Editorial: Don’t flinch at downtown evaluation

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When the word came of yet another idea for “experts” from across the country to help jump-start the process of revitalizing downtown Colorado Springs, our first reaction was an impatient shrug.

Really? One more study to produce one more batch of input, costing $125,000 for those who will pay for it? What difference could this effort possibly make, compared to ambitious attempts in the past?

Then we saw the list of panelists from the Urban Land Institute, who will converge Sunday on Colorado Springs for a nonstop week of talking to people, assembling information and developing specific ideas for the city to consider.

The group is impressive, to say the least. And topping that list is William “Bill” Hudnut, former longtime Indianapolis mayor (1976-91) and Indiana congressman.

Perhaps the best description for Hudnut, at least from a Colorado Springs perspective, would be to call him a “friendly rival” from the past. This goes back 30 years or so, to Hudnut’s early years as mayor. Indianapolis was a city struggling to find itself, trying to develop an identity. He and other city leaders there decided to use sports as their main weapon.

For much of the 1980s, Colorado Springs found itself competing against Indianapolis, with both cities coveting and embracing the title of “amateur sports capital of the United States.” Anything we could do, Indy could do better.

That meant staging major events such as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the National Sports Festival, both in 1982, and the Pan American Games in 1987. It meant building a training center for ice sports, and luring a prominent skating coach from Colorado Springs (the late Pieter Kollen) to run it. And it meant enticing some Olympic sports’ national governing bodies to relocate from the Springs to Indy.

Indianapolis, of course, also was a state capital and had the resources (not to mention the population base) to do more, such as building a domed football stadium for the NFL Colts, supporting pro basketball and hosting NCAA Final Fours.

But Indy, led by Mayor Hudnut, never could pull off what it really wanted: the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Yes, several decades have passed, but Hudnut surely will come here already knowing far more about Colorado Springs than his Urban Land Institute counterparts. He’ll bring the knowledge of what worked for Indianapolis, which utilized its own major benefactor (the Lilly Foundation, part of Eli Lilly and Company) as we have through the years with El Pomar Foundation, then built from there. And, since he’s a consultant now, Hudnut should have ideas that very well could be applicable for re-energizing our downtown.

Bottom line, this initiative very well might be the one that gives Colorado Springs a legitimate roadmap to the future.