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.
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 email@example.com or 227-5861.