cooper 1-2-3 was located one block to the south and has since been transformed, twice, into office suites. But, you knew that, right?

    Dick Burns
    December 27, 2009 at 10:39 am