Hughes tells Old Town’s story
Former Colorado City downtown hit hard times before late ‘70s ‘rebirth’
Dave Hughes summarized the “rebirth” of Old Colorado City in a presentation before about 75 people Jan. 8.
Making use of projected PowerPoint slides, the hour-long talk at the Old Colorado City History Center started with background on how the area had slowly declined before 1975, with key impacts including the Golden Cycles mill and Midland railroad closing in 1949 and the Highway 24 bypass being built in 1963 (taking traffic out of Old Colorado City).
By the 1970s, the average Westsiders' income was only two-thirds that of city residents as a whole, Hughes said. Meanwhile, 50 of 92 commercial buildings on Colorado Avenue between 24th and 27th streets were vacant, home values were low and banks had even stopped lending in the area, he recounted.
As a value example, Hughes pointed to his own house (with rental cottage) on 24th Street, which he bought in 1977 for $30,000. “Now it's being taxed at $200,000,” he said.
But in the 1970s, it was part of the Westside that the city defined as a place of “slum and blight,” Hughes said. An urban renewal plan that would have demolished Old Colorado City's older buildings was considered at one point. But Hughes, working with local merchants, property owners, residents, city officials and bankers, helped develop a plan that “focused on small businesses, loan incentives and preservation of Victorian-era buildings,” he said.
Instead of demolition, by 1982 Old Colorado City became a National Historic District.
Through the loan program he helped manage, Hughes reported that by 1994 a total of $1,124,329 had been loaned to 35 small businesses, and “the city never lost a cent,” Hughes said.
Using figures from 1996 compared with 1976, he said that in the earlier year Old Colorado City had 32 operating businesses, while 20 years later there were 100. Over the same time span, retail sales grew from $2.5 million to $15 million, and the number of employees from 300 to 1,000.
Many contributing aspects that started in the late 1970s remain, including the volunteer Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) that runs the History Center, the city's Neighborhood Strategy Area that makes the older Westside eligible for federally funded public improvements, the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) that is a liaison between residents and the city and the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District that takes care of public amenities and parking lots that were built back then.
Another continuation from that era is Territory Days, which has somewhat blurred beginnings. Gene Brent, an Old Town merchant during that era, claims the first was in 1975, when Manitou's Buffalo Barbecue and parade was moved to Old Colorado City. Then in 1976, after Hughes got involved with Old Colorado City while organizing the city's state centennial activities, the parade was tied in with an effort to get state Legislature approval of a tax incentive that would help Old Colorado City's revitalization effort. (However, in his presentation, which is also posted now on the OCCHS website, Hughes dated the tax-incentive T-Days as occurring in '75.) In any case, the event continued as a historically themed parade for several years after that before evolving into the three-day, Memorial Day weekend festival it is today.
Now 81, Hughes sees a bright future for the Westside, with a continuing historical focus and more “knowledge workers with personal computers and broadband providing services from small-office spaces and homes.” Overall, he said, the Westside is the “best place to live, work, study and play in El Paso County.”
Westside Pioneer article