This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Colorado Springs Business Journal, which has been continuously published since debuting on April 1, 1989. This is the first in an occasional series that explores how the problems and opportunities of that era still resonate today, despite the changes wrought by time, technology, growth and development.
CSBJ was launched by a couple of optimistic young entrepreneurs, editor Charles Shelden and advertising manager Roger Powell. Neither had much experience in the newspaper industry, but both were convinced that there was a market niche to fill in their community.
“We are a publication run by businessmen for businessmen,” wrote Shelden in an editor’s note, “that is committed to the strength and prosperity of our community. … Why start another business publication now in these difficult, trying economic times one might ask? Our feeling is that there is no better time than right now to [share our] positive perspective [sic], our feeling is that the outlook for Colorado Springs and El Paso County is extremely bright. Our philosophy is contrary to those who believe that our best economic times are behind us and that Colorado Springs is an economic ‘has been.’”
Brave words, especially since Colorado Springs was in the midst of a severe economic downturn, one that would accelerate and deepen in the months to come. Thanks to the collapse of Frank Aries’ Banning-Lewis Ranch development scheme and the national savings and loan crisis, Colorado Springs would soon be labeled “The Foreclosure Capital of America.”
Aries defaulted on a $240 million loan and left town, never to return, while dozens of lesser developers found themselves saddled with unsalable, heavily encumbered properties. Many were forced into bankruptcy, leaving only a few canny survivors who picked up distressed real estate at pennies on the dollar.
But all that was in the future. In that first issue, CSBJ ran a cheerful sidebar, thanking its initial advertisers and supporters “for believing in us!” The list included Add Staff, Central Bank, Chase Manhattan, Cheyenne Mountain Conference Resort, Craddock Development, Griffis/Blessing, KVOR, Rosenbaum/Dean and Rutledge’s — an impressive lineup.
Featured on the front page: an analysis of the prospects of a proposed downtown multi-use sports arena. To be located on two city blocks west of the Pikes Peak Center for Performing Arts, south of Colorado Avenue and east of the railroad tracks, the $50 million facility would have been principally funded by a $37.4 million city bond issue backed by a 0.2 percent increase in the city sales tax. Voters would decide its fate on April 4, just a few days away.
CSBJ enthusiastically supported the arena, as did the business community. Colorado College Professor Bob Loevy, the campaign chair for “Volunteers for the Arena,” was quoted as saying that polls show “families are particularly enthusiastic about an arena in Colorado Springs.” His particular concern was that “our children will grow up and move to other cities for career opportunities and cultural exposure when they could stay here.” Attorney Phil Kendall, who had successfully led the campaign to build the Pikes Peak Center 10 years earlier, called upon Springs residents to “move into a strong, vibrant community of civic, national and world pride.”
CSBJ also interviewed a representative of an ad hoc opposition group, CURE (Citizens for Using Resources Efficiently).
“Funding the arena takes away from the proper and legitimate functions of government,” said its spokesman. “We’re not against building an arena. We think Colorado Springs needs a smaller arena — and one that would take a much, much smaller bite out of public money.”
Thirty years ago, on April 4, the nays had it by a 70-30 margin. Only 10 of the city’s 211 precincts supported it, three in the North End and seven in Broadmoor/Skyway.
“An arena should be in the long-term plans for this city,” said Bob Loevy in a post-election interview with CSBJ. “But we want to get our thoughts more in line with what the voters want. It took four shots to get the Pikes Peak Center. Each time the electorate gave a clearer picture of how that project should develop. We might be able to expect the same thing with the arena.”
The Colorado Springs (now Broadmoor) World Arena opened on Jan. 17, 1998. Completely enclosed, with lots of adjacent parking, the $57 million multipurpose arena was largely privately funded, with a particularly substantial contribution from El Pomar Foundation. Limited city support came from self-supporting city enterprises such as Colorado Springs Utilities and the Parking Enterprise, enabling city elected officials to help fund the project without going to voters for approval. As downtown supporters had contended nine years before, construction of the facility activated the surrounding area. Today, the once-undeveloped acreage adjoining the World Arena is home to nationally branded hotels, a Tinseltown theater complex and a thriving shopping center. Yet downtown languished, as proposals for various public facilities came to naught.
During the two decades after the collapse of the original arena proposal, voters amended the city charter to institute a particularly harsh version of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Douglas Bruce’s tax limitation and reduction measure. Voters also approved a Broadmoor hotel-sponsored initiative that forbids the city to spend any funds to study the feasibility of a publicly funded convention center. Both measures, many would argue, negatively affected downtown.
Hoping to accelerate downtown development, property owners created three different urban renewal areas — Southwest Downtown in 2001, the City Auditorium Block in 2004 and CityGate in 2007. Despite the success of URAs in outlying areas that include the University Village and Polaris Pointe developments, the downtown URAs went nowhere. While URAs can enable developers to fund infrastructure with tax increment financing, projects thus funded must be commercially viable. Thanks to the recessions of 2001 and 2008, downtown landowners were reluctant to break ground on major new projects.
Shortly after Mayor Steve Bach took office in 2011, he authorized city economic development manager Bob Cope to investigate funding downtown improvements through the state’s recently enacted Regional Tourism Act. Intended to boost Colorado’s then-depressed visitor industry, the RTA offered state tax increment financing to help construct large-scale regional tourism projects. The city’s four-part “City for Champions” project application was approved in 2013. Two parts were downtown: the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame and the Colorado Sports and Events Center.
Thanks to a support group headed by the extraordinary Dick Celeste, the Olympic Museum moved swiftly along. Never more than a vague concept, the Sports and Events Center had been touted as “a new one-of-a-kind stadium that will host regional and national sporting events associated with the Olympic movement.” The project stumbled through various iterations until last year, when the plan was reborn as a two-stadium hybrid. One would be Weidner Field, an outdoor soccer stadium sponsored by the owners of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, while the other would be Colorado College’s Robson Arena, “a multi-purpose state-of-the-art sporting event venue” that would be home to CC hockey.
Replacing a single large multipurpose arena with two smaller facilities may seem unusual, but the looming December expiration date of state tax increment funding dictated the change. In November, however, the Colorado Economic Development Commission granted the Springs a one-year planning extension, and the work continues.
There is hope both arenas will be open by 2021, joining the Olympic Museum in a long-anticipated downtown trifecta. And just as CSBJ was there to cover the demise of the 1989 arena, we’ll be there for the new ones.