Town hall meeting attendees dream big for downtown

More than 100 people showed up to Mayor Steve Bach’s town hall meeting at the Penrose Library Wednesday to talk about how to revitalize downtown.

Ideas included creating an Olympics museum, building a Sky Sox stadium, adding high-speed rail, offering more housing options and improving access from Interstate 25.

Bach used the opportunity to reiterate that rebuilding downtown is one of his priorities.

“I believe our downtown is essential,” Bach said. “Successful communities have vibrant downtowns.”

He said revitalization efforts are already off to a good start, thanks to popular events like the Pro Cycling Challenge and the What If? Festival.

He said a celebration is planned this summer for the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games and hinted that plans are  in the works to create a major sports or entertainment downtown anchor.

When Bach and the city’s economic vitality chief Steve Cox opened the floor to questions, attendees laid out their priorities

The first question: “When will there be a Trader Joe’s downtown?”

Bach laughed, and said attempts had already been made to attract the trendy grocery store – and that he’s not taking a passive approach to redevelopment.

“We’re not waiting for them to choose Colorado Springs,” he said.

He brushed off notions that the Sky Sox might move downtown, however, because their stadium is paid off and they had a banner year last year.

And a downtown convention center? Nope.

Bach said he has abandoned any such dreams, because committees have shot down the idea for the last few decades.

Someone in the audience asked about creating an Olympic museum.

Dick Celeste, former president of Colorado College and former governor of Ohio, stood and said he felt that was a completely viable suggestion and he was looking into the idea, but the project was still in its early stages.

When he was the governor of Ohio, he successfully campaigned to bring the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland.

“In this case, I think Colorado Springs would have a unique claim to a museum dedicated to the Olympic movement,” Celeste said. “I’d like to see it happen.”

Asked if he would support high-speed rail between downtown and Denver, Bach said he would support high-speed rail from Trinidad to Ft. Collins as long as it makes a stop in downtown Colorado Springs.

He said there had been a proposal on the table that would put rail through the city, but would bypass downtown.

Bach said that reworking the I-25 and Cimmaron interchange is also essential to downtown health and that he will be pushing hard for Colorado Department of Transportation funding.

Housing discussion centered on an idea to creating a “free-agent” zone where there would be free high-speed internet and loft housing.

Bach and Cox also addressed homeless issues in answering several questions ranging from panhandling to drugs in Acacia Park and the fate of the Marion House Soup Kitchen.

Bach said he appreciates the work public agencies are doing and would like to see agencies work together more closely and combine their efforts. One day, he’d like to see a campus where all of the services can be concentrated.

One important issue is public safety, Bach said.

He said he is going to ask City Council to reallocate funds to downtown security cameras and added foot patrols in the evenings and on weekends.

Some people in the audience asked about parking.

One man complained that he had trouble finding a place to park near the library at 20 S. Cascade Ave. for the meeting Wednesday night.

“Sometimes we drive in for dinner and can’t find a place to park and end up driving back out,” the man said from his seat.

Cox said he was surprised to hear anyone had trouble parking for the event since the Antlers Hilton parking garage and Public Library parking lot were right across the street or just around the corner.  Of course, both cost money. The city is considering free parking or reducing fines for parking.

“The trouble is when you start changing those things, they generate revenue for the city,” Cox said.

One audience member asked, “Why does downtown have to be downtown?” and suggested that initiatives could be spread out throughout the city, especially since the geographical center of the city is continually moving farther away north and east.

Bach said he knows there are other parts of the city that need revitalization, including the South Academy Boulevard corridor, but that a downtown renaissance is paramount.

“Successful cities have downtowns,” he said.