Some are wild — like getting Colorado Springs Utilities to build kayaking rapids in Fountain Creek.
Some are big — like building a downtown, Olympic-themed sports arena.
And some are just plain unconventional — like using money from the lease for Memorial hospital’s assets to pay for park maintenance.
Leigh has gotten a lot of attention — and some ridicule — for his ideas since he won election to City Council in April, but he stands behind them all because he believes they’re the way toward economic development.
“It’s about economic development,” said Leigh, a commercial real estate broker by trade. “I’m not really the poster child of the weird idea of the week.”
Economic development is the goal no matter how offbeat an idea might seem, he said, even one like creating a public/private partnership to patch holes in Monument Valley Park’s duck pond, which now sits drained and has become a popular homeless campsite.
“It might seem random, but the dots are connected,” he said. “Attractive parks are a huge perk. We need parks to attract people, to attract jobs. So, it really isn’t about the duck ponds.”
Leigh’s idea about creating shared bicycle and automobile lanes, called sharrows, won him a lot of attention, but one of his favorite ideas is Oly, the Olympic-themed 3,500-seat sports arena for national governing bodies and amateur athletes.
“You can personify it, give it a story,” Leigh said. “And we can put it on the edge of downtown.”
The suggested location for the arena is northeast of Cimmaron Avenue and Interstate 25, east of America the Beautiful Park, which has been designated as an urban renewal zone. Leigh believes that as many as 1,300 jobs were lost in that area.
“Those were people who shopped downtown, who ate in restaurants,” he said. “Now they’re dispersed somewhere else. We have vacant buildings in that district. The Oly will make it a destination.”
He also wants to make Prospect Lake in Memorial Park a destination.
He proposes that someone turn Prospect Lake’s closed-down bathhouse into a restaurant and that the city build an amphitheater near the lake.
“There are people in this city who love the symphony, who donate to it. There are people who love arts and culture. They’d love an outdoor amphitheater,” he said. “We can use Facebook, Twitter and get the word out. If they care enough, they’ll donate.”
Leigh believes connecting people to his ideas will bring them to fruition. He thinks it’s a matter of finding people who are passionate about a topic and then putting them to work.
“People don’t get it,” he said. “They have to look at it from 80,000 feet.”
Leigh is fond of the view from that height, and frequently reminds fellow City Council members to examine the bigger picture.
“I’m not sure what my fellow City Council members think of me,” he said. “I hope they think I’m thoughtful and they take me seriously. I do the homework I need to do to be relevant. But this is where the rubber hits the road. It’s time for a new way of doing things.”
That new approach has caused Leigh to be called both a racist and a liberal.
A racist for saying the Springs is like a “fat, middle-aged white guy,” and a liberal for pushing for sharrows for safer cycling throughout the city.
Neither is correct, he said.
“I am a pragmatist,” he said. “And I’m a registered independent. City council isn’t supposed to be partisan; we’re supposed to represent everyone in the city. That’s what I’m doing.”
As for the fat, middle-aged white guy that is the Springs, he stands by the comment — and says the city needs to add culture and color. He says the problem is that people don’t get the connection between his seemingly far-fetched ideas.
“You have to connect the dots,” he said. “Things like ponds, restaurants, Oly — they’re all tied together.”
Leigh said he’s given a lot of thought to his seemingly off-the-cuff ideas.
“These ideas have been incubated prior to my candidacy, matured and grown after the election. We have to see things from a creative standpoint, look at doing things differently.”
Gyrations in the global marketplace hit close to home, he said. Colorado Springs has to compete in that marketplace. In order to become more competitive, the city needs to become the most attractive place it can be — without spending more tax dollars.
“You’re never going to attract the young creative class, you’re never going to attract employers,” he said. “Companies go where the workers are.”
Colorado Springs wants to model the economic development successes of cities like Oklahoma City, Austin and Charlotte, but don’t mention doing that to Leigh.
“I’m tired of people talking about them,” he said. “We don’t have to copy them, we can create our own thing,” he said. “We’re too good to be like some other city.”
But, in order for Colorado Springs to improve, Leigh knows someone has to be a visionary.
“Vision is the hardest part,” he said. “You have to look at it this way: Where do I want to be? Where do I want to live? If we have a hipper culture, it’s better.”