As government leaders, health officials, and frontline and essential workers navigated what a "new normal" would look like for Coloradans amid the pandemic, 2020 was nevertheless a hectic year of growth in Colorado.
Despite new public health restrictions that limited or halted some operations completely, this year Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region saw new businesses and development, a red-hot housing market, protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and record-breaking voter turnout in the largest presidential election to date.
It was a year of firsts and cautious optimism best summed up by the Air Force’s announcement in May that for the next six years Colorado Springs will be the "provisional" home of U.S. Space Command under a plan announced by Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.
"Based on the criteria, I am thoroughly confident that Colorado Springs remains the best home for Space Command, especially as the space defense industry and space operations infrastructure in our community continue to grow," Lamborn said.
The command brings more than 1,400 troops and civilian workers, and potentially billions of dollars, to the Pikes Peak region, where a supporting network of contractors is expected to congregate. The Pentagon is expected to announce its preferred location in early 2021.
Though the pandemic changed nearly every aspect of life, 2020 still had its bright spots — and it was a busy year in Colorado. Here, we look at some highlights from 2020:
The long wait for In-N-Out Burger's first Colorado Springs restaurant ended last month when the California-based fast-food favorite opened on the far north side.
In-N-Out — famous for its Double-Doubles, animal-style fries and shakes made with real ice cream — announced in late 2017 that it would expand to Colorado. But it took three years until its first restaurant debuted southeast of InterQuest and Voyager parkways, where In-N-Out also built a nearby distribution and production facility to serve its Colorado locations.
When In-N-Out opened Nov. 20, hundreds of cars and thousands of foodies were in line; many people eagerly waited several hours for a taste of what some insist is the best burger around.
The. U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum opened in late July in downtown Colorado Springs. The venue pays homage to the nation’s Olympic and Paralympic movements, while it's also expected to help anchor redevelopment efforts on downtown’s southwest side.
The 60,000-square-foot venue, at Sierra Madre Street and Vermijo Avenue, showcases the achievements of Olympic and Paralympic athletes and features a dozen galleries that spotlight the Winter and Summer Games, an Olympic Hall of Fame, athlete training, medals and the Olympic Games' Parade of Nations, among other areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t slow Colorado Springs' red-hot housing and apartment markets.
In 2020, permits issued for the construction of single-family detached homes in El Paso County topped the 4,000 mark for the first time in 15 years.
On the resale side of the market, median home prices reached a record high of $385,000 in September while the number of homes sold was on track for an annual record.
Though the demand for housing was strong, the Pikes Peak region — like other markets nationwide — was plagued by a shortage of homes for sale.
The apartment market also remained strong in Colorado Springs in 2020. The local apartment vacancy rate stayed in the mid-single digits, while average rents in the third quarter rose to a record high of nearly $1,280 a month.
Another long-awaited business, Southwest Airlines, announced plans in October to expand to Colorado Springs with 13 daily nonstop flights to its largest hubs in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
City officials had courted Southwest for nearly 20 years, but the declining travel during the COVID-19 pandemic left the low-fare giant with plenty of idle employees and aircraft that Southwest wanted to put to work in new destinations. Southwest officials approached local airport management in September and local officials sealed the deal with $2.5 million in public and private incentives for help with marketing, construction and startup expenses.
Southwest flights to Colorado Springs start March 11 and likely will more than double the combined seat capacity of flights on the airport's four other airlines — American, Delta, Frontier and United.
Also near the airport, online sales giant Amazon is building a 3.7 million-square-foot fulfillment center in the airport's Peak Innovation Park, southeast of Powers Boulevard and Milton E. Proby Parkway.
The center will ship customer orders for books, electronics, toys and other smaller items to the Colorado Springs area, across the rest of the state and to surrounding states. The five-story building, the largest in Colorado Springs and likely the state's largest, is scheduled to open in mid-2021 and will employ at least 1,000 workers that will be hired about two months before the facility opens.
Amazon has at least two more projects on the way:
- The Colorado Springs Airport is seeking approval for construction of a 279,000-square-foot “sortation center” next to Amazon’s delivery station in Peak Innovation Park; the center is designated “Project Congo.” While the documents don’t attach the Amazon name to the project, an early version of the plans, since withdrawn by an airport planning contractor, showed a drawing of the facility that included the Amazon name.
- Plans also have been filed for a second delivery station inside a former Sam’s Club warehouse on South Academy Boulevard under the name “Project Academy.” While the proposal for that project doesn’t identify Amazon as the tenant for the former Sam’s property, it describes the planned facility as a “delivery station serving the surrounding neighborhoods.”
A Colorado Springs nursing home resident was found dead on facility grounds in February, causing state health officials to pull the home's license to operate. Margarita Sam was found dead Feb. 3 on a bench on the facility's grounds, partially clothed. She died of hypothermia, according to the county coroner's office. Nearly 10 days later, the facility's license was pulled, forcing about 115 residents to find other places to live. Three of the facility's employees were accused of negligence in October after an investigation into Sam's death, police said. The case was to be prosecuted by the Colorado Attorney General's Office.
As summer came, residents took to the streets protesting racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died in the custody of a white police officer.
In downtown Colorado Springs, hundreds of people joined in local demonstrations. While daytime protests were largely peaceful, officers deployed tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse the crowds as they continued to march into the late hours of the night. Mayor John Suthers enforced a 10 p.m. curfew on the fifth consecutive day of protests after citing several nighttime confrontations with police and protesters and property damage that included vandalism of city buildings, as well as water bottles, rocks and fireworks thrown at police officers.
In July, Colorado Springs city council members voted in favor of an ordinance outlining the creation of a police advisory commission.
For months prior, residents pushed for civilian oversight of the Colorado Springs police department with the goal of boosting community trust and increasing transparency, though some critiqued the model chosen by the city council, saying it lacked authority to make significant change in the city and police department.
The region also saw change in leadership at the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office this year, and residents were gripped by two high-profile murder cases.
Veteran El Paso County prosecutor Michael Allen was elected to succeed term-limited 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May, who endorsed his candidacy. Allen ran unopposed in the general election after winning a heated primary against fellow Republican Mark Waller, an El Paso County commissioner and former state legislator.
Krystal Jean Lee, the former Idaho nurse who helped Teller County farrier Patrick Frazee mount a coverup in the murder of his fiancee Kelsey Berreth in Woodland Park, was sentenced in January to three years in prison, closing the book on one of the region's highest-profile crimes in memory. Frazee was sentenced in November 2019 to life in prison plus 156 years.
The search for 11-year-old Gannon Stauch, an El Paso County boy reported missing in January, came to a tragic end in March when sheriff's deputies announced the arrest of his stepmother, Leticia Stauch, on suspicion of killing him and hiding his remains. She was jailed in Colorado Springs pending trial, which had yet to be scheduled after questions about her mental state and complications due to the pandemic.
The year also saw new military leadership for several Colorado Springs-based commands.
Command of the Army’s lone space unit changed hands in July, with Col. Eric Little relinquishing command of the 1st Space Brigade to Col. Brian Bolio. Little, who assumed command of the brigade nearly two years ago at the time, was to serve as the deputy commander for operations at U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command at Peterson Air Force Base. Bolio had previously served as the senior executive officer to Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the chief of space operations in the Space Force and commander of U.S. Space Command.
During consecutive ceremonies that drew top defense leaders from Washington and Canada to Peterson Air Force Base in late August, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck assumed simultaneous command of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command from Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy.
Additionally, Army Gen. James Dickinson assumed command of U.S. Space Command from U.S. Space Force Chief of Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond. This was the first change of command for U.S. Space Command since Raymond assumed that duty in August 2019. Raymond retained his position as the first Chief of Space Operations for the Space Force.
A combat veteran with Colorado ties perished in January when an American tanker plane crashed while fighting Australian wildfires. The crash of the C-130 Hercules tanker in New South Wales state killed Montana Air National Guard Lt. Col. Ian H. McBeth, 44, of Great Falls, Mont., a 1994 graduate of Wray High School in northeastern Colorado. It killed two additional civilians, all of whom were working for Coulson Aviation.
The Colorado National Guard experienced its longest and largest activation in state history, according to Guard officials. Activated due to the pandemic, its response involved more than 630 citizen soldiers and airmen, who assisted with testing for the sometimes deadly virus, and with distribution of the vaccine, especially to rural areas. The Guard kept up with its regular work, too, with its aviators responding to 24 search and rescue missions in the state's mountain ranges, and its troops supporting law enforcement with traffic control during the state's unprecedented wildfire season. Additionally, nearly 300 troops were deployed overseas in support of combatant commands.
Then Defense Secretary Mark Esper denounced a late April letter from 10 U.S. senators that faulted him and the Pentagon's civilian leadership for failing to respond quickly enough to the coronavirus pandemic as a "partisan attack in a political year," at a May stop at Peterson Air Force Base. The criticism is "unfair to the 62,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines out there on America’s streets," Esper said outside of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) headquarters. U.S. Northern Command is leading the Defense Department's coronavirus operations.
Kellyanne Conway, a former senior adviser to President Donald Trump, was appointed to the Air Force Academy's advisory body, the White House announced in December. The board reports to the president and the Pentagon. Academy officials refused to comment.
Construction of the new Air Force Academy Visitor Center was delayed for most of the year after its bonds failed to sell because the market was disrupted by the coronavirus. The project is expected to get back on track in the new year.
President Donald Trump drew a crowd of thousands to the Broadmoor World Arena in late February, where he held a rally during a three-day Western campaign tour ahead of the Nov. 3, 2020 General Election.
Buoyed by approval ratings that had ticked up in the wake of his impeachment acquittal on Feb. 5, Trump repeatedly brought thousands of supporters to their feet throughout a 98-minute speech where he declared he would win a second term on the strength of a booming economy. He also rallied the crowd to re-elect Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, whose support Trump said has never waivered.
In November, both Trump and Gardner lost their re-election bids: Trump to President-elect Joe Biden, and Gardner to former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Cybersecurity and election security were also top of mind in 2020.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis mobilized troops to assist with cyber defense during the statewide elections in June and November. The troops, members of Army Guard’s Defense Cyber Operations Element and Cyber Protection Team and the Air Guard’s 140th Wing Communications Flight, assisted the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office and the state’s Office of Information Technology in monitoring networks during the elections to prevent cyberattacks.
Voters turned out in record numbers across the county and state to cast their votes Nov. 3, deciding the country’s 46th president, a high-profile Senate race and nearly a dozen state ballot measures on issues ranging from taxes to abortion.
In El Paso County, residents voted in Republican newcomer Carrie Geitner to replace outgoing Commissioner Mark Waller in District 2. Republican incumbents Stan VanderWerf in District 3 and Longinos Gonzalez Jr. in District 4 both won second terms.
El Paso County crushed previous voter turnout records when 84.3% of active voters cast their ballots this year. Of the county’s roughly 454,000 active voters, more than 383,000 returned their ballots Nov. 3, shattering turnout in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, which saw roughly 292,000 and 327,000 ballots cast. Nearly 56,000 more people voted this year than they did in 2016, a 17% increase in voter participation.
Statewide, 86.8% of Colorado voters cast ballots in the 2020 election, data from the state election results website show. Of more than 3.79 million active Colorado voters, 3.29 million cast their ballots.
Voters did not get a chance this November to weigh in on a highly controversial proposal to legalize recreational marijuana sales in town.
A minority of Colorado Springs City Council members tried and failed to send a question to the voters that could have allowed 24 medical marijuana stores to become recreational marijuana stores. Proponents argued legalized recreational sales could have provided millions in new tax revenue. Opponents, including Mayor John Suthers, argued it could hurt the town’s chances of becoming the next permanent home for U.S. Space Command.
Joyce Schuck, an activist for education, the homeless and disadvantaged, died Nov. 30 at her home in Colorado Springs. She was 82. Schuck focused on troubled teenagers, the homeless and the disadvantaged in her professional and volunteer endeavors.
Frank Macon, one of two remaining documented original Tuskegee Airmen in Colorado, died Nov. 22 at age 97 at his home in Colorado Springs. Macon is interred at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Colorado Springs outdoor enthusiasts delighted in news of a blockbuster land deal struck to deliver two long-awaited dreams: a bike park and a return to Waldo Canyon. But the finer details of the deal, close to $9 million in total, created skeptics.
The city agreed to pay Castle Concrete above the appraised value for a portion of Pikeview Quarry — what the company said would help reclaim the scar on the city's northwest side. City officials will wait to see the job completed before deciding on if the land, notorious for rock slides, is suitable for a bike park.
Meanwhile, the city is set to take on reclamation duties at Black Canyon Quarry. Officials have sounded confident in the flatter aspects of the property, which is envisioned to be a hub for an ambitious trail system exploring Waldo and Williams canyons above Manitou Springs. The once-beloved area formerly reached along U.S. 24 has been off-limits since the 2012 wildfire.
The Pikes Peak region's most popular and controversial trail, the Manitou Incline, became an even greater source of angst in 2020.
Manitou Springs leaders were criticized for using the pandemic to take control of the Incline, which some locals have deemed a nuisance since it formally opened in 2013. March's emergency closure was "under the guise of COVID-19," read a statement from Colorado Springs, the municipality listed as the Incline's de facto manager, having invested millions of dollars on the site. The language underscored years of Incline-related tension between the neighbor cities.
After five months of negotiations, the two signed an agreement to reopen the Incline for free online reservations. The system, capping visitors every hour, has proven to significantly cut traffic. And it appears the system is here to stay, though managers say talks continue regarding the Incline's future.
Parks advocates finished out the year with a big win.
Colorado Springs voters approved a ballot question to require a vote of the people before the city can sell, trade or convey parkland. The long-term protection of parks was backed by residents who worked for several years to get it on the ballot.
Fire seasons in Colorado have grown larger and more destructive over the past two decades, a trend experts and researchers say is likely to continue. Hotter, drier seasons and some misguided forest management practices are to blame, they say.
Three of the largest wildfires in Colorado history erupted in 2020, burning more than 500,000 acres of land. The Cameron Peak fire, East Troublesome fire and Pine Gulch fire were fueled by a year of drought and record high temperatures along with forests filled with beetle kill and dry vegetation.
The state's three biggest wildfires weren't the only ones to burn up swaths of forest and brush. The Grizzly Creek fire, which burned outside Glenwood Springs, and the CalWood fire, which burned outside Boulder, proved to be costly and damaging. The Grizzly Creek fire burned across Interstate 70, disrupting traffic for weeks, and Calwood burned over 25 homes.
Local organizations that help the homeless also expanded their services this year.
In another expansion of its campus, Springs Rescue Mission, the city's largest homeless shelter, in September opened a new 10,000-square-foot dining facility that seats 185 diners at a time and has a commercial kitchen. The Samaritan's Dining Hall and Kitchen, at 5 W. Las Vegas St.. also provides space for culinary training for clients, a warming entryway, restrooms and meeting rooms.
A Department of Veterans Affairs grant helped the Salvation Army of El Paso County double the number of overnight beds for homeless military veterans at its R.J. Montgomery Center shelter for homeless men, women and families.
As they work toward securing permanent housing and increasing their income and savings, homeless veterans are required to enter a program that provides case management, group therapy and classes led by peers on finding employment, basic living skills and barriers to success.
The first stand-alone shelter for homeless families with children in Colorado Springs opened in February in a former motel on South Nevada Avenue. Family Promise of Colorado Springs renovated the motel complex to create mini apartments for clients, who live there for free while working to move into stable housing.
A grandson of Christian televangelist Kenneth Copeland began building a church in Green Mountain Falls, on a former compound for troubled adolescents. The Rev. Jeremy Pearsons and his wife, Sarah, who together founded Pearsons Ministries International in 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas, are relocating their ministry and converting the largest building on the 151-acre site at 10460 W. U.S. 24 into Legacy Church.
School districts weathered tough and uncertain times this year, but did not shy away from change.
Colorado Springs schools, like those across the nation, experienced a shortage of substitute teachers, due to many on its roster being elderly and, thus, high risk for COVID-19. Some districts, like Academy District 20, launched recruitment campaigns, while others, like Harrison District 2, raised pay.
Colorado Springs-area schools found they were down thousands of students due to the pandemic, according to preliminary numbers released by the state's education department in December. The enrollment drop will mean a loss in millions of dollars in funding for the districts. Colorado Springs District 11 experienced the largest drop in students from last year: 2,155. It ranked fifth in the state for largest loss.
Falcon District 49 was one of only two area school districts to gain students in 2020, adding nearly 100 to its rosters. It appears to have assumed the title of second-largest school in the Pikes Peak area, overtaking Colorado Springs District 11 by just shy of 110 students. "Continued growth will, inevitably, make District 49 the largest district in the region," a district spokesperson said in December.
The first African American was nominated to lead the Air Force Academy and assumed command in September. Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, who had served as deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration at the Pentagon, was nominated by President Donald Trump in July. He became only the second Black general to head up a service academy.
Cheyenne Mountain District 12 introduced a proposal in September to retire the use of Native American words and imagery in the district, but postponed further discussion until spring, with officials citing more pressing concerns including the pandemic.
Despite the pandemic, construction continued this year on the Interstate 25 South Gap project improving roughly 18 miles of the freeway between Monument and Castle Rock.
The Greenland Road and I-25 interchange has been transformed from a one-lane culvert into a full two-lane underpass, and opened Dec. 22. The wildlife underpasses — one near the Greenland Road interchange and the other near the County Line Bridge — are designed to reduce the number of collisions between vehicles and animals. The Colorado Department of Transportation will add two more underpasses, which are expected to reduce wildlife-related crashes by 90%.
In November, crews finished widening the northern five miles of the $350 million project. Crews also continued work installing 14 of the 27 miles of deer fencing planned to guide wildlife to the new crossings. The project is expected to be completed in 2022.
Work hit the halfway point in September on a $65 million project that will one day connect Powers Boulevard to Interstate 25 on Colorado Springs’ far north side. It includes construction of a four-lane divided highway between I-25 and Voyager Parkway, south of North Gate Boulevard. Drivers along northbound I-25 are now driving on two new bridges, and two additional bridges are nearing completion on the east side of the highway. More than a mile of a new storm sewer system is now operational east of I-25.
Work also started this fall on $159 million in road work around Pikes Peak region bases. Work is expected to wrap up in 2023. This summer, crews drilled cores at Clover Ditch and Dry Gulch to assess materials and bridge conditions for the future widening of four bridges along a 7½-mile segment of Interstate 25 in Fountain.
In early December, crews started demolishing portions of the southern bridge of Platte Avenue between Wooten Road and the Powers Boulevard interchange. The work is the first phase of construction on a $14 million safety improvement project that will replace the existing two bridges on Platte Avenue over Sand Creek, which officials say are deteriorating and can’t accommodate expected growth along the corridor, with one new bridge.
The eastbound lanes — the southern bridge — are in a single-lane configuration and no additional traffic restrictions will be required for the first phase of the removal. Demolition and bridge replacement are scheduled to take place through summer 2022.