Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Downtown discussion: City in need of a 'healthy heart'

By Rich Laden Updated: September 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm 0

Downtown Colorado Springs' problems are well-known: It needs more housing, employers and points of interest for young and old people alike, the area's supporters say.

At a Tuesday forum to discuss downtown issues, there was no shortage of ideas on how to address those and other problems - and no shortage of enthusiasm among residents who want to make downtown a more attractive place to live, work and shop.

The trick, some area supporters say, is to turn best intentions into concrete solutions - something that's eluded downtown as revitalization plans over several decades haven't taken off.

"We plan a lot, but I'd really like to see some action," said John Olson, a landscape architect.

Olson was one of six panel members who discussed downtown issues during the Gazette-sponsored Community Conversations event, part of an ongoing effort to examine topics of interest to the Pikes Peak region. The event, co-sponsored by Colorado College and the nonprofit Food for Thought, was attended by about 450 people who gathered at Colorado College's Armstrong Hall. The initial Community Conversations event in May looked at homelessness.

Solutions discussed by panelists and ideas generated by audience members during a lively question-and-answer session Tuesday ran the gamut. Many audience members were generally supportive of downtown, judging from their statements and occasional applause.

Replay Tuesday night's conversation on Twitter here.

Bob Cope, a principal analyst with the city's Economic Vitality Division, touted City for Champions, a $218.6 million package of four tourism projects that would include a multipurpose sports stadium and U.S. Olympic Museum for downtown. The venues would serve as catalysts to bring more people downtown and encourage private investment in the area, he said.

Lisa Tessarowicz, co-founder of Epicentral Coworking and a community volunteer, was effusive in her belief that downtown needs more of everything - people, employers, investment and risk-taking. This she said, would help downtown flourish economically and culturally.

City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler, a City for Champions supporter, said a public market, a trolley system, fountains, bike sharing and a revitalized Acacia Park should be among the area's upgrades.

"Downtown is the heart of our city," she said. "Without a healthy heart, the rest of the city just isn't healthy."

But even if Colorado Springs needs a healthy downtown, the rest of the city shouldn't be neglected, said Dennis Moore, a community leader. Weeds should be cut, roads repaired and the city must become more business-oriented, he said.

Several audience members pointed to problems they'd like to see addressed.

Mary Jo Piccin, a resident since 1955, said bars and nightclubs need to do a better job of cleaning their sidewalks; panel member Susan Edmondson of the Downtown Partnership advocacy group said the businesses do their best, and are assisted by a special downtown district responsible for the area's maintenance.

Don Sipes, owner of high-tech laser developer Optical Engines that's on downtown's south edge, said he can't find 10,000 square feet of commercial space in the heart of the area to accommodate his business. Cope, who's also a commercial real estate broker, said providing such space is private sector's job.

One audience member questioned spending $218.6 million on City for Champions. About $82 million would come from state tourism funds, with the rest coming from a mix of public and private sources.

Cope said the project's spin-off economic activity would encourage greater investment in downtown.

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