Downtown becomes the place to party this summer

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Next Friday will bring the last of the big summer hoopla events and parties downtown.

Dubbed the Finish Festival, the USA Pro Challenge party will end a trilogy of giant downtown fests with street closures, this one with bands playing and a 15-minute fireworks show from the garage rooftop of Cowboys Night Club.

The downtown summer parties began July 27 with an Olympic-style celebration coinciding with the Summer Games opening ceremony in London, and included music, autograph sessions with Olympians and Paralympians, miniature tennis and BMX stunt team performances. Organizers called it a home run.

On Aug. 10, thousands of people flocked downtown to get a glimpse of the race cars and motorcycles that would compete in the 90th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, which took place two days later.

Downtown has hosted hundreds of fests and parties over the years. But this summer the downtown gatherings were more thought out, more deliberate in the drive to get people to shop and eat downtown. And, they were better funded. The parties had a blockbuster budget, with the Downtown Development Authority spending $210,000 on the three parties and events. That’s a lot of money, said Ron Butlin, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, which carries out the DDA’s directive.

“The return is the overall perception that downtown is a happening place,” he said.

Colorado Springs needed to let its hair down and party, said Mike Moran, Sports Corp. spokesman. The Waldo Canyon fire, which started in late June, knocked around the city and its people. The Olympic

Games, the Hill Climb and the USA Pro Challenge cycling race have brought fun back into people’s lives, he said.

“It’s an emotionally positive thing,” said Moran, the former longtime spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee. “In light of the fire, which affected so many people in the community, what’s happening in sports in the aftermath of the fire, we think is giving spirits a lift.”

The celebrations top off a year’s worth of planning for the Hill Climb and the USA Pro Challenge. Each event required hundreds of volunteers and coordination between private and government groups.

Nearly 400 volunteers will assemble next Friday to usher in the cyclists, fans and media for the USA Pro Challenge, already described as second only to the Tour de France. Dozens of police officers will coordinate traffic, and emergency crews will be on hand, said Bret Waters, Colorado Springs director of emergency management. The city pledged $100,000 of in-kind services, including police, firefighters and setting up barricades.

“Behind the scenes, there are a lot of moving parts,” Waters said. “It’s massive logistics.”

Local race organizers expect as many as 200,000 fans to line the streets of Colorado Springs to watch the cyclists. Meredith Vaughan, USA Pro Challenge local organizing committee chair and president of Vladimir Jones, said she’s excited to showcase the city in a way that makes people feel pride.

“Anything that gives us a community opportunity to celebrate is something I want to be involved in,” she said.

Vaughan’s husband is a firefighter who left to fight the Waldo Canyon fire June 23 and came home Friday of the next week. The Finish Festival celebration is for the community, she said.

“One of the things that is remarkable about this year is the wide range of personalities and organizations that came together that work on a sustained, ongoing basis,” Vaughan said. “Once awarded the bid, we brought the local organizing team together — we’ve been working like a mini-company.”

DDA is a major sponsor of the USA Pro Challenge — with $50,000 for the race and $75,000 for the party. In the past, DDA has used its $800,000 annual budget to help downtown businesses with new building facades or downtown art. This year, the board decided a key way to vitalize downtown is through events, Butlin said.

“What’s happening is the race comes downtown; racers will finish around 4 p.m.; then they leave for the next town,” Butlin said. “What we are doing, and the Sports Corp. is coordinating, is continuing the party … we’re moving the party from Tejon to Cascade so people can stay downtown and eat and shop.”

Butlin has anecdotal evidence that the downtown parties are drawing customers into restaurants, shops and nightclubs — there were lines to get in and store owners reported positive returns after the Olympic party, he said.

City sales tax receipts are not broken down by zip code, making it difficult to measure the downtown parties’ economic impact, Moran said. But for fun and image, he is scoring the events high, he said.

“There are a lot of people who feel an exciting vibrant downtown is part of any great city,” Moran said. “We are seeing that here with these sporting events.”