About this time of year in 1977, a phone call from a friend in journalism let me know about a possible job opening up at what was then known as the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph.
That led to phone interviews and, in July, a quick trip from Arkansas for an in-person visit. I’ll never forget boarding the plane for the morning flight home, and it was 51 degrees here. Two stops and five hours later, I stepped off the plane in Little Rock — and the temperature was about 109.
Needless to say, moving here wasn’t a hard decision. I spent the next 24 years at the paper now known as The Gazette, building countless relationships that continue today, lasting even through the years (2001-06) when I left to learn more about newspaper management in Florida and Texas.
I’ve been back since the end of 2006, writing columns as part of being the Independent’s executive editor. Then last spring, when the company that owns the Indy bought the Business Journal, I came here as executive editor to complete the local trifecta. For the past year, my work has included the CSBJ’s editorials, which serve as the voice of this newspaper, not just one person. Now I’m starting a column here, adding a personal voice to the mix.
My goal is not to echo the views and perspectives of John Hazlehurst, our self-described “geezer” historian. Then again, don’t expect the anti-Hazlehurst, though we might have occasional pro-and-con exchanges. After all, he was sailing around the world in the 1960s when I was an innocent small-town teenager.
My college priorities became journalism and political science, leading me here at 24. But despite my work being in sports, I noticed the business community far more than in Arkansas. It was so healthy here. My first home was in Village Seven, back when that truly was the city’s northeast edge. Academy Boulevard was vibrant, and if you went shopping, you’d go to the Citadel, Mall of the Bluffs or downtown. (Sometimes, people would venture to Denver’s sprawling Cinderella City.)
Colorado Springs’ downtown was slipping by then, with retailers bailing out. We needed to do something, but one tactic — tearing down aging buildings — turned out to be regrettable. Locals also couldn’t agree on how to address the shortage of performing-arts space until the Pikes Peak Center became reality in 1982.
Something else was healthy then: our small airport. Most service was to Denver, but Braniff had flights to Dallas, TWA went to St. Louis and the original Frontier was here. Later, America West provided service to Phoenix and Las Vegas, while American replaced Braniff with flights to Dallas (and Chicago for a while). I recall taking Frontier’s “milk-run” trips to the Midwest and South. United eventually became the dominant presence, especially after Denver International Airport opened in February 1995 and Continental shut down its Denver hub at the same time.
Then came the all-too-brief, dreamlike experience of Western Pacific, which got off to a booming start in 1995 with Colorado Springs as its hub. It was a perfect tenant for our new terminal, which opened in 1994, promising enough that a new “WestPac concourse” with five extra gates was built in 1997 — just in time for WestPac’s demise.
That extra concourse has sat unused ever since, a monument to our frustration. And now, in the post-recession world of airlines using smaller jets with fewer flights to cut costs, Colorado Springs’ airport business has fallen enough that it’s on the verge of being more a liability than an asset to the business community — if it’s not already there.
Mayor Steve Bach has intervened, promising to lead the push for turning around the Springs airport. If he can convince Frontier to revive its service to Denver, and find airlines willing to come here or expand existing service, Bach will be the hero, and deservedly so.
We’ve heard a new marketing plan is coming, hoping to persuade more travelers to fly out of here instead of Denver. Who knows, maybe we need to figure out a way to lure more skiers here. Or maybe have some flights out of Denver that make a quick stop here before continuing.
If none of that works, well, let’s not go there yet. We have a mayor who wants our airport to thrive, a handful of airlines still willing to make the most of it, and a lot of customers (like this one) who really would prefer flying out of Colorado Springs.
We have no choice but to wait and see. And hope.