The Journal: Celebrating 30 years in business

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April 1, 1989. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had closed the previous week down 2.26 percent at 2243.04. The average interest rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage rose slightly to 11 percent. At the beginning of the year, there were 4,512 single-family homes listed for sale by Realtors and another 728 units by HUD. Average price on the resale market during 1988 was $86,773, up a whopping $49 from the 1987 average.

What better time to start a business publication?

“It is our belief that there is no better time than right now… ,” wrote founder and publisher Chuck Sheldon, introducing the first issue of the Colorado Springs Business Journal to the business community. “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.’”

Sheldon’s sunny optimism clearly appealed to local businesses. The first issue enjoyed broad advertiser support, including from Central Bank, Chase Manhattan, Chick-fil-A, Craddock Development, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and a score of others. The first issue is a lot like today’s paper, with two notable exceptions; no color, except blue on the front page, and no web links, either for the paper or for any advertiser.

In retrospect, it was a golden time for specialty print publications. The internet had yet to disrupt the information delivery business, local television and daily newspapers didn’t have much in-depth business coverage. Similar business journals had succeeded in communities across the country — so why not in Colorado Springs?

In the predigital world of 1989, the tables, charts and indexes that the CSBJ published on the center spread may have been useful. If you picked up the first issue, you might have noted that, at $394.90, an ounce of gold cost half as much as the $880 full-fare round trip ticket to New York City. Ten-year U.S. bonds yielded 9.5 percent, only fractionally above the 9.41 percent of 90-day T-bills. But the dreaded inverted yield curve was there; two-year Treasury notes yielded 9.87 percent.

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The Colorado Springs economy remained in the doldrums during CSBJ’s first year. Troop levels were slashed at Fort Carson, high technology firms shed jobs and consolidated and voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to build a taxpayer-funded downtown sports arena. Yet the CSBJ found its niche in the community, growing its roster of advertisers and covering every aspect of local business. Exploring the paper’s early days, we looked at print issues from 1989, 1993 and 2003. And while the paper’s reporting on high-tech, the tourism industry and military-related business issues was frequent and thorough, real estate and development as well as government and politics seem to have attracted the most attention.

Politics and government

During its first year, the CSBJ featured syndicated columnists such as Tom Peters and Bob Gabele and further bolstered its editorial content with local contributors. The paper sometimes focused on business issues that had drawn little attention in our conservative city.

On March 15, 1990, Colorado Springs attorney Susan Campbell wrote a guest editorial titled “Dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace.” Readers would have learned that a recent Colorado federal court decision meant that “a pattern of sexual jokes and remarks in the workplace, profanity, and negative attitudes toward women can make the employer liable under federal civil rights laws.” It’s a prescient and powerful piece, one that still resonates 30 years later.

On Nov. 1, 1989, the paper interviewed now-legendary Colorado Springs Mayor Bob Isaac, then in his 10th year in office. The questions were frank and tough, but Isaac didn’t flinch. Here’s one exchange:

CSBJ: Who are these people who want to shoot you down? It’s not as if you’ve been corrupt.

Mayor Bob: If you find out who it is, ask them and find out their motivation. I am not going to speculate on anything publicly.

CSBJ: What about the 5-4 split on Council? Are members voting against you personally, or for the interests of the electorate?

Mayor Bob: There’s definitely a group working on their own agenda.

CSBJ: It seems you are more respected nationally than locally. (Isaac served as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1990-1991.)

Mayor Bob: Most people are. They don’t see all their blemishes.

By 1993, the Journal was solidly established in the community. Its  page count had increased substantially, its advertising base had expanded and it catered to the moderate progressives of the business community. Columnist Peggy James reported on city government, while Sheldon continued to feud with Mayor Bob. In February, the mayor had refused the Colorado Bar Association’s request to specifically welcome gay and lesbian members of the CBA to its annual convention at The Broadmoor. Sounds simple enough, but the passage of Amendment 2 in November 1992 had led to nationwide boycotts against Colorado. Amendment 2, created by Colorado Springs-based Colorado for Family Values, explicitly denied equal protection of the law to gay and lesbian citizens. Isaac refused to sign such a letter, reportedly saying “Do you mean I have to invite the queers?” The CBA cancelled the convention, costing the local economy an estimated $1 million. Sheldon blasted him for doing so, noting that “given the opportunity to squelch the flames, he fanned them.”

In the Aug. 15 issue, the Journal took note of a proposed new entrant in the local newspaper business.

“Colorado Springs will be the nation’s 85th city to provide a weekly newspaper to be fashioned along lines similar to other weeklies affiliated with the Alternate News Services,” wrote Scott Campbell. “Founders John Weiss and Kathryn Eastburn identify the El Paso County area as a market waiting to happen, and say that the paper will greatly serve the need for a moderate voice in the city… an official announcement is expected shortly. A fall start is planned.”

The Independent printed its first issue that fall, and would purchase the CSBJ in June 2012.

Real estate and development

Until the Journal was acquired by Dolan Media in 2003, each issue featured a signed editorial by Sheldon, whose comments often generated reader feedback.

Noting on Sept. 1, 1989, that developer Frank Aries had just surrendered the 24,310-acre Banning-Lewis Ranch to the Resolution Trust Corporation, Sheldon wrote “My heart goes out to Frank Aries… . A man larger than life who attempted a tremendous undertaking and was intensely civic minded.” Reader Jo Crawford’s furious response: “It appalls me that an editor of a business paper can praise Frank Aries. It appears to me that he had no equity in the deal and we, the taxpayers, are left to absorb a $150 million loss. Praise Aries? Give me a break. He should be tarred and feathered and run out of town.”

Four years later, the local economy was strong and the CSBJ’s coverage often included industry-focused special sections. The 36-page May 1 issue focused on commercial real estate and included several long pieces by local luminaries.

The late Bob Hoff, the co-founder of today’s robust brokerage Hoff & Leigh, wrote about “the squeeze on industrial space.”

“It’s hard to believe,” said Hoff, “that we should come from surplus to scarcity in a couple of years. But scarcity exists in the industrial market.”

Les Gruen, then with Palmer McAllister, marveled at the overall strength of the market,

“Over the course of just three months,” he wrote, “apartment vacancy rates plummeted from 5.5 [percent to 0.4 percent. [In late 1991] Colorado Springs began to see the first wave of migration related to the arrival of Focus on the Family, MCI and Apple Computer.”

Such migration, Gruen believed, would continue and accelerate, leading to a surge in speculative commercial projects.

The boom continued until the early 2000s. Sheldon and Powell sold the CSBJ in 1999 to Minneapolis-based Dolan Media and the now-weekly paper blossomed with special sections, sponsored events and color pages.

One such section made its debut in the May 30, 2003, issue.

“We are very proud to present our first Annual Men of the New Millennium publication,” the CSBJ informed its readers. “Through this publication, we hope to introduce some of the men who have made a difference in Colorado Springs… Thank you to our faithful advertisers for making this special publication a success!” The section included leaders in real estate, finance and other sectors.

A year later, the paper had a new editor (Mike Boyd) and a new publisher (Lon Matejczyk). The Millennium men were put out to pasture, and the section was replaced by the first iteration of the CSBJ’s Women of Influence, a signature feature of the paper that has flourished ever since.

In the July 4, 2003, issue, Becky Hurley reported that residential real estate sales were strong, but commercial was slumping. Apartment vacancy rates had increased from 7.2 percent to 14.4 percent, thanks in part to the deployment of 11,000 troops from Fort Carson in April. Yet the slumping market apparently offered opportunities for canny buyers.

“Broker Doug Carter represented the Independent Weekly News,” wrote Hurley of the Business Journal’s current home, “in transferring ownership of the historic Smokebrush Building, located at South Nevada and Vermijo. Selling price was $360,000 for the 9,240 square-foot building and a 1,281 square-foot adjacent residence.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.