So you want to run for city council next year? Better get ready — the election’s less than five months away. I know, I know — you’re careful, competent and prepared. You’re ready to do your part, and help steer America’s favorite midsized city into the bright future that certainly awaits us.
And after all, what could go wrong? We’re creating new jobs at a rate we’ve never experienced. As Mayor John Suthers noted in his 2019 Budget Overview, we “confronted in three short years a very large public infrastructure deficit” by approving road and stormwater funding.
And don’t just take the mayor’s word for it!
Suthers pointed out that, in 2018, Colorado Springs was highly rated by leading national news organizations that apply objective metrics to compare American cities. “U.S. News and World Report” rated Colorado Springs as the second-best place in America to live and the No. 1 most desirable city in America. Colorado Springs rated the highest of any city in quality of life, but also ranked very high in affordability, job opportunities and other economic criteria. The city’s health care and educational institutions also rated highly.
As city revenues climb, city services benefit across the board. Parks, police, fire, ADA compliance, fleet replacement, information technology, facilities maintenance — the once empty public trough is overflowing, and everyone will share in its bounty. No more: potholes, turned-off streetlights, desiccated parks. More: cops, firefighters, stormwater infrastructure, downtown development and high-paying jobs.
Denver may have lost Amazon to New York City and northern Virginia, but so what? Looks as if we’ll have some sort of Amazon facility out by the airport, even if we have pay the usual eco-devo bribe to the world’s richest company.
Was the city’s future ever this bright? Yes and no. Although no one has ever gone broke betting on the long-term future of Colorado Springs, such bets have sometimes taken decades to pay off. It’s time to worry when every real estate broker tells you it’s time to buy, every economist is bullish and every politician is sunnily optimistic. And when every “leading national news organization” stokes the furnace of optimism, it may be time to panic.
So here’s a sample gloomy scenario.
• The postwar economic order anchored by free trade, low tariffs, European integration and a relatively peaceful world keeps unraveling, sparking a worldwide recession.
• Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report puts President Trump in peril of impeachment, and governmental dysfunction contributes to the swift economic slowdown.
• Local voters refuse to renew 2C in 2020 and potholes soon reappear.
• U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke replaces Trump and signs bills that slash military spending, increase taxes on corporations and provide all Americans with affordable health care.
Result: We get better health care and lose thousands of defense-related jobs. And, as if that’s not enough, we could have another summer of well-publicized floods and fires.
There are already some red flags out there. The once-fevered local real estate market has noticeably cooled and some small retailers are experiencing lagging sales.
And that brings us to Amazon. Just as national chains and big box stores hollowed out downtowns half a century ago, Amazon’s corporate goal is the forced obsolescence of brick-and-mortar stores of every kind. Why bother supporting a specialty retailer when Amazon can bring it to your door for free?
That’s fine with many of us, but this economic sea change doesn’t bode well for small cities and the small businesses that underpin their economies. Amazon doesn’t contribute to the property taxes that support public schools, and, as we’ve seen in the HQ2 competition, its business model is one of extracting concessions from local governments. Let’s hope that Colorado Springs City Council won’t roll over for the mighty Jeff Bezos.
But why worry? The Colorado Springs economy has always been absurdly cyclical, going from boom to bust every 10 or 15 years. We never quite learn thrift, frugality and caution — we just revel in the boom, go broke in the bust and then try to figure out what went wrong.
And when the time comes to mourn the vanished good times, let’s repeat the Developer’s Prayer:
“Lord, give me another boom and I promise not to waste it this time…”