Last week, Colorado Springs Forward announced it hired Amy Lathen as its first executive director. Lathen will resign as El Paso County commissioner to head the organization and lead its efforts to advocate for Colorado Springs through endorsing candidates and weighing in on local issues.
Her experience with county government means the organization can seize opportunities to improve the landscape for Colorado Springs businesses.
So far, Colorado Springs Forward has a mixed record: The group advocated to raise sales taxes to fix roads, which passed. CSF also supported (as did the Business Journal) changing the state’s hospital provider fee to an enterprise fund to remove the state’s revenue limits, which was unsuccessful. It supported successful City Council candidates Merv Bennett and Tom Strand, but also endorsed Jariah Walker, who wasn’t elected.
But with Lathen at the helm, Colorado Springs Forward can — and should — do more to advocate for issues that are important to local businesses. Lathen’s expertise should allow CSF to influence government choices at both the state and local levels.
The group should support efforts to widen Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock, easing traffic woes and allowing commerce to flow more easily. CSF also could support other ways to alleviate transportation headaches throughout the region, creating a friendly, walkable city for tourists and residents alike. Walkable cities equal more foot traffic for local businesses, and easing traffic congestion can affect business decisions to relocate to the Springs. CSF should advocate for more money spent to initiate long-delayed infrastructure repairs throughout Colorado Springs.
Or they might talk to Dave Lippincott at the Pikes Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation. Lippincott is working to purchase a right-of-way from the Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe railway to bring back trolleys to Colorado Springs. A trolley system connecting downtown with UCCS could be an economic boon to the city’s center.
Lathen also might want to sit down with Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is responsible for marketing the Springs to tourists and convention groups in other cities. Price has long said the city’s Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax is too low — backed up by market research that shows the city’s competitors across the nation have LARTs that are as much as six times the local rate of 2 percent.
Finally, Colorado Springs Forward could lend its considerable influence to the City for Champions initiative. The Olympic Museum is still in full fundraising mode; UCCS is moving forward with its health care initiative and the Air Force Academy has a request out for companies to manage its visitors center. But the downtown sports stadium is the one piece that hasn’t really gained momentum. With the Sky Sox threatening to decamp to San Antonio, a downtown sports facility could have a major impact.
As a seasoned politician, Lathen could help overcome opposition to the proposal and make the downtown stadium a reality.
The business community needs strong advocates who are willing to take on tough issues like tourism marketing, transportation funding and economic development projects. With its partners, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and the Housing and Building Association, CSF stands to be able to make a big difference for Colorado Springs business.
We hope Amy Lathen’s up to the challenge.