2019 State of the City

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Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I am very grateful to the citizens of Colorado Springs for the privilege to serve a second term as your mayor and for the opportunity to be here today to deliver my fifth State of the City address.  Whether you are here in person, watching on SpringsTV or on social media, I appreciate your interest in the state of our city.

A special welcome to my fellow Mayor, Nick Gradisar, Pueblo’s first mayor in the modern era.  Thanks, Nick for joining us today.

According to recently released numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, Colorado Springs is now the 39th largest city in America with a population of approximately 480,000 people.  We’ve moved up from 42 to 39 in the last five years.  We’re right behind Kansas City, Missouri and just ahead of Miami, Florida.  The 2020 census will determine whether we meet the 500,000 threshold, which can trigger some additional federal funding eligibility for the city.  So it’s important that everyone fully participate in the census process next year.  The Colorado Springs metropolitan area is the 78th largest in the country with approximately 750,000 people.  But while these numbers reflect our community’s continuing vibrant growth they don’t, in themselves, reveal the state of our city.  That is more clearly revealed by the fact that on the basis of objective criteria, including affordability, job market, net migration and quality of life indicators, including health care and education, Colorado Springs has been ranked in the top 3 best places to live in the United States by U.S. News and World Report for two years in a row and that a broad survey of Americans throughout the country by that same magazine indicates for the second year in a row, Colorado Springs is the most desirable city in America to live. 

State of the City Highlights 2019

State of the City Highlights 2019
How is it that Colorado Springs has achieved this enviable status?  It hasn’t always been so.  The fact is that the credit belongs to all of you, the citizens of Colorado Springs.  Because our city, like every other city in America, depends upon public and private investment to flourish.  It was the visionary investments of our predecessors, beginning with General Palmer, that brought us the water, the trees, the educational institutions and the economic base necessary to become a great city.  And in the last four years our citizens have made an unprecedented level of public and private investment in our city.

The renewed investment in public infrastructure was long overdue.  Four years ago, our roads were terrible.  60 percent were in poor condition.  But our citizens approved Issue 2C and have invested over $50 million per year for five years to fix the roads.  By the end of the fourth paving season next month we will have paved 875 miles of city roads.  It’s making a big difference!  But as I’m sure you’ve noticed, there’s a lot more work to be done.  Most of the roads being fixed in the first five years of 2C have been major arterials.  Very few have been residential in nature and we need to improve our residential streets and residential arterials as well.  That’s why the City Council has referred a renewal of 2C for an additional five years to the ballot this November.  It will once again be Issue 2C on your ballot.  We’re asking the voters to renew 2C at a reduced sales tax rate of .57 percent, down from .62 percent to enable us to spend approximately $57 million per year for the next five years on a long list of roads needing repair, with at least 50 percent of the dollars spent on residential roads.  We believe a renewal of 2C is critical to keep pace with our transportation infrastructure needs.

When I became Mayor in 2015, I inherited a myriad of legal problems stemming from our city’s failure to adequately invest in stormwater infrastructure.  Pueblo County wanted to block the Southern Delivery System, a $825 million ratepayer investment that will supply enough water for at least 50 years of city growth, from going on line in 2016.  The EPA and the State of Colorado sued us for violating our MS-4 water quality permit.  But once again, our citizens stepped forward.  In November of 2017 they approved reinstatement of a stormwater fee.  We have made tremendous progress in improving our stormwater program and I am very confident that in coming years Colorado Springs will have the best stormwater program in the State of Colorado.  

Our most immediate objective is to resolve the long pending litigation with the state and federal government over our MS-4 permit and I believe we are making very good progress towards that goal.

While our citizens are making significant public investments, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, massive private investment is complementing our public investment.  In 2013, under state legislation known as the Regional Tourism Act, Colorado Springs applied to the Colorado Economic Development Commission and secured $120.5 million in state sales tax increment financing to support four local projects; the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, a Sports Medicine facility at UCCS, a downtown stadium and arena and a new Air Force Academy Visitors Center adjacent to I-25.  But the approval of the projects in December of 2013 was just the beginning, because each one required very large private investment.  And with a lot of hard work by a lot of people that investment has been secured.  The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum will open next spring, having received the philanthropic support of foundations, companies and individuals.  It promises to be an iconic structure that will be a huge boost to our tourism economy and continue to cement our city’s brand as Olympic City USA.  And speaking of Olympic City, USA, we welcome the recent news that USA Diving is moving to Colorado Springs and we’ll now be home to 24 Olympic Sport governing bodies. 

The William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center is now under construction on the UCCS Campus.  A partnership between UCCS and Penrose- St. Francis, Centura Health and benefitting from significant private philanthropy, it will be a state of the art facility attracting patients, doctors and researchers to our city.

Eighteen months ago, I was pretty pessimistic about our ability to successfully build a downtown stadium and arena, simply because we lacked the large private investment necessary to be successful.  That all changed when Colorado College took the lead in constructing a downtown arena and Weidner Apartment Homes, a national company founded by Colorado Springs native, Dean Weidner, partnered with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks to make the downtown stadium a reality.  The arena and stadium will break ground in the next several months.  Weidner will build a residential, commercial and retail center around the stadium.

Finally, a new Air Force Academy Visitors Center, which will be constructed without direct investment of federal dollars has proved to be a major challenge.  But kudos to the developer, Blue and Silver Development Partners, the Colorado Springs City Council, El Paso County Commissioners, Academy School District 20 and the Pikes Peak Library District that made it possible to move forward.  That project is projected to break ground in early 2020.  

It is a credit to former Mayor Steve Bach and many, many others, too numerous to mention, that these City for Champions projects are becoming a reality.

And the downtown stadium and arena, and U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum are just part of the exciting things happening in downtown Colorado Springs.  New businesses and a dramatic increase in residential development and hotel space have enhanced the livability, attractiveness and vitality of our downtown core.  The redevelopment of Southwest Downtown in the area of the museum and stadium promises to be very exciting.

Future tourists to Colorado Springs will also be able to enjoy a new Summit House on the top of Pikes Peak.  The City Enterprise “Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain” hopes to complete the new Summit complex by the fall of 2020.  We still need to raise about $7 million of the $60 million cost and I encourage our citizens to do what they can to support the effort.  Thanks to the Broadmoor’s investment of approximately $100 million, a new Pikes Peak Cog Railway will hopefully be operational in 2021.  

We continue to work hard to attract additional commercial airline traffic to our airport; American, United, Delta and Frontier have all expanded service during the past year.  Our goal is to further expand direct flight destinations.  We are very pleased with progress on the general aviation side of the airport and in our airport business park.  An Amazon distribution center is close to complete in the business park.  Two new hotels and a service station and convenience store are in the final planning stages and we hope to announce significant further development very soon.

Our healthcare infrastructure in Colorado Springs continues to expand in quality and quantity.  UC Health and Penrose-St. Francis have completed major expansions and are planning further expansion, including a new Penrose- St. Francis campus at Interquest and I-25.  UCHealth recently announced a statewide mental health initiative.  In addition, the long anticipated Children’s Hospital is open and operating, bringing first class pediatric care to the Pikes Peak region and beyond. 

Our largest locally headquartered financial institution, ENT Credit Union, is commencing construction of its new headquarters near Interquest and I-25 .  Joined with a new Scheels Sporting Goods , In and Out Burger facilities and a new Penrose St.- Francis campus, we have over 1 billion dollars of new private investment in the Interquest corridor alone.

A major expansion of convention facilities at the Broadmoor, which I’m sure you noticed when you arrived today, ensures the retention of the Space Symposium and the attraction of other major conventions to Colorado Springs and the world famous Broadmoor Hotel in years to come. 

Our five military installations continue to thrive and their missions play a vital role in our nation’s defense.  We’re particularly excited about the establishment of U.S. Space Command under the direction of General Jay Raymond, and I assure you our local, state and federal officials will do everything possible to promote Colorado Springs as the permeant home of the Command. 

The foremost responsibility of government is to provide for the public safety of citizens and we are making good progress in that regard.  When the voters approved a stormwater fee, the City Council and I committed to using the general fund that was being expended to resolve stormwater issues on additional police and fire resources.  We are in the process of hiring 120 new police officers and 36 new firefighters and will complete that task by 2022.  In addition to using new police officers in patrol to reduce response times, others will be used to improve traffic safety and in specialized units.  

And I want to make an additional comment about our city’s police officers and first responders.  I personally believe there is no more difficult job in America’s cities today than serving as a police officer.  You have to make split second decisions to protect your community and yourself.  As we saw again last month in our city, those decisions can have fatal consequences and should be subject to scrutiny to determine if the officers have acted in accordance with law.  But our police officers, just like everyone else, should have the benefit of due process and the rule of law.  My request of our community is that we recognize that all our first responders have tough jobs, and when you see them in our community, please thank them for the difficult but very necessary service they perform.  They need and deserve our support.  

At last year’s State of the City we honored Colorado Springs Police Officer Cem Duzel, who was shot in the head when he responded to a disturbance call on August 2, 2018. Cem is still undergoing surgeries and rehabilitation and hopes to be able to go home to his family in New York soon.  And he wants to thank everyone in our community for their support.  

In January of this year we also completed a consolidation of the City and County Offices of Emergency Management into a single Pikes Peak area OEM.  Our natural disasters, including wildland fire and flooding, do not respect jurisdictional boundaries and this consolidation of efforts was long overdue.  Kudos to the El Paso County Commissioners and City Council for making this happen. 

In fact, much of the success I’ve been describing for the City of Colorado Springs would not be possible without the support of a majority of City Council members.  I’m pleased that unlike other levels of government, our municipal government is confronting major issues and taking affirmative steps to resolve them.  And this is a good opportunity to express my personal appreciation to the Council for their continuing efforts to move our city forward.  My thanks to Council President Richard Skorman, President Pro-tem Tom Strand, Councilmembers Jill Gaebler, Andy Pico, Don Knight, Yolanda Avila, Dave Geislinger, Bill Murray and an excellent new addition to the Council this year, Wayne Williams.  Would the Council members present please stand so we can recognize your public service?

All the success I’ve highlighted would also not be possible without the great work done by our City and Utilities departments heads, and their dedicated staff members.  I know we’re joined today by our Chief of Staff, Jeff Greene, Police Chief, Vince Niski, Fire Chief, Ted Collas, and CEO of Utilities, Aram Benyamin and several City department heads.  I’d ask all City and Utilities employees here today to stand and be recognized for your outstanding service as well. 

And there are two women sitting at the head table that I want to recognize in particular for their support.  The first is Wendilyn Guidotti, my executive assistant, who so effectively organizes my work as mayor.  The other is the woman most deserving of my gratitude, my wife, Janet, who has supported me in everything I have done throughout our marriage and has so effectively joined me in the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, effort to promote Colorado Springs.  Thank you both.

While so much of our news is positive, there are significant challenges that remain.  Our booming local economy has led to increasing rents and housing costs, making the issue of affordable housing a very real one.  The City Council and I will use all of the tools in our toolbox to facilitate the expansion of affordable housing in Colorado Springs.  The City is completing a comprehensive affordable housing plan designed to allow for the construction, preservation, and opportunities to purchase at least an average of 1,000 affordable units per year going forward.  We will facilitate the development of affordable units by non-profits like Greccio Housing, Partners in Housing, Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust, Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity, the Colorado Springs and El Paso County Housing Authorities and others.  We will use available resources, including low income housing tax credits, Private Activity Bonds, the El Paso County Housing Trust Fund and grants from the Colorado Division of Housing and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  We will work with private developers to assist them in taking advantage of various incentives available to construct affordable housing in the community.

I’m pleased to report Greenway Flats, with 65 units of permanent supportive housing for persons exiting homelessness, was opened in July.  Freedom Springs, with 50 units of permanent supportive housing is under construction, as is The Ridge with 60, 2 and 3 bedroom units of workforce housing.  Multi-family rental projects ready to break ground include the Barnes Apartments and The Creek at Cottonwood Apartments with a combined 500 units of workforce housing.  Multi-family rental projects in the planning stage include the Atrium at Austin Bluffs with 54 units of senior housing.  Another 236 units of senior housing and 750 units of workforce housing are in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, the El Paso County Housing Authority continued to offer turnkey down-payment assistance to 28 households this year, Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust helped 15 low income families achieve home ownership and the Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity broke ground on an infillDevelopment of vacant land within previously built areas. These areas are already served by public infrastructures, such as transportation and utilities. Parks and open space are also considered infill, since they are permanent uses for vacant parcels. project that includes 4 single family units in two duplexes.  

We will also continue to work hard to appropriately address the issue of homelessness in our community.  That means ensuring that non-profit service providers are available to meet shelter needs and address mental health and substance abuse problems and that everyone is working to minimize the adverse impact of homelessness on the health, safety and welfare of all our citizens.  I want to particularly thank Springs Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army for helping us to increase our total shelter bed capacity to 670, thereby ensuring we can shelter anyone who seeks shelter and can vigorously enforce our no camping bans.  And thanks to Catholic Charities for their focus on meeting the needs of homeless families.  The Colorado Springs Police Department has increased the number of patrol officers on the Homeless Outreach Team.  And the City’s Neighborhood Services Division has added a second camp cleanup crew to ensure we can remove illegal camps as soon as possible.  Thanks also to the Springs Rescue Mission and Norwood Development for the completion of Greenway Flats, which, as I indicated, is a great example of permanent supportive housing for those moving out of homelessness.  We have also created a Outreach Court Program in our municipal court to more appropriately and constructively process cases involving homeless individuals, with our non-profits supplying navigators to help the homeless secure needed services.  I’m happy to report that the point in time count of homeless individuals in our community this year showed a stabilization of the number of people facing homelessness and a 13 percent decline in the number of unsheltered people.  We will continue to work with the Continuum of Care and many fine non-profits and churches in our community who are focused on this problem. 

To say that I am pleased that I-25 between Colorado Springs and Castle Rock is finally being expanded would be an understatement.  I’m sure you join me in looking forward to the completion of the Gap Project.  But ladies and gentlemen, we must not lose sight of the fact that our state has a multi-billion dollar deficit in needed transportation infrastructure, including state highways, and that will have serious ramifications for the Pikes Peak region if not remedied.  Keep in mind that Powers Blvd. is a state highway, as is Nevada south to Ft. Carson, and highway 94 east to Schriever Air Force Base.  U.S. 24 going both west and east from Colorado Springs must be expanded to meet the growth of our city.  So it’s not enough that our local residents are doing their part to fix our local roads and bridges.  Several national studies show Colorado State highways are bad and getting worse.  The issue is critical.  We must have much greater commitment from Congress, the governor and state legislature to deal with our statewide transportation needs.  Please urge our state and federal officials to make transportation a much higher priority than it has been. 

Finally, from it’s inception, Colorado Springs has been known for its exceptional parks system.  General Palmer donated considerable parkland to the city and through the decades, we have continued to build on his legacy.  Our problem today is not that we don’t have enough parkland, it’s that we are not maintaining what we have as well as we should.  While we invested significantly in public works infrastructure over the past several years, our general fund expenditures for parks remains below pre-recession levels.  We have parks capital needs that amount to tens of millions of dollars.  And we should make investments to remedy this problem while times are good and we can do so without raising taxes.  That’s why the City Council, at my urging, has referred Issue 2B to the November ballot, asking the voters to retain $7 million of revenue above the TABOR cap received by the city in 2018, and to use it to address capital needs in parks throughout our city including; Acacia, Alamo, Antlers, Boulder, Coleman, Cottonwood Creek, Leon Young, Palmer, Panorama and Thorndale parks and make trail improvements to Homestead, Mesa, Sandcreek and Legacy Loop trails.  We would make these much needed improvements, including to our Palmer legacy parks, as a way of helping to celebrate our city’s sesquicentennial.  The refund to tax payers if the issue fails would only be about $30 per household, and we hope you will all consider supporting Issue 2B as a great investment in the future of our city’s beautiful park system.  

Speaking of our sesquicentennial, on July 31 of this year we held a press conference on the corner of Pikes Peak and Cascade.  That’s where the first stake was driven creating this city, 148 years ago.  At the press conference we kicked off the city’s preparation for its Sesquicentennial Celebration, it’s 150th birthday, culminating on Saturday, July 31, 2021.  We’re asking our citizens to take the opportunity over the next two years to learn as much as they can about our city’s history; to read about it, to visit exhibits at Pioneers Museum and Rockledge Ranch, to support sesquicentennial projects like Issue 2B  and  City Council’s challenge to plant 18,710 trees, and to find creative ways for their organizations to celebrate the occasion.  

There was a ceremony that took place on July 31, 1871, when our city was founded.  General Palmer was out of town and the featured speaker was a close friend and business associate of his, General Robert A. Cameron.  General Cameron climbed on top of a pile of lumber and made remarks to the crowd that was gathered.  Considering the fact there was not a single tree and virtually no buildings in sight, his remarks are a remarkable testament to vision, to dedication and to perseverance. 

General Cameron said the following:
"Assembled as we are, to initiate a new enterprise here in this beautiful valley and in the most delightful of all situations, it is well that on so important an occasion some simple ceremony like this should commemorate an event of so much importance.  We are engaged in no chimerical enterprise; our undertaking has for its base, substantial and physical facts; and, indeed, if there were to be presented no other inducements why men and families should emigrate to this spot, that of health alone is sufficient…   Here in this dry bracing and invigorating climate, every condition of life is comprised; the sick are restored to health; pale faces assume tints of roses; the aged renew their youth and are filled with fresh vigor and new life.  The favored spot, sheltered by Divide from the storms of the north, is soon to blossom into a garden of beauty, and homes where elegance reigns; here will rise groves and orchards, and over these hills the luxuriant vine will climb and yield its fruit in its season, to delight the hearts of those who watch its growth beneath the fostering touch of civilization.  Added to these natural advantages of situation, let us not forget the magnificent scenery around us.  Switzerland may boast of its glacier peaks and its ice-clad mountains, but nowhere is there scenery so grand and so varied, and so beautiful as within the scope of our vision, as we look out from this favored spot and view the surroundings of our new and beautiful city… Before us looms up Pike’s Peak, its glorious dome now and henceforth and forever, a joy of which poets have dreamed, and which is to their realization in the years to come.  Within sight of us, on the right are the Garden of the Gods, Glen Eyrie, and Monument Park, each with natural attractions sufficient to draw an immense concourse of visitors from all parts of the country and the world, now that the Denver and Rio Grande railway is about to bring it into close and convenient communication with all parts of the east… Having all these advantages, and many more we cannot now stop to enumerate, we can today, upon laying the corner stake in this new and to be flourishing city, prophesy a most successful growth and a glorious future.  In a few weeks the iron horse will startle with its echo the suburbs of our town – civilization will rapidly follow, and in a few years as we look out from the porch of some magnificent temple yet to be built, and see the wealth and beauty spread out before us, we shall be glad to be able to look back at this day, and at this simple yet suggestive ceremony, and say, “all this I saw and part of it I was.”  And so we drive the first stake home, in sight of Pike’s Peak’s glorious dome, in Colorado Springs new town, a future city of renown."

What prophetic words those were, and ladies and gentlemen, as today’s citizens of Colorado Springs, we are so privileged to be the residents of that flourishing city that General Cameron described and to see the wealth and beauty of it spread out before us just as the city’s founders envisioned.  And our responsibility as the current citizens of this great city is very clear.  We must carry forth their legacy to the very best of our ability.  We must 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.  

Power Point Presentation

Due to its size, the PowerPoint presentation has been broken up into three parts. These are large files. They may take a few minutes to download.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Kathy Loo was awarded the Spirit of the Springs Lifetime Achievement Award

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