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Colorado Springs City Council OKs $5.9 million to spiff up parks

June 11, 2013 Updated: June 11, 2013 at 6:35 pm

No more worrying about breaking Mama's back when playing tennis at Memorial Park.

On an 8-1 vote Tuesday, City Council approved a plan to spend about $5.9 million to give local parks long-awaited upgrades, including replacing cracked tennis courts.

Park users who implored the council to spend the money during the council meeting Tuesday rejoiced, including Kasey Weber, owner of Colorado Springs Tennis. This summer, 70 children signed up for lessons with the business, which contracts with the city.

"They are definitely leaping over cracks and avoiding weeds right now," said Weber.

In addition to having new tennis courts, park users will get to use three new handball courts at Memorial Park, play year-round on artificial turf at Skyview Sports Complex, and see 80 acres of blue grass replaced with wild, native grass - a move expected to save 60 percent on watering costs on those areas. Children will have new playground equipment and rubberized landing surfaces, and hikers will be able to traipse across sturdy new trail bridges.

Park director Karen Palus hopes to have the work completed by the end of the year.

Colorado Springs parks have taken a beating since budgets were slashed in 2010, Palus said. She estimates there are $180 million in parks needs.

Safety was a top priority when considering which projects would get done first.

"We are specifically focused on Memorial Park - to bring it up to the standard we would like to see," Palus said. "There is real opportunity to bring in tournaments that used to be there and provide a great, safe place for those who play there in our facilities."

Council member Helen Collins voted against the parks plan because it wasn't part of the 2013 budget process.

"I guess I'm the only bad guy on council," she said. "This is the second issue today that has come to us as a supplemental. I believe this should have been built into the budget."

The bulk of the parks plan calls for spending $4.2 million from the voter-approved Trails, Open Space and Parks fund, which is a 1/10 of 1 percent sales tax.

In April voters changed the TOPS ordinance to allow more of the proceeds to be spent on park maintenance. Previously, most of the TOPS money allocated to parks only could be spent on buying and developing new ones. In the last couple of years, the city didn't spend the TOPS money because it did not want to buy new park land when it couldn't afford to maintain existing parks, Palus said.

Council also approved spending $1.4 million from the Conservation Trust Fund, money from the Colorado Lottery, for turf replacement and playground equipment; and $250,000 from the Park Land Dedication Ordinance, money from developer fees, for three new handball courts in Memorial Park.

Parks are a tourism draw, said Cheryl McCullough, sports and event manager for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. About $7 billion is spent on sports travel nationally, she said. Maintaining city sports fields, once thought of as a burden, is now viewed by many cities as an economic draw, she said.

"Sporting events are recession-resistant," she said.

Even in the economic downturn, parents traveled with their children for competitive sports activities.

"The quality of our venue will help us draw more visitors to our area," she said.

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