“A year ago, in my first State of the City address, I reported that the state of the city was good but the potential of our city was great,” Suthers said during the speech. “Today, I am very pleased to report that in the last 12 months our city has moved forward significantly on the continuum from good to great.”
Several times during the 30-minute presentation, Suthers harkened back to his first such address as mayor (delivered Sept. 9, 2015, roughly 100 days after he was elected on May 19, 2015). During last year’s State of the City address, he laid out his three top priorities: to improve the political climate as it relates to cooperation and collaboration (namely between his office and Colorado Springs City Council), to invest in the city’s critical infrastructure, and to aggressively promote new job creation.
“Quite simply, these priorities were a reflection of the difficult issues Colorado Springs has faced over the last two decades,” Suthers said.
Fast-forward a year and community partners say Suthers has held up his end of the bargain in helping the city bounce back from bad press and recession-era woes.
“Recognizing Colorado Springs as ‘Olympic City USA’ is only the most visible accomplishment of Mayor Suthers’ administration,” Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, said last week during a speech introducing Suthers. Draper also introduced a slew of notable attendees, including a number of Olympic medalists who live in Colorado Springs.
“It has been a team effort of Mayor Suthers and his wife Janet to bring this initiative to fruition,” Draper said of the campaign initiated by the city in February to brand Colorado Springs as Olympic City USA.
After his introduction, Suthers confidently addressed the hundreds of attendees in Broadmoor Hall on a swath of issues.
Colorado Springs voters approved Ballot Issue 2C last November, which created a 0.62-percent sales tax increase expected to pay for $250 million worth of road reconstruction over five years (2016 through 2020).
During his speech, Suthers proudly announced the progress city employees have made under that commission.
“From May to the end of the paving season next month we will have paved approximately 221 lane miles and poured over 177,082 tons of asphalt,” he said. “We will have also replaced 93,015 lineal feet of curb and gutter and replaced or repaired 240 pedestrian ramps.
“And that’s just the beginning.”
Following up with his self-mandated mission to “aggressively promote new job creation,” Suthers expounded upon the fact that, “after a decade of very little job growth, the city’s economy is doing very well.”
Quoting 2015 Census estimates, Suthers said the population of Colorado Springs grew by around 11,000 residents last year and is currently the 40th largest U.S. city.
“And, most importantly, El Paso County added almost 9,000 jobs in 2015,” he said. “Our unemployment rate has dropped from 9.6 percent in 2010 to as low as 3.4 percent this year, the lowest in 15 years, and many of our citizens are returning to the workforce for the first time since the recession.”
According to city data, there are currently 15,000 job openings in Colorado Springs with an average salary of $64,000.
As the demand for residential real estate has grown in recent years, the need to build more affordable housing has increasingly become a priority for Colorado Springs.
Although local real estate experts say construction of lower-priced homes and affordable housing units would be hard pressed to keep up with the rapidly growing demand, Suthers announced the city’s intention to make an attempt.
“I am pleased to tell you that currently there are over 450 units of multi-family housing for low-income earners in various stages of application and planning and another 200 units identified for preservation through rehabilitation in Colorado Springs and greater El Paso County,” he said.
The city’s tourism industry continues to grow, according to Suthers.
“You may have noticed that our tourism industry is having a very good year,” he said. “Hotel and motel occupancy rates have climbed to record levels.”
According to city data, lodging and rental car tax revenues grew 13.4 percent in 2015 and are already up an additional 14.5 percent so far this year. Suthers also said that the city has seen a record number of visitors to the summit of Pikes Peak and that the number of trips up the mountain is currently “tracking 20 percent above last year’s record-breaking total of 415,000 [visitors].”
“Tourism is a very large segment of our economy and we need to continue to nurture and promote it,” he added.
Colorado Springs Airport
While lamenting the departure of Aviation Director Dan Gallagher (the announcement was made public the day before), Suthers celebrated the success of the Colorado Springs Airport under Gallagher’s tenure.
“So far, enplanements at the airport are up 5 percent over last year, and the year-end forecast shows a nearly 10 percent year-over-year growth,” Suthers said.
A percentage of that growth can be attributed to Frontier Airlines, which recently began offering flights out of Colorado Springs for the first time since discontinuing service to the airport in 2013.
U.S. Olympic Museum
Just hours before the address, U.S. Olympic Museum officials announced that they had received another $4 million in private donations toward the project’s estimated $73 million price tag.
And, although museum backers say they still need another $6 million to meet their funding goal, Suthers said that work on utility lines and infrastructure for the site will begin this Fall.
The 60,000-square-foot museum is planned for 1.7 acres of donated land located near the intersection of Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street in southwest downtown Colorado Springs.
Interstate 25 expansion
Suthers received his biggest applause of the speech when he pledged to “overcome ideological differences between the political parties … to fund an expansion of I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock.”
The daily traffic jams that snarl commutes between Denver and Colorado Springs are damaging to commerce, he said, calling the proposed 10-year time frame for completing the expansion “simply unacceptable.”
“It only took eight years after John Kennedy’s challenge to America to land a man on the moon,” he said. “Surely we can expand 17 miles of interstate a heck of a lot sooner than that.” n CSBJ