What do we want?
We want a lively downtown, full of job-creating young entrepreneurs hiring ambitious young professionals who will live and work in or near the city’s core. No more power plants and parking lots for us — it’ll be all boutiques, craft beers and a baseball stadium.
Getting there from here may be challenging, but we’ll work it out. No new taxes — we can pull it together with tax-increment financing through the Urban Renewal Authority, a looser regulatory structure, creative entrepreneurship, and a fleet of dump trucks to haul off the remains of the Martin Drake Power Plant. So let’s get to work!
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Cities all over the country have figured out that cities are the new suburbs. As the New York Times reported last week, municipalities as diverse as Seoul, San Francisco, Madrid and Milwaukee have “torn down postwar highways that ripped through downtowns, [replacing them] with parks and streets and neighborhoods.” The changes have worked, recovering historic waterfronts and turning desolate industrial areas into new neighborhoods.
In Colorado Springs, such dreams flicker to life every few years (America the Beautiful Park) and then, like a guttering candle, fade away. Downtown dreamers blame the economy, or City Council or feckless developers — but the fault lies elsewhere.
It’s easy to blame the Urban Renewal Authority, which has somehow become the Suburban Sprawl & Subsidy Authority. Those folks tried to jump-start a couple of downtown projects, but nobody bit — so they headed north to Copper Ridge, looking for action. That’s what sensible real-estate players in Colorado Springs have always done.
You find some dirt, figure out a way to get people to the dirt, and money flows.
Fifty years ago, Academy Boulevard was mostly two-lane dirt, Powers was all two-lane dirt, and Marksheffel wasn’t anything. Diners at the Mission Inn restaurant, located near the intersection of Academy and Woodmen, could look west from the restaurant’s patio and see — mountains. There were no buildings to block the view of Pikes Peak, no streetlights to dim the stars — just the faint glow of Colorado Springs somewhere beyond Palmer Park.
The little town was growing, and budgets were stretched. Less-than-urgent projects were postponed while city fathers (no women then!) struggled to fund transportation, public safety and drainage. The City Auditorium needed some attention, but it could wait — we needed to get a handle on some urgent needs!
So we built roads and bridges, curbs and gutters, storm sewers and drainage ditches. We paved Academy, added four more lanes, and ran it from the Air Force Academy to Fort Carson. Then it was time for Powers. But after we added hundreds of lane miles of arterials, people still couldn’t get across town, and meanwhile we had to maintain all these roads, and the bridges and culverts and sewers were already falling apart and — what were you saying about the City Aud?
Downtown, once the beating heart of Colorado Springs, became an afterthought. Federal, state and local funds flowed to roads — to building, expanding and maintaining a series of north-south arterials. The roads brought business, created residential developments, enabled growth, and then quickly declined. Union, Chelton and Academy had their moments in the sun — and now Powers reigns.
What’s next? Maybe Marksheffel, where developers, property owners and commuters would appreciate additional lanes. The county’s on the case, according to a recent press release.
“El Paso County is asking for citizen input for the future of the Marksheffel Road South Corridor between U.S. 24 and Link Road…”
Imagine Marksheffel as a four-lane highway running north-south, well east of the airport. The project likely would be funded by an 80/20 match between the feds (80) and Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (20). It’s a sweet, easy and painless way to get another north-south arterial.
And what about the City Aud? The administration recently released an RFP (request for proposals), seeking someone/anyone to take over the old pile of bricks, fix it up, maintain it and manage it.
Maybe they’ll find someone who’ll sign a long-term lease and repurpose the building. One thing’s for sure, though — it’ll no longer be an affordable, cheerful facility for quinceaneras, Derby Dames, antique shows, metaphysical fairs and organ concerts.
But that’s OK. Better things are coming — I can’t wait for the opening of Copper Ridge South on Marksheffel.