2021 State of the City

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2021 Highlights

SOTC Highlights 1 mp4

SOTC Highlights 1 mp4

Highlights video description

When the place where you live has (aerial view of downtown and Pikes Peak) Pikes Peak (snow capped Pikes Peak and reservoir), Garden of the Gods (red rocks of Garden to the Gods against a blue sky), and so much natural beauty (people hiking on trails), how do you create a city to match the scenery (downtown lit up at night)?

Here are just a few ways...
Resiliency through crisis (people showing support for medical workers, people getting vaccinated) 
Job creation (ribbon cutting, people working)
A downtown transformation (downtown stadium, US Olympic and Paralympic Museum)
Development from north to south (Construciton projects)
Road improvements (road crews paving and laying concrete)
Stormwater solutions (giant crane lifting very large underground debris collection net, stormwater construction)
Affordable housing (new apartment complexes)
Public safety investment (police and firefighters working)
Parks, trails and open space maintenance (trail and park maintenance projects)
Wildfire mitigation (clearing trees and undergrowth)
Tourism (plane flying past Pikes Peak, Labor Day ballon lift off, Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center, Broadmoor gold course)
A city-wide 150th anniversary celebration (parade, aerial view of festival)

Colorado Springs Olympic City USA logo

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Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my seventh, and second from last, state of the city address. I point out that it’s my second from last to give assurance to my many detractors that there is some relief in sight.

My thanks to the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC and the other sponsors of this event. And I want to extend my gratitude and congratulations to Dirk Draper for the tremendous job he’s done as Chamber CEO for the past seven years.

Thanks to all of you attending this event in person and to those observing through various media for your interest in the state of our city. I hope this audience is as enthused as I am to be back at the world famous Broadmoor Hotel amidst a large gathering of community members to celebrate the progress of our great city. And I do mean celebrate. Because when it comes to the current state of Colorado Springs, the reality is that even a worldwide pandemic could not halt this city’s historic momentum and ascendance as a great American city.

On July 31st, Colorado Springs observed our sesquicentennial, our 150th anniversary. It was an important milestone for the city. In fact, it’s the only occasion that I can think of that would have caused me to grow a beard. (picture) Large crowds helped us celebrate the event with appropriate fanfare. In my remarks at the sesquicentennial celebration, I quoted from a speech given at the founding of our city on July 31, 1871. In that speech, General Robert Cameron, an agent for our city’s founder, General William Palmer, boldly asserted that because of its magnificent scenery, healthy climate and the innovation of its citizens, Colorado Springs was unique and was destined to become a “city of renown”. Well, fast forward 150 years, and once again, for the fourth year in a row, a broad survey of Americans by U.S. News and World Report indicates Colorado Springs is viewed as “the most desirable city” in the country, thus proving General Cameron’s remarks to be prophetic indeed.

But I suspect that even General Palmer, General Cameron, or any of the early visionary and entrepreneurial citizens of Colorado Springs could not have predicted that the city, in 15 decades, would grow to 480,000 people, the 40th largest city in America and that our metropolitan area, or MSA, would be 755,000, the 79th largest in the country. This happened because thousands of dedicated community leaders have stepped forward over the decades to ensure Colorado Springs capitalized on those same assets of natural beauty, climate and economic innovation to remain a truly unique place to live, work and play.

And when I reflect on my 6 ½ years as Mayor of Colorado Springs, there is nothing I am more proud of than the innovation and entrepreneurship that continues to characterize our city. And so much of the innovation has come in the form of both public and private investment, and in some cases, public/private partnerships, that have literally transformed the landscape of our city.

The examples of such investment are numerous. In 2015, our city roads were terrible. While they still need work, our progress is undeniable. With the support of our citizens we’ve improved almost 1300 miles of city roads and completed many large road and bridge infrastructure projects. Does anyone remember what the old I-25, U.S. 24 Interchange looked like? Have you seen the soon to be completed Northgate Interchange with I-25? We’re making real progress in transportation infrastructure. I’m pleased that El Paso County is also looking to improve its road infrastructure through a ballot measure. And after far too many years of neglect even the federal government and State of Colorado are taking steps to significantly invest in transportation infrastructure. And speaking of federal and state highways, let’s not forget that there is a great day close at hand. Take a glimpse at this segment from my 2016 state of the city address. (play segment) Well, hallelujah folks! They’re going to get the gap done in only 5 ½ years!

In 2015, our underfunded stormwater system was the subject of legal actions by the EPA, the State of Colorado and downstream neighbors. Today, through the support of our citizens and outstanding work of City employees, we are well on our way to having the best stormwater infrastructure in the state of Colorado. Much of the credit for this dramatic turnaround goes to our city’s Stormwater Enterprise Manager, Rich Mulledy (photo) and his outstanding team.

In 2015, our new job creation in Colorado Springs had been relatively stagnant for a decade. But because of the tremendous public and private investment in our city, we’ve added over 37,000 jobs since 2015. And so many of them are high skilled, high paying jobs. And emerging from the pandemic we continue to have one of the best job markets in the country. In fact, Colorado Springs has regained 100% of the jobs lost during the pandemic.

Let me give you some numbers that will dramatically illustrate the period of prosperity that Colorado Springs is experiencing. At the beginning of 2015 the GDP, or gross domestic product, for the Colorado Springs metropolitan area was just over $30 billion. Today the GDP for the area has reached $40 billion. In other words, it took 143 years to achieve a $30 billion dollar economy, but it’s taken 7 years to grow by a third to a $40 billion economy.

Perhaps nothing has been so dramatically transformed in the last several years than downtown Colorado Springs. That transformation includes a world class U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, the Park Union Bridge, the Vermijo Street Plaza, Weidner Stadium, Robson Arena, 3,000 new residential units, 600 new hotel rooms and dozens of new businesses and restaurants. If you haven’t checked out South Tejon Street on the night of a Switchbacks game, you should. For young and old alike, downtown Colorado Springs is the place to be. And given all the new projects being submitted to City Planning, the transformation is just beginning. A special shoutout to Susan Edmundson, President and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, and Ryan Tefertiller, Urban Planning Manager and Ryan Phipps, Project Manager for the City of Colorado Springs, for their hard work over many years to help make this happen. 

The Northgate and Interquest corridors are also exploding with billions of dollars in commercial development, including Ent Credit Union’s new headquarters. And over the last several years the city has emphasized economic development in Southeast Colorado Springs. The city has initiated $160 million in public investment, including road and bridge projects and $8.5 million to build Panorama Park. The city is facilitating over a half billion dollars in private investments in the Southeast, including three Amazon Distribution facilities that will employ thousands of people.

Virtually all of our city’s critical economic sectors are thriving. As to the military and defense industry that is so much a part of our economy, there is every indication that the military presence and accompanying civilian defense support infrastructure will continue to grow. We have a number of very critical missions located here that will remain and expand with time. As to the extremely disappointing decision of the Trump administration to move U.S. Space Command Headquarters to Huntsville, Alabama, I can only say “It’s not over ‘till it’s over”. The recent admission by former President Trump that he “singlehandedly” made the decision supports our position that it was not merit based. We will continue to aggressively press our case in Congress and the White House. The decision was not in the national interest and should be reversed. 

Our healthcare industry is thriving. Our two outstanding hospital systems are expanding rapidly. The success of U.C. Health in Colorado Springs is evidenced by the renewal of its lease of the City’s Memorial Hospital assets. Centura Health has broken ground on a new orthopedic hospital, St. Clare’s, at the intersection of I-25 and Interquest Parkway. Children’s Hospital draws pediatric patients from a large region. The new Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center is making its mark by joining clinical practice with graduate and undergraduate education and research.  And of course our healthcare workers in Colorado Springs deserve a great deal of credit for the tremendous work that’s been done to save lives during the COVID pandemic. Would everyone here in the healthcare industry, please stand so we can recognize you.

And new healthcare facilities are not the only thing being constructed. The Pikes Peak region is in the midst of a construction boom. Perhaps nothing demonstrates that more than the fact 2020, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, was a record year for both residential and commercial construction. And the boom has continued into 2021. 

Our outstanding higher education institutions, including the Air Force Academy, UCCS, Colorado College and Pikes Peak Community College are adding and expanding programs to meet our workforce needs of tomorrow and are contributing mightily to our economy. I’m especially pleased that UCCS, through the generosity of the Anschutz Foundation, will now offer an Aerospace Engineering degree program and has recently entered into an MOU with the U.S. Space Force to establish a partnership in workforce preparation, research and development. These milestones will only enhance our community’s standing in the space arena.

Our high-tech industries are keeping up with ever changing demands of the marketplace and we’re seeing major growth in aerospace, medical technology, software engineering and cybersecurity. Our own National Cybersecurity Center and the Exponential Impact incubatorA facility used by startups that provides affordable workspace, shared equipment, training, and mentors, and access to financing, to help these new businesses grow. are making great strides in living up to their ambitious names. And the Catalyst Campus has grown from a vision of Kevin O’Neill to a nationally recognized collaborative ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship. 

One of our newest, but quickly expanding, major economic sectors is sports. It’s now close to a half billion dollars per year. Olympic City USA is now home to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the largest Olympic Training Center, 24 national governing bodies, 50 other sports related organizations, and of course, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum. After enduring a year of travel restrictions that negatively impacted attendance, the museum is welcoming thousands of tourists and locals. And Colorado Springs continues to attract many high-profile sports events. Weidner Stadium, for example, will host this year’s NCAA Division II Soccer championships.

Our local residents are sports and recreation enthusiasts, so it’s no wonder we’ve attracted great sporting goods stores, including Bass Pro Shop and Scheels. Our thanks to Scheels for locating its newest store in Colorado Springs. And have you been to the new Top Golf facility in Polaris Pointe? It’s amazing, and yet another big driver (excuse the pun) in the sports economy. And how about the performance of Colorado Springs full time and part time residents in the recent Olympics and Paralympics. People who live and train in Colorado Springs won 111 medals in the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. That includes nearly 60% of all of America’s gold medals. If people who live and train in Colorado Springs were their own country, they would have finished 5th in the medal count in the Olympics and 11th in the Paralympics. But most importantly, the 295 Olympians and Paralympians that live and train in Colorado Springs exhibited to the world the values of excellence, friendship, respect, determination, inspiration, courage and equality.

When I think about the tremendous growth in our city’s sports economy, I can’t help but think about a person we lost this past year, and that’s Tom Osborne, President and CEO of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. When it comes to sports in Colorado Springs, no person brought more vision, creativity, hard work and enthusiasm than Tom Osborne. Whether it was partnering to improve the balloon festival, putting the Pikes Peak Hill Climb on a stable footing, shepherding the City for Champions projects from vision to implementation, or so many other successful projects, Tom Osborne brought us all together, and he will be sorely missed.

The sector of our economy that was hardest hit economically by the COVID epidemic is tourism. Pre-COVID it contributed $2.5 billion per year to our economy. But I’m pleased to report that 2021 has seen a remarkable recovery. This past summer Colorado Springs had the highest hotel/motel occupancy in Colorado and among the highest in the nation. The Colorado Springs Airport, thanks largely to our city’s newest commercial carrier, Southwest Airlines, saw the highest levels of traffic in 20 years. Tourists came in droves to see our many natural and man made attractions including, of course, Pikes Peak, with a spectacular new Summit House, worthy of America’s mountain, and a completely renovated Cog Railway, thanks to a large investment by the Broadmoor.

With the pending issuance of bonds to finance a new visitors center at the Air Force Academy, and surrounding infrastructure, it appears that the dream of the City for Champions effort, begun in 2013, will be fully achieved. It took vision, persistence, and incredible public/private partnerships to make the Olympic Museum, Weidner Field, Robson Arena, the Hybl Sports Medicine Center and hopefully the Air Force Academy Visitors Center a reality. It’s an investment that will draw millions of visitors, create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. And given this accomplishment, I think it’s a very appropriate time to recognize and applaud one man who showed both great vision and persistence to get the City for Champions effort on the right path, and that’s my predecessor, Mayor Steve Bach.

Now let’s talk about some of the challenges we face. Or perhaps I should call them opportunities. Because even in regard to our country’s and city’s most vexing issues, like homelessness and affordable housing, there is good news to report. As to homelessness, the city has achieved its goal of being able to offer shelter to anyone who wants shelter and is expanding the opportunity to progress from shelter into permanent supportive housing. That means having necessary drug addiction and mental health programs, as well as work opportunities. But as to those who decline shelter, we are enforcing camping bans as vigorously as the law allows. By the end of this year, the City’s Neighborhood Services Division will have cleaned up more than 1400 illegal campsites and hauled off nearly 1,000,000 (1M) pounds of trash. This multi-faceted approach has allowed us to significantly decrease our unsheltered population over the past several years. That stands in sharp contrast to most large cities in America. And that could not be accomplished without the work of the Continuum of Care and outstanding non-profits like the Springs Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Rocky Mountain Human Services and the compassionate but persistent work of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team.

We are also proud of the ongoing work accomplished through the City’s 2019 Homelessness Initiative, under the direction of the City’s Homeless Outreach Coordinator, Andy Phelps. Notable achievements that came from the Initiative include a City led homeless work program, an outreach court program, and a Downtown outreach initiative led by the Colorado Springs Fire Department Homeless Outreach Program. Outreach teams, made up of fire department personnel and social workers, target homeless individuals receiving the greatest amount of tickets in the Downtown area by connecting them with available shelter, resources, and housing. After one year, we saw police interactions decrease substantially for those targeted by the CSFD Homeless Outreach Program. The Fire Department also has Alternative Response Teams responding to low acuity calls, often involving mental health issues, to deescalate them, reduce unnecessary trips to emergency rooms and unnecessary use of public resources. The 2022 proposed City budget increases such teams from two to four.

The booming economy in Colorado Springs and its attractiveness to people throughout the country has made our housing market among the hottest in America and resulted in dramatic increases in the price of available housing. That has created a great need for additional single family and multifamily residential housing and a particular need for affordable housing for working families and low-income individuals. In my 2018 state of the city address three years ago, I set a goal of facilitating the creation or preservation of at least 1,000 new affordable units on an annual basis. We’re achieving that goal by utilizing a variety of tools. But we hope to achieve even greater results in the years ahead.

The Colorado Housing Finance Authority reports that Colorado Springs has seen a 65% increase in the number of units being built with low income housing tax credit financing. From 2016 to 2020 we’ve grown from 3,000 to 5,000 units. And 2021 has seen another 22% increase in units awarded, putting the total number of tax credit units in Colorado Springs at almost 6,100, a total investment of $256 million.

Current projects are designed to meet critical needs. The Atrium at Austin Bluffs is a 54-unit project for very low income seniors being developed by Greccio Housing. The Shooks Run project by the Colorado Springs Housing Authority is 40 units and includes 8 three-bedroom apartments. 700 units of affordable workforce housing are under construction. They include Cottonwood Creek Apartments, Barnes Apartments and Academy Heights.

The development pipeline includes 839 units that have or will break ground by the beginning of 2022. They include the Commons, 50 units of permanent supportive housing sponsored by Homeward Pikes Peak, Village at Solid Rock, 77 units, a collaborative including Solid Rock Baptist Church, Draper Commons, a 280 unit project in the Lowell neighborhood downtown, the College Creek Apartments, 240 units in northeast Colorado Springs and Bentley Commons, another Greccio Housing project with 192 units.

The City’s Community Development Division, under the direction of Steve Posey, continues to look for innovative ways to make the best use of federal dollars to meet local housing needs and to take advantage of the recent infusion of funds from the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan to set our community up for success in meeting our housing goals in coming years.

The economic prosperity and growth our city is experiencing is an ongoing challenge in the sense that we must invest in the public infrastructure needed to support that growth. And that includes the public safety infrastructure needed. We added 120 police officer positions over the last four years and hope to have these positions all filled by the end of 2022. But by that time we’ll need to begin to add yet additional officers and a new police substation in the eastern part of the city. The same is true for the fire department. We’ll be adding several fire stations over the next decade and that means more manpower and equipment.

Now let me turn to some other opportunities we have. On this November’s ballot there will be two city ballot questions that, if approved, would help us address two issues vital to our continuing quality of life.

As citizens of Colorado Springs we all know we have a wonderful parks system. It’s part of General Palmer’s legacy. And through the foresight of many citizens 24 years ago, we established a Trails, Open Space and Parks program, called TOPS. That, in combination with fees paid by developers, has allowed us to acquire a great deal of open space land and land for future park development. But unfortunately, we have not been able to maintain general fund revenues sufficient to develop new park land and adequately maintain the parks, trails and open space we have. Because parks compete with other priorities, including public safety and roads, our parks general fund commitment remains below pre-recession levels. The incredible increase we’ve seen in park and trail use, particularly over the last year and a half, has only aggravated the problem. Many of our parks and trails are overburdened. Ballot issue 2C would extend the TOPS program 20 years and increase the tax from one cent on every $10 purchase to two cents on every $10 purchase. But very importantly, it would also allow more of the generated funds to be used for new park development as well as maintenance of all existing parks, trails and open spaces. We would also continue to acquire additional park and open space land as the city grows. The success of Issue 2C is absolutely critical to ensuring General Palmer’s legacy continues and we maintain and expand our outstanding fully accredited Parks system.

One of the greatest threats to our community from a natural disaster perspective is wildland fire. It’s been a big part of our past. I remember as a small boy my father telling me about the January 1950 fire that burned much of Ft. Carson and Cheyenne Mountain and almost destroyed the Broadmoor. Eleven people died. We’re all familiar with the damage from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. And we know the role such fires play in contributing to flash flooding in subsequent years. When it comes to wildland fires, it’s not a question of if there’ll be another fire, it’s a question of when and where. And we know that wildland fire mitigation efforts work, because we saw that in the case of the Bear Creek fire in November of last year. Much of our wildland fire mitigation efforts in Colorado Springs have been funded by grants that are intermittent and not sufficient for the large acreage requiring mitigation. While some cities in Colorado are considering creating special taxing districts to fund wildland fire mitigation and prevention, the City Council and I feel we have a better solution. In ballot issue 2D we’re asking the citizens, without creating or raising a tax, to allow us to retain $20 million in 2021 city revenue above the TABOR cap, in order to create a permanent Wildland Fire Mitigation and Prevention Fund. The fund would draw interest and no more than 5% of the balance could be used each year for fire mitigation and prevention efforts under the direction of the Colorado Springs Fire Department and a citizen advisory board. That means several hundred thousand dollars would be available each year for fire mitigation work throughout the entire city, and in areas adjacent to the city, including national forests, where mitigation is necessary to safeguard city residents and their property. We believe this is an innovative way to get permanent, consistent funding for fire mitigation and prevention work without a tax increase. Any surplus revenue the city receives in 2021 in excess of the $20 million would be refunded to citizens on their utility bills. Given the record levels of sales tax revenue so far this year, we currently estimate such refund would be approximately $10 million.

My thanks to the City Council for referring these two important measures to the ballot and for all the great work they’ve done in facilitating the many successes the city has enjoyed over the last several years. The Council, of course, also serves as the board of Colorado Springs Utilities. We’re indebted to Council President Tom Strand, President Pro Tem Richard Skorman, and Council Members Bill Murray, Yoland Avila, Dave Donelson, Randy Helms, Nancy Henjum, Mike O’Malley and Wayne Williams. Wayne also serves as the Chairman of the Utilities Board. Would those members of the Council who are present today please stand so we can recognize your great work. 

We’re also blessed with great City employees. They have overcome the challenges of the COVID epidemic and delivered outstanding services to our citizens. They make the city work on a day to day basis. I know I’m joined here today by City leadership including my Chief of Staff, Jeff Greene, Police Chief Vince Niski, Fire Chief Randy Royal, City Attorney Wynetta Massey, Aram Benyamin, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities, and several department heads. Would all of the City and Utility department employees that are here today please stand so that we can recognize you. 

And thanks to the staff at the Mayor’s Office for helping me show up where I’m supposed to, and with something intelligible to say, at least most of the time. And finally to my wife, Janet, thank you for 45 years of love, insight and unwavering support and for all the time and effort that you’ve expended on behalf of our city and its blossoming identity as Olympic City USA. Whether out front or behind the scenes, you’ve been a big part of our city’s success over the last 6 ½ years.

Just as our city’s sesquicentennial has been a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the people and the events that have shaped Colorado Springs over the last 150 years and made it what it is today, this milestone is also an opportunity to sharpen our focus on the future. To recognize that the decisions we are making today will shape the lives of future generations of Colorado Springs residents. We are writing their history, just as our predecessors wrote our history. As long as this city remains as unique as it is, it will continue to attract people to the Pikes Peak region, and it is up to us to take the necessary steps to ensure the city has the natural resources, infrastructure and economy to maintain its high quality of life. Quite simply, it is up to us to be the good ancestors that future generations of Colorado Springs residents need us to be.

I consider it a great honor and privilege to serve as Mayor of Colorado Springs in such a transformational time. In the remaining year and a half I have as your mayor, I assure you I will continue to work day and night to meet the challenges of today and prepare the city for the challenges of tomorrow. And I ask all of our citizens to join me in embracing the challenge that has faced every generation of Colorado Springs’ residents. And that’s the challenge to continue to build a city that matches our scenery – a shining city at the foot of a great mountain. Thank you and may God continue to bless the City of Colorado Springs.


Spirit of the Springs Lifetime Achievement Award

The Mayor also presented the 2021 Spirit of the Springs Lifetime Achievement Award to former Colorado Springs Mayor and community leader Mary Lou Makepeace.

“Mary Lou Makepeace is an outstanding advocate who has focused on equality, collaboration and hard work throughout her service to our community. She is a role model for women and for all leaders who dare to stand up for what they believe.” -Mayor John Suthers