It’s our own damn fault

Filed under: Hazlehurst | Tags:,

Unlike most men of his generation, my father was an accomplished cook. He was particularly proud of his rice pudding, which contained many ingredients, and demanded extensive and careful preparation. On one occasion, long celebrated in family lore, he removed a perfect rice pudding from the oven only to discover that he had omitted a key ingredient.

The rice.

Reading the 80-page application that Colorado Springs filed requesting state funds under the provisions of the Colorado Regional Tourism Act may leave a few longtime downtown boosters feeling like our family when we dove in to the rice-less rice pudding. A baseball stadium, an Olympic Hall of Fame, a 1,500 space parking structure, a $14 million pedestrian bridge – all great projects, but isn’t there something missing?

Look at Denver, Columbus, Omaha, Albuquerque or any of our peer cities. Re-imagined and revived downtowns may have baseball stadiums, art museums, science museums, arts districts, history museums, new residential blocks or any combination of the above, but there’s one thing they all have.

Virtually every city of our size has a downtown convention center, usually coupled with a convention center hotel. That’s the rice in the rice pudding, the crucial ingredient in a revived downtown.

The synergy is obvious: Olympic Museum, downtown stadium, dozens of restaurants, iconic bridge, etc., etc. Suddenly, downtown would be an extraordinarily attractive venue for event planners. How many conventions might book our shiny new center annually? Twenty? Thirty? Fifty? And how much would attendees spend? And wouldn’t a convention center trigger the building of another downtown hotel? And wouldn’t that create jobs galore, and a bright new future for our city?

For years, backers of a downtown convention center argued for public financing of such a facility. The voters turned them down repeatedly, and finally approved an initiative forbidding the city from even planning a convention center, much less asking the voters to fund it.

That initiative, largely driven by Broadmoor Hotel CEO Steve Bartolin, may have put the final nail into the convention center coffin. Had voters realized that state funding through the RTA could have defrayed the cost of a convention center, they might have decided differently. Of course, the RTA didn’t exist then, and who can predict the future?

The city is the nominal sponsor of the RTA application, but the shot callers don’t work for City Hall. The overall project has no chance of state approval without the participation of the Anschutz Family Foundation and El Pomar – and neither would be involved if the application included a convention center. Why would Phil Anschutz want to advance a process that would lead to the creation of a convention facility that would compete with his own hotel? That would be foolish – and a man with a net worth of $7.8 billion is as far from being a fool as anyone can be.

Here’s a prediction of things to come: there will never be a downtown convention center. With luck, we’ll have the Olympic Museum and the stadium, and they may well ignite a modest downtown renaissance. The Broadmoor will benefit, Mr. Anschutz will be pleased at the city’s rebirth, downtown property owners will make a few bucks, and Mayor Bach will have put together the biggest real estate deal of his career.

It’s all good – and if some of us feel a little like the big blue bear peering wistfully into the atrium of the Denver Convention Center, too bad. To paraphrase Jimmy Buffett:

“Some people claim

Bartolin’s to blame

But I know

It’s our own damn fault”

 

11 Responses to It’s our own damn fault

  1. “Ouch.” – Steve Bartolin

    Mike Hunt
    July 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm

  2. I’ve been to convention centers in cities years ago when conventions were big. The ones I’ve seen are big ugly places with a lot of slums in nearby areas. Also, it looks like it will be years before our economy improves enough to where big conventions will be profitable again. We have enough nice convention space and I can’t possibly think we can comptete with Denver. A convention center downtown is to big a gamble for the citizens of our city and what will we do if we build it and they don’t come? A good man with a net worth of 7.8 billion would sure be in favor of a big convention center if he knew it would be successful because he could still draw visitors to his beautiful hotel, dining, dancing or golf course. What if conventions go out of style all together? That is a very real possibility. Anshultz is a good man and I’m sure if our city provides interesting attractions he will have shuttles for tourists to visit them and spend money. I hope there will never be a downtown convention center. They are ugly.

    Bonnie
    July 11, 2013 at 1:13 pm

  3. Bonnie, I don’t think we’d try to compete with denver and build a supersized convention center – just a nice little facility that would attract small/mediumn sized events. Increasing visitation would create more traffic to our airport, more hotel room nights, more jobs, and more economic vitality in general. Such a center doesn’t have to be ugly – but function might dictate form. And remember-airports, shopping centers, and cineplexes are pretty ugly as a rule, but most of us would agree that they’re key components of the community.

    John Hazlehurst
    July 11, 2013 at 2:00 pm

  4. Downtown Colorado Springs shot itself in the foot decades ago when the then City Council allowed developers to tear down virtually all the historic architecture, including the unique Antlers, that when combined with the scenic western view-scape made Colorado Springs rare and unique and replaced them with ugly, uninteresting, concrete block box behemoths and parking lots.

    Then to add insult to injury they instituted paid parking…the same mistake Manitou Springs just made…to further dissuade locals from patronizing the downtown area.

    It’s foolhardy and wasteful to keep trying to attract outside ‘visitors’ to a downtown area that offers very little…not even a shuttle to get around easily when it cannot even offer anything to attract locals. Rather than being innovative and creating something that sets Colorado Springs apart from the rest, Downtown proponents and developers say we need to copy what other City’s have done…Boring and Short Sighted.

    A downtown stadium…been done in many places and has failed at least as many times as it may have helped…I use Buffalo, New York as a great example of the epic failure of moving a sports stadium to a downtown area to try to ‘revitalize’. Like Detroit, Buffalo has been trying to ‘revitalize’ its downtown for DECADES…the result…the City of Buffalo has gone from being in the top 15 Largest cities in the United States with a population of over half a million in just the City Limits ALONE, to having a population today of about 250,000.

    The Planning in Colorado Springs has rarely been with good foresight or about what the citizens want or will best serve the community as a whole…it’s only about the money interests. I’m not opposed to entrepreneurs making money by creating something that meets market demands, but the market is perfectly happy with OUR stadium in the easy to get to eastern part of town.

    If you want people downtown first get rid of the parking meters then CREATE something that REAL people…local people…want to come down to utilize and partake of other than just night clubs and bars for the kiddies.

    Where is this generation’s General Palmer or Spencer Penrose…where are the TRUE visionaries who can help create a Downtown Colorado Springs that LOCALS wish to enjoy first?

    Brian W.
    July 11, 2013 at 2:28 pm

  5. I think your analyses of this effort have been spot on John. The success of any downtown development or redevelopment requires one key ingredient – people, consistent volumes of people, at least some of whom will spend time and money. The best way to get people to come downtown and stay downtown is by providing them with places to live or stay overnight. In other words, there must be housing and hotels. The only real meeting space downtown is the Antler’s Hotel which is what it is, a mid-rise hotel with hotel style meeting and banquet space. (I don’t not ignore the Mining Exchange, but it is small in terms of meeting space.) People come down for meetings then leave. They may come down for a meal or to see a museum, then they leave.
    An appropriately sized exhibition and meeting facility that could host trade shows, exhibitions of vehicles and equipment and multiple function larger meetings could provide an anchor that might lead to the development of more downtown style hotel facilities. People sleeping in downtown hotels and attending multi-day downtown functions will stay downtown and spend money. It is this kind of steady traffic that will incentivize investors to build restaurants and stores and other commercial and retail establishments to revitalize the area. An Olympic museum will no doubt attract people who are already here for another reason, but I doubt it will be a tourist destination in and of itself. Those who do come to see the museum will then leave and go back to their suburban motels. Likewise a sports stadium may attract some people who will come to games then go back to their out of downtown quarters. Even if a portion get lunch or dinner, their visits will be sporadic and will not be the basis for major investment.
    The extensive discussion surrounding the topic tells me that the backers have failed to win wide spread support for their project – certainly not enough yet to overcome skepticism. Those supporters I do see appear to be part of or connected to the establishment core groups you describe. Most of the public discussion has been about whether this is a good idea, not growing enthusiasm for a great idea. The advocates speak don’t even speak with enthusiasm. Their tone is very muted and clinical.
    CSBJ’s poll asks if the public funding part of this proposal should be put to a vote. The answer is yes. The reason the answer is yes is that it will force the proponents to make their case. It’s probably too late to get public input that could improve the application. But for it to be successful, the proponents are going to have to sell it to a broader constituency.

    Rob
    July 11, 2013 at 3:49 pm

  6. All these great ideas… what about the following Mr. Mayor and City Council:
    1. Arcacia park build restaurants outdoor patio seating and transform it into a central plaza which would transform downtown into the heart of our beloved city.
    2. remove one lane from Tejon street and widen the side walks to encourage more walk ability and again social interaction
    3. why buy land from developers at $12 per foot on the south west side of downtown when the railroad land on the south east side is for sale at $3 (are we giving back favors..)
    4. we need more residential density in down town and not stadiums
    5. what about the urban market idea
    6. high speed internet for the downtown area would attract businesses to town (see Kansas City). Some communities in our country have used their utility company to break the mediocre and high priced solution’s provided by comcast and centurylink
    7. what about a long term planning which includes downtown and old colorado city to manitou (which means turning down kum and go request to develop old colorado city into junk

    peter miller
    July 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm

  7. Remove one lane from Tejon and kiss the whole downtown goodbye, Peter. The social engineers at our so-called traffic department have done their best to anger motorists and shoppers by “lane dieting” every possible street and intersection with “bump-outs.” It’s time to fire these contemptible bureaucrats and get some folks in who are accountable to the taxpaying public.

    Mike Hunt
    July 12, 2013 at 7:33 am

  8. All this about building leaves out the rice. People come to Colorado for the environment – not the “built environment” of architects and speculators, but the real environment of “spacious skies and purple mountains majesty above the fruited plain.” Athletes come to train at high altitude. Stadia are fine for urban jungles with no real parks for their citizens — Colorado doesn’t need artificial paradises when the real ones are just outside our doors. Leaders should try touting the natural resources (and maybe that will lead to them appreciating them and conserving them).

    rocky
    July 12, 2013 at 11:21 am

  9. A lot of the ideas and comments here make sense, and it’s unfortunate that the planning committee didn’t have all this input before formulating it’s approach. I’ll throw my two cents in here as well. What is critical to a revitalized downtown is the concept of repetition. If conventions come, great: but businesses need to depend on a steady flow of customers in order to survive, and it could take a number of years to build a good and steady stream of conventions. If we increase downtown residency, then there will be people who will patronize businesses on an ongoing basis, which will enable businesses to have enough of a base to survive. Then we can add to that business core with conventions and other tourist trade. The idea of a ball stadium in the downtown area does not personally appeal to me, since it creates a lot of traffic. Also, people who enjoy baseball will be willing to go to the existing stadium to see a game. However, a shuttle from the downtown area to the existing stadium would make a great deal of sense. (It would also make sense that, if we were to build a stadium, it wouldn’t simply be a replacement for the already-adequate stadium we have. Why don’t we make a bid to have another type of team based here? Then we’d have two stadiums and two teams, thereby furthering the planning committee’s branding concept for the City.) Tourist attractions, too, should generate repeat visitors. Once someone sees an Olympic Museum, (s)he is unlikely to see a reason to return. There are types of attractions, though, that will generate repeat visits (along with all the local business such visits inspire). The plan seems to be based on “what has worked in the past.” Successful planning, though, must be based on what is true now and–even more importantly–what is likely to be real in the future. Otherwise, all we do is perpetuate the image of Colorado Springs as an “also-ran” and the city continues to be involved in the same competition with other cities for tourist dollars. I would personally like to see bold planning that would position Colorado Springs as a major destination city in and of itself. I can envision any number of scenarios in which we could achieve such a status.

    Wendy S.
    July 12, 2013 at 11:27 am

  10. Good points all, everybody! But I think that right now we may be on the edge of a transformative moment, which will transform downtown for good or for ill. If I had a magic wand, I’d want a Science Museum, a Museum of Contemporary Art, lots of entrepreneurial/residential space, car-unfirendly design, and high-speed rail to Denver…but we have to deal with the possible, not the ideal. If we can build an Olympic Museum and a ballpark, it’s better than what we have now, which is zero, zip, nada. But, as Brian W points out, whatever we build won’t compare with what we tore down in the 60′s.

    John Hazlehurst
    July 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm

  11. There are too many negatives downtown, too many ugly eyesores that need to be fixed before I patronize downtown again. A stadium will not do it.

    Brian
    July 15, 2013 at 1:18 pm