On April 9, Colorado Springs City Council will meet in a 1 p.m. work session to consider the “Banning-Lewis Ranch annexation amendment and restatement presentation and proposed code amendments.”
Members of the unwashed, uninformed and (let’s face it!) unwelcome public won’t be able to comment — they’ll have to hold their tongues until Wednesday, when a “Town Hall w/ Public Comment” will take place at the Pikes Peak Regional Development Center hearing room from 6-7:30 p.m. As the abbreviated timeframe indicates, that’s just the curtain raiser for the big show. Council will vote on the extraordinarily complex measure on April 24, and you can be sure that there will be plenty of public comments.
I doubt whether the comments will have any effect. Council has hosted a half-dozen executive sessions to fine-tune the measure in the past several months, so the present iteration likely has majority support.
According to the city website, the amendment is long overdue.
“The city has lost more than 2,700 jobs and $4.5 billion in economic benefit as development has occurred outside of city limits. … In the interest of spurring economic development of the unused space, as well as to increase the inventory of available housing, the City of Colorado Springs is proposing an amendment for City Council approval of the original 1988 annexation agreement.”
The language is interesting. Note that the proposal comes from “The City of Colorado Springs,” not the property’s majority owner, Nor’wood Development Group, and not from the mayor or the city administration. Words matter, and these words aptly emphasize the bifurcation of city government and the awkward structure of the city’s byzantine “strong mayor” form of government.
It’s worth recalling that David Jenkins, principal owner of Nor’wood, largely financed the strong mayor initiative. A Springs native, Jenkins started with nothing 60 years ago and soon became the canniest, most successful and most solvent developer in the city.
“I am sure it must be difficult to be Mayor in a city where a single developer controls as much as 20 percent or 30 percent of the City,” wrote annexation skeptic Tim Hoiles in a letter to the mayor questioning multiple aspects of the deal.
Like Jenkins, Hoiles understands money and power. When then-Gazette owner Freedom Communications embarked on a risky recapitalization scheme in the early 2000s, Hoiles successfully insisted that dissident shareholders be given the option to cash out their holdings. He got a nine-figure check, while those who stayed in saw the company stall, flounder and eventually go bankrupt.
I don’t know whether Tim’s concerns are valid. I remember that when the original Banning-Lewis deal was approved in 1988 it was touted as the “future of Colorado Springs,” the site of a soon-to-be built Olympic Hall of Fame and an IMAX theater, home to tens of thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses. The roads, the parks, the trails, the public safety facilities, the open space — all first class!!
Thirty years later, it’s déjà vu all over again. In 1988, Mayor Bob Isaac and many senior officials in the administration were deeply skeptical about the deal, and particularly concerned about its promoter, Arizona developer Frank Aries.
Aries’ precariously financed real estate empire collapsed, the ranch had fallen into foreclosure and Aries left town.
But Dave Jenkins is no Frank Aries. Jenkins isn’t some smooth-talking, over-leveraged con man trying to sell us a bill of goods. With his equally tough-minded son, Chris, he has created a virtual real estate monopoly. The Jenkins family owns many of downtown’s developable parcels, and more than two-thirds of the vacant land within city boundaries.
Council’s dilemma: Do you give Jenkins and the mayor everything they want? If not, you might hamstring development once again. And suppose there’s another unforeseen national crisis like the savings and loan collapse that took out Aries? You’ll get blamed for the resulting mess, no matter how well-intentioned your actions may have been.
Come next election, the voters will kick you to the curb. You’ll be replaced with self-promoting opportunists who’ll claim they always opposed the deal.
That was me in 1991 — and in 2019 I’ll be tanned, rested and ready to run for another term on council!