Did you miss Mayor Steve Bach’s Second Town Hall Meeting held on May 12, 2012? Well, never fear, we have it here!
Mayor Steve Bach opened his April Media Meeting by naming a few of the inspiring people who made Colorado Springs a great city, including Spencer Penrose, General William Palmer, Zebulon Pike, the Tutts and the Loo Family.
One of his greatest inspirations was W.S. Stratton, a carpenter by trade who used the money he earned to prospect for gold each summer. He didn’t give up easily and year after year he’d try again. He finally struck $2 Million in paydirt with the Independence Mine, which he eventually sold for $10 Million in 1899. Winfield Scott Stratton was a generous person who donated land for City Hall, the Post Office, a major park and the Courthouse which now houses the Pioneer Museum.
Mayor Bach thanked Stephannie Finley for her service as she moves from the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce to her new position at UCCS. Stephannie was instrumental in proposing the Solutions Teams among other problem solving ideas. Mayor Bach said, “We couldn’t have made it without you, Stephannie!”
Then he stressed his three areas of focus: Jobs, Transforming City Government and Building Community.
“We want to make Colorado Springs the most business and citizen friendly city in the US – a best-in-class-city,” he said.
“The majority – about 70% – of our costs are in the people who make this city operate. I’m especially proud of our Executive Leadership Team – Fire Chief Rich Brown, Police Chief Pete Carey, Steve Cox Chief of Economic Vitality & Innovation, Chief of Staff Laura Neumann and Chris Melcher City Attorney.”
He said the City has eliminated 38 positions this year and have 95 vacancies. Approximately 820 acres of parkland are being watered including those that were reseeded last year. We’ve also outsourced 100% for weed control and we’re mowing all our parks.
The Mayor said, “Our City is on the move. Council is working hard and I’m optimistic about where we’re headed. Thanks to Council Members Merv Bennett and Tim Leigh for being here today. I appreciate that City Council confirmed unanimously the fine people selected for three positions on our team.”
Laura Neumann, Chief of Staff, then announced the three new appointments:
In closing, the Mayor said, “Our key goal is to better empower City employees to do their jobs with as little red tape as possible.”
-Mayor’s Counsel meeting will be held on April 18th at Fire Station 18 at 10am
-Mayor’s Second Town Hall Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 2nd at the Southeast YMCA from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. Topics will include Great Streets, Streetscapes, CAPS program and will include public input about the budget.
Q: When are we getting a Trader Joe’s downtown?
A: Steve Cox has spoken with them; when do you expect to have that completed Steve (Cox)? (Laughter from the audience) It would be wonderful, and we have so many great things going on here already. We had our first Spirit of the Springs Rally last fall. Then we had our Winter Rally last week at the Antlers Hilton. The Antlers Hilton paid for the room and donated refreshments. They wanted to give back to our community and help our downtown.
Last Saturday, Suzi and I joined Donna Nelson and 60 volunteers to clean up about three miles of Monument Creek. We’re going to do that monthly and I hope some of you will engage with us in those ways. Come to our rallies to celebrate and connect but also join in some things like cleaning up Monument Valley Park.
Q: Can you give us an update on your economic vitality plans?
A: El Paso Gas Company has 450 jobs downtown, primary jobs we’re at risk of losing. We must not let that happen without a very strong effort. Steve Cox and I are meeting with the parent company soon. We’re doing everything we can to convince the parent company in Houston to stay here and maybe consolidate the Lakewood operations here. It’s essential we have jobs downtown.
We’re working on a couple different possible downtown anchors. Entertainment or sports venue downtown could really kick us off. It would improve vibrancy, create secondary jobs and stimulate housing. From the Quality of Life Indicators, we are losing our young people in this city and they are about 25% of our population. We’re experiencing a steady decline. We need young people to be our future leaders and grow business. One essential way to encourage young people to stay here is to create a really exciting downtown.
Q: Thank you for the new street directional signs.
A: I had nothing to do with that. Thank you to those who did.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
A: How many are here from the media? Just kidding. I’m just a fellow citizen. I love this city. I’m so lucky to be able to end up here, make a living here, have a family here and enjoy all the special things Colorado Springs has to offer. The most challenging thing is moving forward. Tonight is one of those steps towards building our downtown to far beyond what it’s ever been.
The challenge is I’m accustomed to a lot of different challenges but not extra layers of activity regarding the media and politics. I’m doing my best to focus on what can I do today to move our city forward in ways that are sustainable. We have to reach sustainability in so many different ways.
Q: What are the options for Memorial Health Systems and the future of Pikes Peak International Raceway?
A: The city attorney and council members are negotiating a prospective lease with University Hospital after months of looking at proposals. It holds great promise for us if done right. We must make sure Memorial continues to be what it’s been to the community in providing healthcare. Memorial needs to be aligned with a larger realm and drive a medical campus for UCCS. It could provide an opportunity to train doctors and nurses so they can stay fairly close to where they are trained. It can be a very important economic engine for the entire region. It’s the next step for Memorial. Regarding PPIR, are you suggesting we move it downtown? (Audience laughter) If you have an idea about it, please contact us and let us know.
Q: Would you support commuter train from Pueblo to Denver to attract a large portion of commuters?
A: Les Gruen has served our city in so many different ways. Now he’s on the State Transportation Commission. We need I-25 and Cimarron rebuilt. It’s important for our community and downtown and needs to be upgraded for safety and convenience. We need I-25 widened. Hopefully we can have rail. There are challenges and we understand that. Did you know there was a recommendation to bypass downtown Colorado Springs? There are valid reasons to go around the airport. But I think it needs to come through downtown Colorado Springs. I’d love to see high speed rail from Trinidad to Fort Collins. It would take a lot of traffic off the road and improve air quality. We’re already a tourist mecca. We were founded on that and known as ‘Little London’. This year we’ll have a chance to celebrate that with the London Olympics. If we could have high speed rail from DIA to downtown Colorado Springs, that would be great. We’ll work hard on our future contribution to the State Rail Plan, have a seat at the table and b engaged more in larger community.
Q: Parking downtown. When will parking meters be addressed to bring more people downtown? Parking fines need to be lowered – it’s not a shoppers friendly downtown. Tonight evidenced serious parking problems downtown.
Steve Cox: as part of the Downtown Solutions Team, we’re looking at that. We’re looking at the fines. The existing system brings in revenue, so we’d have to find a way to replace that. We’ll look at different ways: expand hours of meters or reduce the fines. We have city parking garages; there’s one across the street from here. I don’t know how we increase on street parking.
Mayor Bach: I’ve asked the question why parking meters. My job is to ask questions. With no parking meters, employees could take all the spots. We’d like to look at a courtesy program. Perhaps the first time, the parking ticket is forgiven. I got a ticket yesterday. I’ll pay it. I put my card in backwards and didn’t notice! (Audience laughter) If we can get a big anchor downtown, it will require a lot more parking that can be used for cross purposes.
Q: What will it take to build a baseball park and convention center downtown?
A: We’d love to get Sky Sox downtown. They had the best season ever last year and the stadium is paid for. We’re talking to other sport venues that might have interest in a city of our size and are spending a lot of energy in attracting an anchor downtown. I don’t know if we can get a convention center; it’s been on a committee and three times it’s failed. I think we can attract a sports or entertainment venue, but we need I-25 and Cimarron approved. To have a sustainable downtown, we need to have an anchor. Dick Celeste is working on that too.
Q: Could we have an Olympic museum downtown?
A: Dick Celeste. We attracted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland, Ohio. Managed to compete effectively with other large cities. It’s a great opportunity for a world class museum for the Olympic movement and we need to do it right to enhance support for the USOC and the movement. It could be a tremendous attraction. My experience with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was not easy. Colorado Springs has a unique claim on USOC and the Olympic movement. We need to do it in a way that works for everyone. Give us two or three years!
Q: What can be done to clean up Acacia Park? It continues to be a place of drugs. I’ve called the Police Department with license plates and descriptions, but nothing gets done.
Steve Cox: When we stopped red light cameras, we assigned those resources downtown. We’ll take a proposal to council next month to beef up security downtown with foot patrols and security cameras.
Mayor Bach: This is where you can help if you’re willing. We need to ask City Council to support this. We’ll be asking for additional appropriation for a camera system downtown; that’s been successful in other cities. We have one walking patrol downtown on weekdays, but want to ramp up to have evenings and weekends too. We’re prepared to ask for it. We’ll try it this year and then budget annually if it works.
Q: The Downtown Renaissance – is it a value in your budget to allocate money for beautification downtown? (Ex: washing sidewalks, parking, more police, small business support?)
A: We need help with this. The Downtown Partnership is already helping. We have to move to priority-based budgeting and we need help from the private sector, companies, non-profits and citizens. I’ve had people talk to me about not being allowed to hang banners, flowers, etc. This is an example of a place where there’s unnecessary regulations. Our Streetscapes Team are working on ideas to improve streetscapes. There is a demonstration median on Cascade that Council Member Brandy Williams is helping with. Through a downtown partnership we’re adding back median flowers.
Q: Mr. Mayor, would you kindly touch on your perspective on the new ventures occurring regarding oil and gas drilling?
A: The majority of Banning Lewis Ranch has been purchased by a drilling company. The northern part of Banning Lewis Ranch can still be developed with homes and commercial, but the great bulk may not be developed as real estate but rather drilling. It’s a tremendous opportunity and a great challenge and it needs to be done responsibly. We don’t want it to impact people, especially those who bought homes out there. Drilling should not pollute the groundwater. Council Member Val Snider is heading a committee to study the impact. The upside is two-fold: it could generate substantial revenue for the city. That could fuel a lot of things we need in this city including for downtown. If Banning Lewis Ranch is not developed as real estate, I hope we will truly commit to infilling. There’s 18,000 acres not counting Banning Lewis Ranch that’s undeveloped. But I hope Banning Lewis can be a revenue generator.
Q: What is the future of the Marian House Soup Kitchen?
A: Catholic Charities does a very important thing for our community. We need to honor and thank them and need more people like them. We need more people to help those who need help, but it’s a balancing act. We also want a safe downtown. We’re going to council with a panhandling ordinance. The Soup Kitchen is on private property and they spent a lot of money creating a great facility. We’d like to see that operation combined with other services in more of a campus setting. That way we’re not just giving people nourishment but other ways to help them too. I’m not sure how that will look yet. We’ll work with Marion. We need a balance – we have to help people but also need a safe downtown.
Q: What can citizens do to help you achieve your goals?
A: Have patience with us. Don’t believe everything you read in the paper. Everyone’s trying. Council’s trying. We have lots of new people. They’re all good people. I hope I’m someone people can feel good about. Have patience as we try to ramp it up and move the city forward. We want to be a city government we can trust. Be proud of who we are. Be thankful for where you live. Try to help someone else.
Q: Shouldn’t downtown be plowed after major storms and shouldn’t some parking revenue be used for that?
A: Steve Cox: We’ll look into that. We’ve got it on the list and will get back with you.
Q: What is your position on Colorado Springs City Council using Colorado Springs Utilities to fund recreation projects – specifically hike, bike and recreation trails?
A: I don’t have a position on that. Is that a suggestion or a concern? (Citizen confirmed it was a concern) The concern is Utilities is spending money on non-utility functions. Colorado Springs Utilities reports to City Council not the Mayor. I’ll pass this along to City Council President Scott Hente to work on.
Q: Is it true you don’t support the new Tour de Colorado bike event?
A: There was a proposed additional bike race that was brought forward to us recently by the organizers. They were looking for city funding. I haven’t seen a business plan or a budget. I want to know, how the group is organized and where the proceeds will go. The event was scheduled for June, so it was a short time frame. It would be both a closed and an open course race. There’s a liability risk there. What I have said to City Council is we’d like to see this prospective race and a list of other events that could be considered for 2013 and beyond. We should be looking at what possible events we should add to attract people and expand tourism. Rather than committing tax dollars to an event that looks like it needs more time, let’s look at all events we should consider for 2013. We need to look at the return – not just interesting ideas. It needs more study.
Q: What can we do to engage young professionals to stay?
A: We’re having a continuing dialog. What can we do as a city to stimulate young people to stay here? Think about the concept of a free agent zone. People who could live anywhere but need support. Maybe it’s a downtown area with high speed internet access, affordable health care offerings, build cool lofts, get Trader Joes, etc. It’s a puzzle that needs to be put together one piece at a time.
Q: Why is downtown, downtown? Why not put more downtown activities near an actual center of the metropolitan area?
A: Successful cities have a downtown. Suzi and I love Pine Creek, but for the first time in my life I can’t see downtown and feel a bit disconnected in some ways. We need to honor every part of our city. We have a lot of great neighborhoods and I think downtown core vibrancy is paramount to long term success. At the same time, we need to find ways to revitalize South Academy. We’ll be losing 250 jobs when the Fountain/Academy Postal Distribution Center closes. We’ll need to find a way to get jobs there. Manitou is important. So is Old Colorado City. Each area is important, but we need downtown as the hub.
Q: What are plans for developing the southeast part of the city to bring large businesses to the area?
A: Steve Cox and I are trying to create a test case. We’d like to convince a large landowner to donate some land – maybe 15 acres – then give the landowner a gift letter for tax purposes. We’d convince Council to have Utilities waive the development and tap fees, abate real property tax and business personal property tax. As a test case, can we attract a primary employer to that side of town? We’re on the bubble with the defense industry. We are being proactive.
Q: Can you identify some citizen leaders we can contact to volunteer our time?
A: Donna Nelson, Economic Vitality and Innovation Specialist. If you are interested in committing your time, contact Donna.
The Mayor closed by saying, “It’s time for all of us to step forward. It’s time for reinvention and innovation. We need to make changes or we will become insolvent and we will make changes, but we can’t do it all. We need partnerships and if you love this place, find a way to help. Give us an idea. Give us criticism, but give us a solution with it. This is a great place and we have great people.”
NOTE: Read Part Three of the Mayor’s Town Hall Meeting summary and responses to audience questions here. The next Mayor’s Town Hall Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 2, 2012. Location to be determined.