Colorado Springs is at a very serious crossroads in its development and there is an ongoing battle for the soul of our city that is quickly and quietly being lost to those who place little value on the unique history, character or culture of Colorado Springs.
Having been tacitly involved in the recent “Imagine Downtown” exercise, it was plain to see that there are two drastically divergent ideas of where development in Colorado Springs needs to go in the future.
There are those interests in our community, including some politicos and city administration bureaucrats, who feel that it’s time for downtown Colorado Springs to look like and live like downtown Denver. The behemoth proposed Cooper Tower at the corner Kiowa and Nevada, being pushed by those who believe in the “Denverization” of the Springs in addition to any financial interests they may have in the companies involved, literally dwarfs all other buildings currently in Colorado Springs by towering to 24 stories of vertical mixed use design.
This is more than 10 stories higher than the current maximum allowed by the Downtown Action Plan. This glass and concrete “revenue generator,” along with another similar skyscraping property currently in planning for the opposite southeast corner of this block, will cast a permanent shadow of gloom over three of Colorado Springs significant historic resources, the City Auditorium, Colorado Springs City Hall and the First Baptist Church.
As with the City Walk condominium tower, there is no consideration for the scale, design, and character of existing structures or the nearby neighborhoods. This “vision” harkens to the old Looney Tunes cartoon scenes, so humorous in their absurdity, where the lone little building or homestead on its little plot of land stands surrounded by towering skyscrapers.
Aside from the fact that the Colorado Springs fire department doesn’t currently have either the equipment or the training to deal with high rise fires over the building heights we have currently, or the fact that these planned skyscrapers require changing a Downtown Action Plan that carefully considered future growth and wisely limited building height to 14 stories so that the cityscape doesn’t blot out the striking mountainscapes to the west, amongst other arguments, people don’t move here and live here because they want an “Iconic Skyline” of skyscraper buildings like Denver.
If they wanted that instead of the natural iconic beauty of the widely visible mountains to the west, they would be living in Denver, not Colorado Springs. Unlike Colorado Springs, that is thankfully blessed with consistent winds to keep our skies fairly clear if not entirely smog free, Denver’s “Iconic Skyline” of cement and glass monuments to man’s hubris only fails to blot out the majestic soaring peaks to the west because those were long ago obscured by the daily brown pall of smog that consistently enshrouds that city.
It is true that Colorado Springs is not a small western town at the foot of America’s mountain anymore and we must come to terms with that fact as a community. At 194 square miles and roughly 370,000 people within the city limits, we now rank among the 50 largest cities in the United States.
These are facts that our citizenry seem either largely unaware of or don’t really care about. This would seem to be evidenced by the failed 2005 ballot measure to raise the yearly compensation of our City Council from the shameful $6,250 a year to a very modest $12,000 a year for performing a virtually full-time and often thankless job as a check on the city bureaucracy.
By comparison, Tulsa, Okla., covers 183 square miles and has a population of nearly the same size at 382,000, yet compensates its city council members at a respectable rate of $18,000 a year.
Council member’s wages aside, it’s the fact that Colorado Springs has maintained its welcoming, small western town; smile, wave and say hello; you can see Pikes Peak from virtually anywhere in the 320 days a year on average sunlit downtown, feel that helps to make us so unique among American communities.
It is possible to have economic growth and attract new business without destroying the livability and character of our community. It is possible to balance the needs of large employers while supporting our small local business and the entrepreneurship that Colorado is nationally renowned for.
For those of us who believe that positive, ingenious, out side the box, intelligently planned growth and development need not be the antithesis of the unique western heritage and vast architectural history that still thrives in Colorado Springs, it’s time to get active.
Like the long lost Antlers hotel and the other history we have lost to soulless and formless cement, brick, glass boxes and parking lots over the years, it’s time to stand up for the things that make our beautiful city the regional center for visitors, tourism, military and business it has become.
It is time to get actively educated and involved in the public process where the decisions are made that will affect the future or our community. It is time to make our feelings and opinions known to the city council that is elected to represent all of us and it is time to recognize that we can maintain our small western town community feel while taking responsibility for the economic and infrastructure requirements of our large and growing city.
Brian L. A. Wess is vice chairman of the Colorado Springs Historic Preservation Board.