Historic bus benches sold, but city to give OWN the plaques that were on them

       Responding to an appeal from the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) last week, the Mayor's Office has offered to give OWN the metal plaques from 11 historically styled West Colorado Avenue bus benches that the Mountain Metro Transit District removed this year.
       The offer is defined in an e-mail message from Craig Blewitt, Transit Services division manager, that also expresses regret for not telling OWN about the removal plan ahead of time.
       OWN President Welling Clark's request was that the benches themselves be given over, with a goal of using them for “heritage tourism.” However, in his e-mail to Clark, Blewitt points out that they have already been sold at auction (for an average price of $55 each) and that only the plaques have been retained.
       Clark said he believes the plaques themselves have tourism value, although no immediate plan is in the works. “I am thinking we can get a group of residents and businesses together as a steering group and give us some direction,” he told the Westside Pioneer. “I am trying to line up the CVB [Convention & Visitors Bureau] and others to support Western heritage tourism in Old Colorado City and the Westside.”
       Formerly affixed to both sides of the benches, the plaques say “Colorado Avenue: Where Legend Lives.” As reported in past issues of the Pioneer, a total of 32 such benches were installed in 1988 at bus stops between the interstate and 31st Street (except in Old Colorado City, which has its own benches). The '88 project was a joint city/OWN process, funded with grant money, that was coupled with a city decision to ban advertising at those stops.
       That ban, with occasional exceptions, stayed in effect until this year, when the last 11 of the “Legend” benches (which were made of wrought iron and jarrah wood) were replaced with a concrete base/plywood-back style that Mountain Metro now uses citywide. The new benches also are allowed to display advertising - part of a city-stated intent to bring revenue to the financially strapped transit district.
       “We did not have a public process for the replacement of benches,” Blewitt explains in his e-mail to Clark. “It was a clear directive from the approved [mayor-directed] Transit Solutions Team recommendations, and was discussed at the City Council meeting where the TST recommendations were presented. In hindsight, however, I should have contacted the Organization of Westside Neighbors to inform them of our upcoming actions. I take responsibility for not doing that.”
       According to Clark's e-mail to Mayor Steve Bach, the benches had promoted “the West Colorado Avenue tourism corridor that connects the downtown to the historic Westside. The bench slogan, 'Colorado Avenue: Where Legends Live,' was designed to promote the Westside's Western culture and legacy heritage. If there were issues with these benches, the city/Mountain Metro staff should have contacted OWN as the benches were a neighborhood project. The implementation of the concrete, advertising bus benches undermines the multi-decade efforts of OWN working to improve the quality of life of residents and our efforts at promoting heritage tourism on the Westside.”
       Clark's e-mail to Bach also expresses concern that the city did not seek pre-removal public comments and offers to help create a future policy in which “city staff will contact OWN in the beginning stages of any project that will affect the Westside neighborhood.” He further asks, “Will the mayor of Colorado Springs commit to supporting such a public process with OWN? Specifically, that city staff will contact OWN in the beginning stages of any project that will affect the Westside neighborhood?”
       He has not yet received responses to these questions, Clark said this week.
       OWN is the city-recognized advocacy organization for the older Westside.
       After 1988, the city department that had worked with OWN to bring in the historic benches was dissolved, and over time “they were not being maintained and fell into disrepair,” Blewitt's e-mail elaborates. “Ownership was transferred to the Transit Services Division earlier this year. By including these benches and shelters in an advertising zone, they will be inspected and cleaned two times every month - and maintained in good repair by our advertising contractor, as a condition of the contract.”

Westside Pioneer article