Springs folks aren’t the Saks Fifth Avenue types

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Many years ago, in a moment of youthful weakness, I decided to run for city council. I asked my friend Tom Fischer for help.

Fischer, a conservative Republican stalwart who had once run for Congress, was brief and to the point.

“John,” he said “you come across as a Saks Fifth Avenue guy, and this is a K-Mart town — so conduct yourself accordingly.”

Good advice — to a point. We’re not particularly pretentious folks, and we don’t like people to put on airs. But I don’t think we’re a K-Mart town. We just don’t pay retail. And, when we can, we try not to pay at all.

It’s a much different story to the north. Denver area taxpayers provided much of the funding to build a baseball stadium and a football stadium, both of which were handed over to private corporations. Those same taxpayers provide continuing funding for an art museum, a natural history museum and a zoo. And that’s not all: let’s not forget Denver’s tax–funded convention center, the dozens of nonprofits that are partially funded by the city’s scientific and cultural facilities tax, and many other civic amenities that are provided through taxes.

If Denver residents are Paris Hilton shopping on Rodeo Drive, their Colorado Springs counterparts are garage-sale mavens, even dumpster divers.

We have Falcon Stadium for football and Security Service Field for baseball. We have the Fine Arts Center, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, the Garden of the Gods, Palmer Park and Monument Valley Park — and we didn’t pay a nickel for any of them! General Palmer gave us the parks, Spencer Penrose gave us the zoo, and private donors and/or other governmental entities paid for the rest.

The Air Force Academy is one of our nation’s five service academies, training the men and women who protect and defend our country. It’s funded by taxpayers throughout the country, but we benefit mightily from its presence.

There’s Falcon stadium, of course, and great venues to cheer on Air Force sports of all description. There’s also a de facto 18,000-acre regional park, a place of running/bike trails, forests, wildlife and spectacular views. The Academy only admits the best and the brightest, and many of them eventually settle here, bringing their skills and talents to us at no cost to local taxpayers.

And let’s not forget Colorado College, arguably the best small liberal arts college west of the Mississippi. It’s an integral part of the city, and has been since it was established in 1874. It didn’t cost taxpayers a dime then, and it hasn’t in the 136 years since.

It’s not that we’re against paying for stuff when we have no other options — but not unless we get a deal.

Consider the World Arena. The city and the county together contributed less than 20 percent of the facility’s total cost, graciously allowing private donors and the El Pomar Foundation to put up the rest.

You can call us tightwads, skinflints or just plain cheap, but we expect our elected officials to drive hard bargains, cut great deals, and never spend a dollar on something they can get for a dime.

That’s why the USOC deal still sticks in our craw. Dull-witted city officials were out-negotiated by the USOC and by developer Ray Marshall. Too credulous and fearful to call the USOC’s bluff (we’ll leave town unless you give us a building and pay for a lot of other stuff!) the city borrowed tens of millions, overpaid for a nondescript downtown structure, and senselessly gave it away to the USOC.

Perhaps slightly ashamed of its own cunning, the USOC is now hiding in plain sight at 31 South Tejon. At present, no sign marks the organization’s presence, no Olympic rings are displayed — only the developer’s “for lease” sign, advertising the vacant ground floor, which wasn’t included in the deal.

Compare this debacle to the county’s sharp-eyed acquisition of part of the former Intel campus. County officials were smart enough to see a bargain, negotiate a great deal, and save taxpayers tens of millions in future construction costs. Conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat — who cares? The county commissioners saved taxpayers a bunch of money, and that’s good enough for us.

We’ll be electing a new mayor and seven council members next April. We can expect candidates to prattle interminably about the trust they’ll rebuild, the communication they’ll communicate, and the visions they envision.

That’s fine, I guess — but I have one question for all of them.

Do you shop at garage sales?

Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 719-227-5861. Watch him at 7:45 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday on Channel 3, Fox Morning News.

2 Responses to Springs folks aren’t the Saks Fifth Avenue types

  1. bingo

    mike velez
    July 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

  2. Good points,
    Denver has twice as many taxpayers per acre.

    marko
    July 31, 2010 at 5:58 am