Stories of the year:
COSMIX shifts into high gear

       An interstate project with particular impacts on the Westside tops the Westside Pioneer's Stories of the Year for 2006.
       1. COSMIX/I-25: The I-25 widening project, also known as COSMIX, slowed traffic north of Fillmore Street through the first three-quarters of 2006 until a third lane each way was completed. As 2007 started, COSMIX crews were shifting into high gear on the segment they started last fall that includes the Bijou Street, Colorado Avenue and Cimarron Street bridges.
       As described in greater detail in the adjoining story, the key part of the work will be the replacement of the Bijou bridge, starting with demolition activity Jan. 2. This will mean Bijou dead-ending at the interstate until the new bridge is complete in October 2007, according to the schedule by COSMIX contractor Rockrimmon Constructors.
       When completed late next year, the $150 million COSMIX project will have widened I-25 through Colorado Springs to three lanes each way. However, COSMIX funding was insufficient to build two major interchanges - at Cimarron Street/Highway 24 and at Fillmore Street - at this time.
       2. Old Colorado City businesses - The year marked the 30th anniversary of the small-business loan program that helped save Colorado City's long-ago downtown from the wrecking ball. But it was also a year that offered new challenges to the historic shopping area on Colorado Avenue between 24th and 27th streets. Although occupancy rates remained high, three long-time major stores either left or called it quits in 2006: Simpich Character Dolls, the Villagers Antiques and the Guinea Pigg. Also, Colorado Springs city government, responding to complaints from some residents and business people, held public meetings and initiated other efforts to minimize impacts from major events in Old Town. These included increased cleanup and policing efforts, chiefly at the sponsors' expense, for the traditional St. Patrick's Day and Territory Days events. The city also disallowed proposed concerts on the avenue and in Bancroft or Vermijo parks after the Jefferson Starship concert (see story #6).
       Another pain for Old Colorado City business: increased parking-meter rates. However, the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District won City Council approval to reinvest some of the new parking revenue into a repaving of the district's free public parking lots. (see story #16).

       3. Gold Hill Police Substation - After a 13-year absence, a bricks-and-mortar police presence returned to the Westside in March. The 28,000-square- foot building, peopled by about 200 employees (including 130 police officers) opened on a 5.1-acre site at 955 W. Moreno Ave. “Gold Hill” is the name of the Colorado Springs Police division that includes the Westside. Unlike the former Gold Hill substation in the Midland area (prior to the division's move downtown in 1993), the new substation is a 24-hour, full-service facility. Commander Kurt Pillard said he hoped the facility's proximity might reduce response times in the immediate area. One building feature that is becoming popular is the large community room. The space has already been used for numerous meetings, including a City Council “Take It to the Streets,” and meetings of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and the Highway 24 Working Group.

       4. Highway 24 - Engineers for the Colorado Department of Transpor-tation (CDOT) used 2006 to narrow in on a “preferred alternative” (expected in early 2007) for a major expansion of the roughly 4 1/2-mile stretch of Highway 24 between I-25 and Manitou Springs. Based on recent meetings with the Working Group (an informal consortium of area leaders), the preferred alternative will likely call for full interchanges at 8th and 21st streets and a partial interchange at 15th to handle future traffic in and out of Gold Hill Mesa. In 2006, state engineers also promoted the project as a potential enhancement of the entire corridor, including its creek and hiking trails; however, as the year came to an end, considerable uncertainty remained as to how much such amenities would be funded by CDOT, when and if federal funding comes in.
       Supporters of an alternate, smaller expansion plan had a major disappointment in December, when the CDOT project team revealed that a citizen-proposed four-lane “shortcut” between 14th or 15th and Broadway Street to alleviate traffic at the 21st Street intersection - which had been shown on all CDOT plans for most of the year - was not actually being considered.
       Other updates: CDOT gave itself and its engineering consultants another year and another $1 million to plan the project (new total: $8.5 million) and extended the goal of finalizing the federally required Environmental Assessment a year to 2009.
       5. Gold Hill Mesa - After grading got underway on Phase 1 of the 210-acre development in late 2005, the first buildings began to appear in 2006. Nearing completion on the former Golden Cycle gold-milling site are the 20,000-square-foot community center, eight model single-family homes and one model fourplex, with a possible grand opening in February, according to a spokesperson for the Gold Hill Mesa Township Limited Liability Corporation, the investment company that is in charge of the development.
       Phase 1 is a roughly 52-acre area on the highest part of the property, just north of Lower Gold Camp Road. The city has approved two filings there of 306 homes. Concept plans for the whole area indicate about 1,000 homes and 67 acres of commercial development.
       Site work in 2006 also included elimination of the decades-old, vertical erosion scars along the hillside above Highway 24 and start of work on a water retention pond near Fountain Creek, to prevent mill tailings from washing into the creek.
       6. Jefferson Starship concert - In an event that is not likely ever to be repeated in Old Colorado City, the Jefferson Starship - or at least a band of notable musicians containing one of the famous early rock band's original members (Paul Kantner) - performed a free concert in the 2600 block of West Colorado Avenue before about 5,000 people May 6. Set on a large, temporary stage facing east from 27th Street and Colorado Avenue, the concert closed off the avenue on a Saturday. Including three warm-up bands, the concert lasted about nine hours. Although no major problems were reported and numerous business people said they thought it was good for business, a few others objected to some of the crowd activities, and Old Colorado City businessman Charlie Cagaio's proposal for a subsequent avenue concert spurred a petition to stringently limit avenue closures. City Parks, concerned about the opposition, discouraged Cagaio from any future concerts in Old Colorado City (on the street as well as Bancroft and Vermijo parks). Another downside to the concert: Cagiao and the sponsoring Old Colorado City Associates merchants group failed to obtain as much sponsorship money as hoped, resulting in a financial loss for OCCA.
       7. Business changes - Outside of Old Colorado City, the Westside gained and lost some businesses this year. The most prominent departure is Coca- Cola, which will be moving in January to a larger Eastside location after half a century on the Near Westside. Planning to move is Van Briggle Pottery, which has been at Highway 24 and 21st Street over half a century, although the business is to remain at that site while the Stevenson family, which owns it, scouts for a new location.
       Popular additions to the Westside business world include the new KFC, four new coffeehouses (Cucuru, Samba Brasil, Java Buddha and Agia Sophia), four restaurants (Sakura, Coda Café, Café Molina and Café Muckori) and two pet stores (KR Pet-N-Feed and Fish & Feathers). Construction started on a new, free- standing Walgreens at the Uintah Gardens shopping center.
       Changes in existing businesses included Bargain Mart relocating from Manitou Springs, Pester Marketing/1st Stop buying the Farm Crest stores, Jeff Summers becoming the new owner of Meadow Muffins, and Chuck Murphy selling the Garden of the Gods Campground to a San Diego property group.
       8. Holmes Middle School and Howbert Elementary academics - Both schools gained the coveted Excellent ranking for the first time on the annual Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) tests. Holmes additionally was named a John J. Irwin School of Excellence by scoring in the top 8 percent of middle schools in Colorado. It was the sixth best middle school in the state for schools that have between 24 and 34 percent Title 1 (lower income) students.
       9. Westside public schools' bond issue work - Voters authorized funding for a $131.7 million buildings bond issue in 2005, and the work will eventually touch all the Westside schools. The first projects were last summer at Jackson, Buena Vista, Ivywild and Pike elementaries. Other than Jackson's new parking lot/drive-through loop, the work mainly involved facility upgrades.
       Coming up in summer 2007 will be major projects at three Westside schools - so major that Washington and Bristol schools will let out three weeks early and Holmes one week so that contractors can finish before the fall semester starts. The work will redo the interiors of Washington and Bristol schools. Washington, along with Holmes, will get a new geothermal system to provide climate control (and the equivalent of air-conditioning).
       Another major summer bond-issue project will be a new auditorium on the site of the old one at Coronado High. Work is expected to continue at least until December '07.
       10. Centennial Boule-vard extension - For years, the extension of Centennial Boulevard, south from Fillmore Street to the Fontanero interchange, has existed on City Planning maps, but in 2006 it started taking form. In the meantime, with the road being built on different schedules as part of three individual development projects, plans for the time being call for the road not to continue below the Colorado Springs Health Partners property south of Fillmore Street, to avoid cut-through traffic onto neighborhood streets in the Mesa Springs neighborhood.
       11. Merrifield, Morse elected - John Morse, formerly Silver Key Senior Services CEO, defeated incumbent District 11 State Senator Ed Jones to join District 18 Representative Michael Merrifield as the second Democrat in the Statehouse from El Paso County. In the election Nov. 7, Merrifield won his third term in office, besting Republican challenger Kyle Fisk. With the Democrats controlling both houses in the Colorado Legislature, Merrifield stays on as chair of the House Education Committee. In separate interviews before the election, both Morse and Merrifield said their highest legislative priority was implementing health care changes that would make insurance affordable to everyone.
       12. Development projects - Several very visible developments were being worked on this year. These include the following residential projects: Indian Hills Village (29 acres, 80 units), Red Rock Canyon Estates (18 acres, 18 units) and Indian Heights Casitas (2 acres, 15 units); and non-residential projects: the Colorado Springs Health Partners medical campus, Calvary Worship Center addition, the Center on Centennial rehabilitation medical facility, the Bank at Broadmoor- Westside and Emergicare (emergency health facility).
       The new Red Rock Center KFC/A&W and Uintah King Soopers gas station were started and completed in 2006.
       Approved but not yet started is the Villas at Mesa Park (4.1 acres, 11 units) residential project.
       The controversial Victorian Heights subdivision for Habitat for Humanity (3 acres, 12 units) was approved by City Planning Commission - despite nearly 100 percent neighborhood opposition - then turned down by City Council, chiefly because of hillside stability concerns.
       13. Red Rock Canyon Open Space - Colorado Springs Parks has upgraded the 788.1-acre public property every year since buying it in December 2003, and this year was no exception. A permanent parking lot went in at the main entrance off Highway 24. Also, a secondary trailhead was constructed at 31st Street, along with a trail connection from there to the central part of the park.
       This trail, in turn, allowed the city to open about 2 miles of previously existing trail in the eastern part of Red Rock. A half-mile of new trail went in, nearly completing a link-up of the three canyons at the southern end of the open space.
       14. Market/fair at Vermijo Park - For several years, a controversy had raged over the use of Bancroft Park on summer Saturdays, with the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group concerned about business losses from the JEI organization's weekly craft fair.
       A change in City Council policy limited such profit-making in Bancroft to one Saturday a month; this led to the start of a new JEI craft fair/farmers' market in Vermijo Park in 2006.
       15. Proposed Bear Creek golf course - A heated reaction met this proposal by former U.S. Golf Association President Judy Bell and business associate Carl Donner. The proponents suggested placing it on the open park land off 21st Street south of Rio Grande Street, and pricing it so that indigent children could afford to play there and learn the game. However, a large crowd of opponents turned out for a public meeting at the Bear Creek Nature Center, and the proposal was withdrawn.
       16. Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District - Old Colorado City can look forward to a roughly $100,000 repaving of its public parking lots this year, thanks to the District Advisory Committee's successful argument to the city that it was being short-changed on a proposal for how to spend the increased revenues from a citywide increase in the rates for paid public parking. The district was less successful in advocating for a stoplight or crosswalk at 24th Street and Colorado Avenue. City Manager Lorne Kramer, pledged a crosswalk at a July 5 committee meeting, but backed off when his Traffic Engineering director advised against it.
       A district effort to enforce newsbox pollution backfired, when the city's revocable permits officer used the opportunity to find dozens of permit violations (but none with newsboxes).
       17. Silver Key transportation - Westside-based Silver Key Senior Services gained $400,000 in new funding from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) in 2006 (and $200,000 for '07). The money helps the non-profit agency for the elderly cover $1 million in costs to bus about 60,000 seniors to individual destinations. Getting the RTA funding was a bit of a struggle because of issues with Silver Key's trip-accounting records, but the RTA was pleased with the agency's willingness to expand its area beyond Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs to take in unincorporated western-county areas.
       18. Library fund-raising - The Old Colorado City Branch Library, working with the Pikes Peak Library District, managed to gather the necessary $809,000 for Phase 2 of its Carnegie Library preservation project, which is planned to commence this spring. A combination of grants, donations and a loan from a district trust fund put the fund-raising over the top. The work will essentially gut the interior of the library and require it to be closed about six months, according to plans.
       19. Pleasant Valley entryway - The Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Association completed long efforts to create an entryway facing northbound traffic on 31st Street. The stone “Pleasant Valley” sign is surrounded by landscaping that's tended by association volunteers. The roughly 45-year-old neighborhood numbers 840 homes on either side of 31st.
       20. Crown Hill Mesa gets park - After several years of waiting, the more than 300-home Crown Hill Mesa subdivision off Lower Gold Camp Road is anticipating completion of a 5-acre neighborhood park. The $600,000 facility will include a soccer/baseball field, playground, pavilions, basketball court and open space with trails. Construction began in the fall, with the playground going in first and other amenities due for completion this spring.
       Honorable mentions - A citizen effort, supported by County Parks administration, led to a small-dog area being added to El Paso County's 20-acre Bear Creek Dog Park at 21st and Rio Grande streets. The 1 ¾ -acre space near the park entrance is fenced off from the rest of the park, so that dogs 25 pounds or less have an off-leash place to themselves.… Westside businesswoman/civic leader Sallie Clark, who has represented the county's Commissioner District 3 since January 2005, was voted chair of the Board of County Commissioners for 2006… There was a flap on the Westside last winter when the U.S. Postal Service briefly stopped accepting addresses with fractions in them; eventually, it turned out that the policy had been established by a single employee, and it was rescinded… The Norris- Penrose Event Center completed its $2 million entry facility last spring, with a grand opening July 11. The turret-ornamented building, which replaces a small, one- story ticket booth at the east end of the stadium, has two covered stories, plus usable roof space… An 8 ½-mile segment of Gold Camp Road was no closer to opening after a high-level U.S. Forest Service official overruled a 2005 decision that would have opened the road to one-way traffic. The action concluded a $290,000 study.

Westside Pioneer article