As we move into the new year, one can’t help but wonder what 2016 will bring for Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region.
We have so much momentum building across the area, in business as well as tourism, economic development and local government. But it still takes people with energy, ideas and boundless determination to continue that forward motion.
In recent years, as the calendar has turned over, it has become an annual ritual to identify some of those influential people and the roles they will play in the upcoming year.
Obviously, we could take an easy path and fill half the list with the obvious major players such as Mayor John Suthers, developers like the Jenkins family and investors like Philip Anschutz. My preference is to focus on people facing specific challenges. The past two groups have been all women, but this year it makes sense to give men equal time.
After several weeks of observing, analyzing and pondering, let’s put our spotlight on Ten Game-Changers to Watch in 2016:
Ingrid Richter, O’Neil Group Company. No innovative endeavor means more to Colorado Springs’ business community and downtown than the O’Neil Group’s Catalyst Campus. Richter, as O’Neil’s economic development director, has been overseeing the Catalyst Campus from its embryonic stages, and 2016 should bring more headlines as the venture establishes itself.
Jim Johnson, GE Johnson Construction Co. Johnson has spent his life with the company his family built, but now the operation is taking on two huge projects that will leave an imprint on Colorado Springs for generations to come, both breaking ground in 2016. As important as the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame will be, GE Johnson probably faces an even more daunting challenge in building the new Summit House at Pikes Peak.
Lesley Mace, Colorado Department of Transportation. A civil engineer who worked for the city of Colorado Springs before joining the state, Mace is overseeing the sprawling $116 million Interstate 25/Cimarron interchange rebuild as CDOT’s project manager working with resident engineer Dave Watt. Mace’s task includes choreographing all the work and detours while trying to conserve money, which might enhance later stages of the design-build approach.
Dirk Draper, Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. In eight months as CEO, Draper has focused on internal structure, community relationships and strengthening the staff. Now, with so many positive indicators across the local economy, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road in terms of helping local companies expand and courting potential employers to move here.
Elizabeth Diller, Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Regarded as a “maverick” among its peers, the New York architectural firm DS+R has a penchant for high-profile work. Diller is leading the group designing the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, with the potential for an iconic outcome. We should be seeing the designs soon, and expectations are high.
Perry Sanders, Mining Exchange and Antlers. Now the owner of downtown’s two most prominent hotels, Sanders already has embarked on an ambitious renovation of the Antlers, with more work ahead in 2016. But he also still has that plan for a high-rise residential tower, which could range from a “modest” 30 stories to a jaw-dropping 100.
Sallie Clark, Board of County Commissioners. Entering her final year in local office and final months as president of the prestigious National Association of Counties, Clark has become a target for widening speculation about what might be her next political chapter. The possibilities are many, from the state level to Congress. Will she jump into a race for 2016 or wait?
Corey Farkas, Colorado Springs Streets Division. As division manager, Farkas will be the point person for implementation of the 2C sales tax producing $50 million annually for repairing and repaving the city’s streets and roads. The priority list of projects is set, but Farkas’ job is pushing the projects along and building public confidence.
Nicole Nicoletta, Manitou Springs mayor. Elected by a super-thin, 10-vote margin, Nicoletta takes office next week with residents and business owners hoping to see new approaches to parking, the Manitou Incline and fixing bumpy thoroughfares. Many constituents believe the 42-year-old will bring a fresh, positive outlook and direction.
Jim Knowlton, Air Force Academy athletic director. Still new to the job, Knowlton has seen that football attendance is a rising concern in the scenic but outdated Falcon Stadium. With good prospects ahead for AFA football, Knowlton needs to culture more corporate and public support in order to enhance revenue and justify a major renovation.