New OCCA president wants to get word out about Old Town’s virtues

       Seventeen years ago, Jim Heikes decided to learn how to make chandeliers out of antlers. It eventually led to a business enterprise that includes his Thunder Mountain Trading Company at 2508 W. Colorado Ave.
       Now Heikes has found a new challenge. Serving as president of the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group might not be quite as tricky as antler chandeliers, but he knows it won't be easy - what with increasing shopping-center competition, the loss of a major annual event (the St. Patrick's Day Parade), limited resources and a higher-than-usual number of empty storefronts in the historic shopping district along the avenue between 24th and 27th streets.
       “I thought maybe I could lead,” said Heikes, who was chosen last week by his 10 fellow board members who, like him, had been elected to one-year terms by the OCCA membership in early January. “It's a new board, with new ideas, thoughts and direction. It's worth the challenge.”
       He replaces past president Carole Jourdan, who chose not to run for re-election this year.
       Heikes brings a tangible new perspective to the president's position. He is the first in recent memory to also be a member of the City Council-appointed Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District's advisory committee. That group, consisting of Old Colorado City property owners, plans upgrades and beautification efforts - often in conjunction with OCCA. Because some people (even City Council) sometimes confuse the two entities, Heikes said, “It's kind of nice (to be on both boards). I can be a liaison person between them.”
       Heikes' main goal as president of OCCA, not surprisingly, is to improve the business climate in Old Town. To accomplish this, there needs to be a larger, “more unified” membership working together on effective marketing strategies and events that will attract people to the district. “I think this is a pearl, a gem of Colorado Springs,” he said. “We need to do more to let people know this is a great place to visit.”
       More specifically, popular annual OCCA-sponsored events - namely the Easter Egg Hunt, the Car Show, Scarecrow Days and It's Christmas in Old Colorado City - will continue but in some cases have new twists, Heikes said. Toward this end, the group is looking at changing from a system where a paid director (also an OCCA member) does much of the event-organizing legwork to one where a contracted events planner takes the lead. Even now, a board subcommittee is starting a search for such a person (unaffected would be Territory Days, which has been handled for years by Lynda Dunne, Heikes said). Recommendations from the subcommittee are anticipated by the end of February.
       But this doesn't mean the board won't have much to do. “All of us have to get involved in different areas,” Heikes said. And, he hopes to greatly expand the OCCA membership - currently 42 businesses, about half of the district total - to further spread the effort around.
       As for the St. Patrick's Day Parade (which private organizer John O'Donnell is moving downtown this year), Heikes said the OCCA is working on lining up an annual event of its own (though not at the same time of year) that can hopefully fill the gap left by the parade's loss.

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