The end of a dream city: Colorado Springs 2020

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Couldn’t sleep last night and found myself surfing the Web at 2 a.m. Checked the New York Times site, which, strangely enough, was dated Jan. 29, 2020. There was a story about our own city that seemed … well, even stranger. Good thing I copied the text — my computer blackscreened, and I could never get back to the site.

Colorado “Dream City” caught in nightmare

By Staff Writer

New York Times

Most Americans are delighted by our suddenly peaceful world, following President Sarah Palin’s trip to Iran during 2013. Yet, residents of once-prosperous Colorado Springs have not benefited from the new Pax Americana. The local economy has experienced its sixth consecutive year of decline, as the city’s military base has shrunk by 90 percent during the last 10 years. The city has lost 30,000 residents in the same period, and one in every three homes on the city’s historic west side is vandalized and abandoned.

Mike Kazmierski, former CEO of the city’s defunct Economic Development Corp., says that the city’s collapse could have been averted, but for the incompetence of city leaders and the mulish obstinacy of local voters.

“The city council didn’t really understand that we were competing with every other city in America for jobs, and the taxpayers wouldn’t fund the EDC — or anything else, for that matter,” Kazmierski said, “Instead, they paid out millions to keep the United States Olympic Committee here and that just made the voters even angrier.”

The USOC has been headquartered for the last five years in “America’s Shanghai,” the gleaming, renascent city of Detroit.

Seated in her cluttered office on the third floor of the city’s once-magnificent city hall, Mayor Bettina Swigger was wearing a down jacket and ski pants. She apologized to a shivering visitor.

“It’s freezing in here, isn’t it?” she said. “The heating system broke down last winter, so we get by with space heaters. We really don’t have the money to do anything but absolutely vital repairs, and we made the decision to try to keep a few of the major highways open rather than heat city buildings.”

Colorado Springs might soon earn the dubious distinction of being the first major city in America to declare bankruptcy.

“I don’t think that we have much choice,” Swigger said, “Our municipal utility system owes hundreds of millions because of SDS (a water delivery project that was abandoned five years ago), and people have just stopped paying their utility bills. Our tax revenue is way down, and we really don’t have a municipal government anymore.”

The city itself is just as down-at-heels and threadbare as city hall.

The long-shuttered Pioneers Museum was destroyed by a fire during 2018 caused by homeless individuals camping in the deserted building. And despite substantial federal aid, the city has yet to recover from the disastrous Memorial Day flood of 2015. Damage from the flood, estimated at more than $1 billion, was magnified by the city’s crumbling storm water infrastructure.

The city’s once-magnificent parks have gone unmaintained for years. Shantytowns similar to the hillside favelas which once characterized Rio de Janeiro have sprung up in many, particularly in the now ironically named “America the Beautiful Park.”

Warren Epstein, the owner, editor, publisher, and sole reporter of the city’s daily Web site, the Gazette, remembers a different city.

“We started a community project called “Dream City,” he said, “And thousands of people joined together to make the city into a better place. But then we never really emerged from the Great Recession, and then the military started to leave, and the defense contractors all shut down, and there was nothing to replace them. Then there was the flood, and then the voters approved a charter amendment that phased out most local taxes — so here we are.”

And while many neighborhoods have suffered, some are unscathed. Residents of the city’s southwest quadrant de-annexed from Colorado Springs, and organized a new municipality, called “Fort Broadmoor.” Concern about crime led to the construction of a 17-foot “security wall” around the prosperous enclave.

“We’re not trying to keep anybody out,” said Fort Broadmoor Mayor Ann Marie Pacitto, “We just want our residents to feel safe and for guests of The Broadmoor to realize that they’re not visiting Colorado Springs — we’re a completely separate city.”

The vivacious Pacitto, whose office in the Frank Gehry-designed city administration building offers a panoramic view of her city, offered a reporter a glass of Paul Krug champagne.

“Go ahead, “she urged, “It’s after five, and that’s why we have a bar in the office. Let’s celebrate — it’s all good here at Fort Broadmoor! I’ll call Bettina and ask her to join us — poor girl, she has to work so hard, and she only gets paid $6,250 a year.”

Pacitto, who says that her job is “mostly social — the city really runs itself,” receives an annual salary of $265,000.

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

7 Responses to The end of a dream city: Colorado Springs 2020

  1. Wow, John. You have me in stitches. And also, what did I do to deserve such a world? Although I suppose great art comes out of hardship and strife, so perhaps our vision of a community united by creativity will become a reality.

    We need Doc Brown to help us now. Save the clocktower!

    Bettina Swigger
    January 29, 2010 at 11:28 am

  2. Thank you for this. We need more discussion about these issues. Someone needs to take charge and make change happen. Instead of doing nothing and letting the city crumble and become unsafe. I have lived here my entire life and have never thought of downtown as unsafe, but I am beginning to change my mind.
    Bravo,
    Carrie Hibbard Baker

    Carrie Hibbard Baker
    January 29, 2010 at 12:14 pm

  3. Great Job John…loved it! Too funny and all so sad because it is such a possibility. Are you sure you are not a “prophet”.

    Denise Wisdom
    January 29, 2010 at 1:16 pm

  4. Thanks, John. I needed that. The only thing you missed was something on the cult that sprouted up in the northeast part of the city.

    Dee Vazquez
    January 29, 2010 at 8:50 pm

  5. An interesting bit of prognostication that hits entirely too close to home.

    Matt Mayberry
    January 29, 2010 at 11:30 pm

  6. This is so true!! If this city doesn’t get off it narrow minded butts, something like this could happen! It leaning that way!!!

    Laura Hibbitts
    January 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

  7. Remember, Bettina, that the last time any great art was produced in New York City was during the late 60′s through the 70′s, when Haring, Smith, Mapplethorpe, and dozens of others rveled in the chaos, poverty, and near-collapse of the city. I was there (not that I produced any great art!), and I think that a flourishing art scene needs low rents above everything else…Detroit, the Paris of 21st century America!!

    John Hazlehurst
    January 31, 2010 at 10:17 am