It’s been a split screen kind of year here in Colorado Springs. While much of the national news has felt like we're taking backward steps as we focus more on what divides us than what joins us, much of the local news has been about coming together and moving forward in a booming metropolis. We may look back in five years and say these were the good times here in Colorado Springs. The city is earning national accolades as one of the most desirable cities in the country, and we've got one of the country’s hottest housing markets and lowest unemployment rates.
The good news probably outran the bad here locally, in other words, but the end of the year is a good time to take stock of all the news, the good and the bad, and give ourselves an annual performance review.
So let's get to it, the good news/bad news of 2019:
City for Champions: On Dec. 7, ground was broken on the new downtown sports and events stadium that is the final piece of the five-part City for Champions initiative launched six years ago to recharge Colorado Springs’ fortunes and bring more visitors here. All the projects officially got underway in 2019 or received final approval and funding: The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame; The Air Force Academy Visitors Center; The William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center at UCCS; and Robson Arena, the new hockey arena for Colorado College. The Olympic museum will be the first to open this coming May, changing the face of southwest downtown forever.
Quality of life: U.S. News and World Report for two years in a row has ranked Colorado Springs in the top three best places to live in the United States, based on affordability, job market, net migration and quality of life indicators, including health care and education. For the second year in a row, that same magazine named Colorado Springs the most desirable city in America to live.
Space Force: In the last couple weeks of the year, Congress created the first new branch of the military since 1947, Space Force, and redesignated Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs as the nucleus of that branch.
Space Force will now be responsible for America's military efforts in space and defense of satellites. The bill also earmarked $322 million for construction at Colorado Springs bases, including a project that could keep U.S. Space Command here permanently. And speaking of space, a major expansion of convention facilities rose at The Broadmoor this year to ensure the retention of the Space Symposium.
Roads and parks: Voters in November boosted Colorado Springs’ parks and roads by approving a tax retention question and renewing a long-standing sales tax. Since the first version of the road tax was approved four years ago, the city has paved 875 miles of city roads. Ironically, Colorado Springs, the historic cradle of anti-tax sentiment in the state, passed two taxes this year while voters statewide turned down an effort to gut the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.
Children’s Hospital: Children’s Hospital finally opened in 2019, bringing a sorely needed upgrade in pediatric care to the Pikes Peak region.
Homeless: Greenway Flats, 65 units of permanent supportive housing for the homeless, opened in July. Total shelter beds in the city increased to 670, ensuring that almost anyone who seeks shelter can now find it.
Race relations: A grand jury found that the Aug. 3 police shooting of 19-year-old De’Von Bailey was justified, but tensions continued to roil over the incident. Protesters arguing that Colorado Springs police unjustly target African-Americans more often than whites interrupted the Festival of Lights parade, and earlier, Mayor John Suthers’ State of the City address. The redone “Olympic City USA” sign that greets drivers on Interstate 25 entering Colorado Springs was vandalized in December with red paint and the scrawled words ”De’Von will not RIP.”
The Gap: Crashes on Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock are up more than 50% since construction began to widen the stretch, known as the “Gap,” last fall. As columnist David Ramsey put it: "The ride to Denver never has been more enraging, risky and tedious. Well, at least not since automobiles were invented."
Roads: In some cases the good news and bad news comes in the same category, such as roads. Several national studies show Colorado State highways are bad and getting worse, and Colorado has a multibillion dollar deficit in needed transportation infrastructure, including state highways such as Powers Boulevard and Highway 94, which are already overloaded at rush hour. The state Legislature so far has shown itself incapable of addressing Colorado's crowded roads.
Affordable housing: The booming economy can be a two-edged sword. The median price, or midpoint, of homes sold in September rose to $325,500, or 6.5% higher than last year. Prices now have risen every month year over year since December 2014 meaning affordability for young families is, in the words of one real estate broker, “just kind of slipping away.”
USOPC: The Colorado Springs-based U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee increased athlete representation on its governing board as part of a series of reforms. But critics continued to argue that far more needs to be done to address recent sex abuse scandals of Olympics hopefuls perpetrated by sports doctors, trainers and coaches. The United States Olympic Committee formally changed its name to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee in June.
Hill Climb: The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb canceled its annual motorcycle race for next year after the death of Carlin Dunne marred this year’s race, the third death of a Hill Climb motorcyclist since 2014.
District 11: School District 11 experienced its largest decline last school year, when it lost 1,032 students over the previous year. That led to layoffs and budget restructuring. Contributing factors include the district’s aging residents, few new homes built within its boundaries, the popularity of choice education — meaning students can attend schools outside their neighborhoods — and a declining birth rate. Unofficially, Academy School District 20 has overtaken Colorado Springs School District 11 as El Paso County’s largest school district.
Broncos: ‘nuf said.