September 22, 2013 Updated: September 22, 2013 at 8:55 am
The fate of Colorado Springs' downtown is an important topic that deserves the community's attention, according to a strong majority of area residents who attended last week's Community Conversations event about downtown and responded to a survey that was part of the event.
When it comes to a package of tourism-related projects that would include a downtown baseball stadium and U.S. Olympic museum, a majority of respondents also supported the proposal and other downtown initiatives - but by a smaller margin.
Last week's Community Conversations event on downtown took place at Colorado College's Armstrong Hall, and was co-sponsored by the college, The Gazette and Food for Thought, an arm of the nonprofit Colorado Springs Diversity Forum.
The goal of the event: Bring together a half-dozen community leaders for a panel discussion about downtown at a time when some residents say an improving economy and new city leadership are helping to give momentum to revitalization efforts for the area. A second part of the event allowed attendees to break into small groups to continue the discussion.
At the same time, informal surveys were made available to audience members, asking their thoughts on a handful of questions related to the event and downtown. Nearly 150 surveys were turned in by several hundred people in attendance.
When asked if downtown was relevant and deserved more discussion, 97 percent of respondents to that question answered "yes," according to results tabulated by The Gazette. Among comments that respondents added to their answers: Downtown is a key to city growth; it's one of Colorado Springs' most important issues; and more discussion leads to action.
"People that came to that (Community Conversations) care about downtown and want to have a voice in its direction," said City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler, a panel member who described downtown as "the heart of the city" during her remarks Tuesday.
One day later, Gaebler held a town hall meeting for residents of City Council District 5, from which she was elected to her first term in April. When she asked a similar question, Gaebler said, most people agreed that downtown is important.
But Dennis Moore, a community leader and panel member, said the results of that question weren't surprising. He suspected most of the people who came to the Community Conversations event lived in the vicinity of the college and downtown and therefore had greater interest in the area.
Of the 3 percent of survey respondents who disagreed that downtown is relevant and deserved more discussion, some said other parts of the city were in need of attention, too. That sentiment echoed what Moore said during the panel discussion and what he's heard in the community: When visitors drive into town on roads such as Powers Boulevard and Fountain Boulevard, they see weeds that need to be cut and streets in need of repair, he said.
"Downtown itself doesn't sell the city," Moore said. "The city sells the city."
Another survey question asked what Community Conversations attendees thought of a proposal by the city and other groups to secure state tourism money, as well as other initiatives that would affect downtown. The state money would help fund City for Champions, a package of four tourism projects that would include a downtown multiuse baseball stadium and a U.S. Olympic museum.
Nearly 76 percent of audience members who answered the question said "yes," indicating their support. In their comments, some respondents said the downtown projects had potential, could be a great opportunity and would be a great way to grow the community.
Of the roughly 24 percent who answered "no," some said the city couldn't afford the projects, thought planning for the effort was too secretive and wondered about the cost.
Whatever the responses, last week's Community Conversations event and the people who came out for it demonstrated that downtown matters, said Carol Scott, co-chair of Food for Thought.
"It's given people an avenue, a venue for coming out and everybody will get something different from that," she said.
In particular, the more than 50 audience members who stuck around after the panel discussion and who were grouped together for roundtable discussions displayed an energy and passion for downtown, she said.
"They're engaged in the community and they care," Scott said.
Some of those participants expressed concerns that were mentioned during the earlier panel discussion, Scott said: Discussions about downtown's future need to be more inclusive; grass-roots members of the community - not just upper-echelon leaders - should be involved; and conversation participants must be more diverse, including young people and minorities.
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Question 1: Did this Community Conversations event help you to better understand the downtown issues in Colorado Springs?
Answers: 102 yes; 29 no
Question 2: Is the issue of downtown relevant and does it deserve more discussion?
Answers: 129 yes; 4 no
Question 3: Did you like the moderator/panel format of this Community Conversation?
Answers: 116 yes, 15 no; 8 answered both yes and no
Question 4: What do you think of the regional tourism grant proposal and other initiatives that would affect downtown?
Answers: 72 yes; 23 no
Survey responses compiled by Jennifer Stiles, The Gazette