Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region saw new businesses, skyrocketing property values, a new era for military space programs, new faces in government and new traffic nightmares in 2019.
It was a year of superlatives that can be neatly summed up with a storm that hit March 19. The "bomb cyclone," winter's version of a hurricane, was the strongest storm to ever hit Colorado, delivering the most powerful wind gust to ever hit the state at 96 mph and leaving thousands of drivers stranded on blizzard-swept roads and thousands more in the dark with power failures.
The storm brought the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in Colorado and turned a sunny morning into a frigid and terrifying afternoon with whiteout conditions that made any travel perilous.
“It was just the fact that the system was so strong, there was just so much wind with it that it was really amazing,” the National Weather Service's Greg Heavener said.
Schools called off classes ahead of the storm and many remained closed for days.
Gov. Jared Polis called out the Colorado National Guard to clear chaos on the state's highways and rescue stranded drivers, including more than 1,100 stuck on El Paso County roads overnight in the wake of the storm.
The Pikes Peak region dug out, and while the storm will remain a top memory for 2019, the year also packed plenty of good news.
Colorado Springs saw the 294,000-square-foot Children's Hospital open in May, giving top-notch care in the first facility solely dedicated to pediatric patients.
And the hospital is small compared to the 4 million-square-foot facility going up near the Colorado Springs Airport for online retailer Amazon.
Here's a look at some of the highlights from 2019:
A new direction for space missions topped military headlines for the year.
In August, President Donald Trump inaugurated U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs. The command oversees the space efforts of all military branches and would take charge if a war reaches orbit. Colorado Springs is officially the command's temporary home, with a permanent home to be announced next year.
In December, Congress created the new Space Force, a separate service branch for space troops that will be built from Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base.
The move makes Colorado Springs the military's home for space missions.
For firefighters in the Pikes Peak region, one blaze of 2019 stands out.
In May, a four-alarm blaze tore through a senior living high rise apartment, killing one resident and displacing more than 100 others. By September, when the top floors had been renovated for reoccupation, some of the residents chose not to return. One woman paid thousands of dollars to retrieve and clean asbestos-contaminated belongings, while another sought the help of a therapist to ward off post traumatic stress disorder.
America's Mountain made headlines, and will continue to do so in 2020.
Crews sealed off the main structure of the under-construction Pikes Peak Summit House in November so they can work on the building’s interior through the winter months. They broke ground in June 2018 on the $60 million, 38,000-square-foot building and by winter 2019 much of the new building had taken shape, with details of the retail, dining and interpretive spaces emerging.
At the ballot box, Colorado Springs residents were generous in 2019.
Colorado Springs voters roundly boosted the city’s parks and infrastructure budget during the Nov. 5 election, approving a tax retention question and renewing a longstanding sales tax. Question 2C passed with 65% of the vote, renewing a five-year sales tax through 2025 to fund road repairs throughout the city at a rate of 5.7 cents on every $10 spent. That new rate will replace the original 6.2 cent rate on Dec. 31, 2020. And approving Question 2B, voters allowed the city to retain $7 million in excess tax revenue to improve the city’s parks and trails. Planned road repairs and park improvements can be found at www.coloradosprings.gov.
Manitou Springs and Cripple Creek elected new mayors in November. In Manitou Springs, former newspaper publisher John Graham beat city Planning Commission Chairman Alan Delwiche to succeed mayor Ken Jaray, who chose not to pursue a second term. Milford Ashworth, who served two terms on the Cripple Creek City Council, was elected by city voters over Councilwoman Meghan Rozell to fill the seat of term-limited Mayor Bruce Brown.
While new building developments made plenty of news in 2019, a project put on hold could be one of the year's top headlines.
City planners and engineers have put two phases of construction on hold at the Gold Hill Mesa development on Colorado Springs’ coveted west side in 2019. The halt comes as experts with the Colorado Geological Survey call for more test of the stability of the site - which sits atop a century old mine tailings pile. Nearly 500 homes already sit on the development, but hundreds more are planned. Representatives of the developer maintain the land is stable and safe and have initiated more tests, but have not said yet whether they will test the site to the full satisfaction of the Geological Survey’s recommendations.
Southern Colorado residents, meanwhile, got a new way to celebrate the outdoors in 2019.
In September, Gov. Jared Polis was in Trinidad to proclaim Colorado's next, yet-to-be named state park. His backdrop: Fishers Peak, the flattop monolith seen from miles away on Interstate 25 and forever embraced as an icon among townspeople who've never been allowed on its private property. Once open, its 19,200 acres will make it the second biggest state park of the 42.
Three new schools opened in the Pikes Peak region in the fall of 2019.
Inspiration View Elementary School opened in School District 49. The $24 million school with an arts-integrated curriculum is the second new traditional elementary school to open in the district in the past two years, funded by a 2016 voter-approved mill levy override.
Chinook Trail Middle School opened in August behind Chinook Trail Elementary School in Academy District 20.
The $47.5 million custom-designed school features a project-based learning style and was funded by a 2016 voter-approved $230 million bond measure.
The first new school in Widefield District 3 in 22 years is Grand Mountain, a preschool-through-eighth-grade campus in the Lorson Ranch development.
The $40 million school with a computer science and coding focus was funded by a $49.5 million bond that D-3 voters approved in 2017.
Five new superintendents started their jobs in Pikes Peak region schools 2019.
A change of command began July 1 at Academy School District 20 in northern Colorado Springs, Harrison School District 2 in southeast Colorado Springs, Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument and Manitou Springs School District 14. Harrison D-2 is the first in the state to test a “dual superintendent” model.
The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, based in Colorado Springs, also hired a new superintendent.
Colorado Springs School District 11 lost its reign of being the largest school district among the Pikes Peak region's 17 public school districts, as enrollment in Academy School District 20 surpassed D-11's.
D-11, covering the core of Colorado Springs, has had little new residential development, while D-20 has been opening new schools to accommodate increasing growth.
Hammers were swinging all over the Pikes Peak region during 2019's construction boom.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum neared completion downtown as the United States Olympic Committee formally changed its name to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
UCHealth Memorial Hospital and Penrose-St. Francis opened major expansions of the Memorial North campus and St. Francis Medical Center in February. Penrose-St. Francis also sold land near Centennial Boulevard and Fillmore Street and bought property near Interquest Parkway and Interstate 25, where it plans to begin construction on its third local hospital next year.
Fortress Investment Group bought 18.7 acres in the Colorado Springs Airport's business park, where it built a delivery station for online retail giant Amazon that opened in November. A developer filed plans with the city in October for a 4 million-square-foot distribution and sorting center for Amazon that is expected to be under construction early next year.
The Broadmoor broke ground on a major expansion of convention facilities to ensure the retention of the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
Wildwood Casino began construction in June on a 104-room hotel, the first of three major hotels planned by Cripple Creek casinos that will more than double the number of available hotel rooms in the Teller County seat.
Ent Credit Union broke ground in October on a 300,000-square-foot headquarters building near Interquest Parkway and Interstate 25 to replace its current headquarters complex off Woodmen Road and I-25. The new headquarters is expected to open in mid-2021.
In December, community leaders broke ground on an 8,000-seat multi-use stadium at Cimarron and Sahwatch streets in southwest downtown. The venue, which will be the home of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks soccer team, is expected to open in March 2021. Along with the Switchbacks, the facility also will host concerts, other sports and graduations.
A flurry of residential and commercial projects were announced, broke ground or opened in downtown Colorado Springs. Among them: a 168-room Hilton Garden Inn, which opened in September at Bijou Street and Cascade Avenue; a 261-room, dual-branded Marriott hotel broke ground on South Tejon and is scheduled to open in 2021; the 80-space Kinship Landing boutique hotel broke ground on South Nevada Avenue and expects to open in 2020; and the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region said it would raze its existing building at Nevada Avenue and Bijou Street and construct a new facility set to open in 2022, which would be topped with 100 to 200 apartments.
Another downtown development is aimed at helping the region's homeless. In July, a first-of-its-kind apartment complex called Greenway Flats opened on the campus of Springs Rescue Mission. The 65-unit, $15 million building was constructed using a unique form of tax credits, and it caters exclusively to people experiencing homelessness.
The first steps in addressing Colorado's crisis in mental health care took place in 2019.
In April, Gov. Jared Polis created a statewide task force to devise wide-ranging reforms to the state's behavioral health care system. The announcement came a day after The Gazette published a special report detailing how Colorado's mental health system is in crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Coloradans unable to access care in a system that is often confusing, unaffordable and inadequate to meet demand.
The Gazette investigation found that nearly 450,000 Coloradans aren’t being treated for mental illness. In one study, Colorado ranked 48th out of 50 states in mental health services for children.
Meanwhile, it was a banner year for the local economy.
Rents and home values skyrocketed in Colorado Springs and wages went up, too, as unemployment numbers hovered near historic lows.
The Colorado Springs housing market remained strong in 2019. Median home prices set a record high of $335,000 in October, which followed record highs set each month from April through July.
Vectrus Inc. won $1.38 billion in contracts, its biggest win since it was spun off in 2013 from another defense contractor, to provide logistics services to regional commands in the Middle East and Asia.
T-Mobile became the first wireless carrier to offer next-generation cell service, called 5G, in Colorado Springs in December. AT&T doubled the speed of its 4G service in June as a step toward 5G service.
Century Casinos bought three casinos in Missouri and West Virginia that doubled the size of the Colorado Springs-based gaming company.
There will be plenty of gaming ahead in Colorado. Colorado voters legalized sports wagering in November, joining 18 other states. Legal betting is set to begin in May both in the state's casinos and through mobile applications.
There was some tough economic news, too.
Sears, the longtime nationwide retailer that’s fallen on hard times financially, closed its two Colorado Springs stores in March. A location at the Broadmoor Towne Center on the city’s south side had been open since the late 1950s, while another location at the north-side Chapel Hills Mall had opened in 1982.
The Pikes Peak region's biggest charity saw a big change in 2019: Bill Hybl stepped down in March as CEO of El Pomar Foundation after 46 years and was replaced by his son, Kyle Hybl.
One controversial officer-involved shooting is still reverberating in Colorado Springs.
In August, a 19-year-old black man was fatally shot as he fled two police officers in southeast Colorado Springs. The officers were investigating a report of an armed robbery in the area and had stopped De’Von Bailey and his cousin because they matched the description of the suspects.
When an officer approached to pat him down, Bailey turned and ran, denying police requests to show his hands. He was shot four times in the back and elbow. Officers later found a gun in his shorts.
The shooting, which garnered national attention, prompted downtown rallies with many demanding an independent investigation. A grand jury later rejected filing charges against the two involved officers.
Courts were busy in the Pikes Peak region in 2019.
In January, Diego Chacon, one of two gunmen in the March 2017 fatal shootings of two Coronado High School students, was sentenced to 65 years in prison – part of a plea bargain that averted a potential death penalty trial. A co-defendant, Marco Garcia-Bravo, remains on track for a capital trial in March, accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of Derek Greer, 15, and Natalie Cano Partida, 16.
In November, Florissant rancher Patrick Frazee’s nationally watched trial came to a decisive end, with a jury convicting him of first-degree murder and all other counts in the Thanksgiving Day 2018 bludgeoning of his fiancée Kelsey Berreth. Frazee’s former mistress, Krystal Lee, formerly known as Kenney, is due to be sentenced Jan. 28 for evidence tampering.
A federal grand jury in December returned an indictment against admitted Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear Jr., accused of killing three and wounding nine more on Nov. 27, 2015. Dear has been a ward of the state psychiatric hospital since shortly after the attacks, and the new prosecution appears to be an attempt to bring him to justice despite state psychiatrists' opinions that he is too disturbed to face trial.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, meanwhile, severed ties with the jail’s for-profit health care contractor, Armor Correctional Health Services, amid ongoing concerns about the quality of care that inmates receive at the facility. This fall, county commissioners approved a one-year contractor with Tennessee-based Wellpath, which previously provided medical services at the jail under a different name. Correct Care Solutions, which has since merged with another company to become Wellpath, served the jail’s inmates until 2017, when the county hired Armor in pursuit of better care.
In other difficult news, 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.
For some, though, 2019 will be remembered as the year of the orange traffic cone.
Roadwork snarled commutes all over town, with major arterials like Pikes Peak Avenue closed to all vehicles except bulldozers.
A long-awaited reconstruction of West Colorado Avenue is done – mostly. In November, local government officials celebrated “substantial completion” of the West Side Avenue Action Plan, a $43 million revamp of the stretch from 31st Street to U.S. 24. Final touches, including landscaping and work on roadside plazas, will continue into 2020.
Drivers will still need to be patient in 2020 while crews work to fix roads.
The entire 18-mile stretch of Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock is now under construction.
Crews broke ground in 2018 on a $350 million effort to widen the I-25 ‘Gap’ from four to six lanes by adding a pair of toll lanes. They started with the span from Plum Creek Parkway to Sky View Lane. Early in 2019, work began on the southernmost segment of the stretch, from Monument to Greenland Road. Construction on the middle section, from Greenland Road to Sky View Lane, kicked off this summer.