WESTSIDE'S STORIES OF THE YEAR - 2014
No disasters, so 'sprucing up' (and a lot of it) took the lead
In a year without a huge story on the Westside - not a bad thing after consecutive years of fires and floods - a range of events, projects and outcomes “competed” for the top spot in the Westside Pioneer's top 20 Stories of the Year for 2014.
The two planned freeway interchanges (Cimarron and Fillmore) are going to have a massive impact - during and after construction - but both remained in the planning stages at year's end (although Fillmore was close - see story above). Similar statements could be made for projects in No Man's Land along
It was only after perusing a year's worth of Pioneer articles that an undeniable sort of pattern emerged. A surge of key developments, renovations and changes - all but one of them in the private sector - boosted the Westside in 2014. A few of these have been given Stories of the Year rankings of their own, but cumulatively they amount to what we've called…
1. Sprucing up the old place - Here's a list of significant efforts, starting with that one in the public sector:
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Lindstrom Clinic on Fillmore Hill, a much-needed (especially in a military town) consolidation of medical services and, in a year of VA health scandals nationwide, noteworthy for not having any.
And on the entrepreneurial side:
- The Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, a renovation and expansion that adds even more class to perhaps the most naturally stunning city park in America.
- The Sentinel Ridge development, including a rehab/assisted living facility that's now in construction on Fillmore Street across from Coronado High.
- The Holiday Inn Express, keeping the shell of the former county welfare building on North Spruce Street but getting a completely new interior and exterior.
- Gold Hill Mesa, whose developers continue to grow neighborhoods on land they'd previously spent years reclaiming from cyanide-laced mill tailings.
- The Palmer House Redevelopment. Named after a one-time popular hotel that had to be demolished northwest of Fillmore Street and I-25 seven years ago, it's finally attracting commercial interest.
- The Garden of the Gods Gourmet, renovating and relocating to a long underutilized restaurant site at 26th Street and Highway 24.
- The Welcome Center, a facility to greet visitors, created by the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) business group inside a long-vacant historic house.
- Mother Muff's, filling the restaurant/ nightclub void at Old Colorado City's main intersection (25th and Colorado) left by the closing last summer of Meadow Muffins.
- The Westside Outreach Clinic - a doctor two hours a week for uninsured/underinsured patients in the Penrose-St. Francis Health Services' Nurses Center at the Westside Community Center.
- The Colorado Springs Health Partners Urgent Care Clinic, open daily (but not 24/7) in the historic Roundhouse building.
- MorningStar at Bear Creek, a center for Alzheimers or dementia patients, which buttresses the senior-care theme along that part of Lower Gold Camp Road.
2. Interchange projects - After some funding hiccups that led to construction-start delays, both the $116 million Cimarron/I-25 and $13 million Fillmore/I-25 projects are on pace to break ground this year. Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) officials say Fillmore's contractor will reportedly get going in late January, with Cimarron tentatively scheduled for October. Both are regional-priority projects that will replace interchanges over a half-century old. Expected completion years are 2016 for Fillmore and 2017 for Cimarron. A year ago, the picture looked earlier and less expensive, with officials predicting Fillmore getting started by early 2014 (for $11 million) and Cimarron in spring 2015 (for $95 million). But bureaucratic delays in a new state transportation funding program slowed Fillmore's progress, then both projects got caught up in a statewide trend for radically increased contractor costs, which cost more time in the scramble to find additional funds, both at the state and local levels. Even now, the Cimarron budget lacks an estimated $3 million needed for landscaping, although state officials pledge that it will be taken care of somehow.
3. No Man's Land and Adams Crossing - Since 2012, a project team consisting of engineers from Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and a hired consulting firm has been studying how best to implement a major upgrade of Colorado/ Manitou Avenue between about 32nd Street and Manitou's Highway 24 interchange. Although some issues still need to be worked out, that study - called the Westside Avenue Action Plan (WAAP) - is still on track for a $15 million construction project that will begin late this year, funded mainly by Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority funds. Key project decisions made so far, with public input, include reducing the traffic lanes from four to two (with a center lane), moving the roadway north about 10 feet (requiring partial property purchases) and building/designing a new bridge over Fountain Creek at Columbia Road north of the current one. A non-engineering decision that gained a citizen consensus in 2014 was to call the new bridge by the location's historic name of Adams Crossing, in honor of Charles Adams, a man of accomplishment who lived there in the late 1800s. Another public meeting is expected sometime this spring.
4. Lindstrom VA Clinic - The new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) outpatient clinic on the Westside's Fillmore Hill opened in August. A $10 million project under construction since a celebrity groundbreaking on Veterans Day in 2012, the 76,731-square-foot, three-story facility at 3141 Centennial Blvd. consolidates and expands medical services in the Colorado Springs area, according to VA officials. The building is on an 18-acre site on the east side of Centennial, just south of Fillmore Street. A city bus now makes a regular stop there. The clinic is named after PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom, a local resident whose heroism in World War II earned him a Medal of Honor and Silver Star before being killed in battle in 1944. The clinic construction had originally been slated to finish in May. The reason for the schedule slip was lost time by the contractor due to the heavy rains of August and September 2013, according to a VA spokesperson.
5. Camp Creek's future - After an engineering study with several public meetings - the last of which was in April - the city and citizens agreed that the best of three alternatives was a $37 million plan. All the alternatives were estimated at more than $30 million, with the intent of improving the creek's flow and preventing future flooding. The chosen plan will include widening the ditch along 31st Street through Pleasant Valley (while giving it a park-like appearance and putting a trail along its side), building a detention/sediment collection pond in the north part of the Garden of the Gods, realigning part of the creek through Rock Ledge Ranch and replacing cross-street bridges with larger ones. A downside to the ditch widening is the roadway being closer to the homes on 31st, which will be at the expense of 31st Street residents' off-street parking or parkway space. For project funding, city officials are looking into different types of grants; they've also suggested phasing the work over time, using city funds that might be available.
6. Dearly departed - Several influential Westsiders passed on in 2014:
- Irving Howbert, the grandson of the early Colorado City pioneer by the same name. He himself had helped the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) in republishing his father's autobiography in recent years.
- Dr. Robert (R.G.) Dunbar, pastor of the Lighthouse Temple, a Westside church that he started in 1959 with his wife Vernice, who preceded him in death in 2011.
- Mark Hesse, founder of the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI), whose work includes drainage control at the Garden of the Gods.
- Jan Simpich, artist and co-founder of Simpich Character Dolls, who created dolls and ran the internationally popular business with her husband Bob from 1952 to 2006 (the last 28 years in Old Colorado City).
- Dr. Richard Beidleman, a college science professor and namesake for the Beidleman Center; he is credited with leading the effort that resulted in saving what is now Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site from becoming a subdivision in the 1960s.
- Ted Foltz, a Pikes Peak Hill Climb racing champion and member of the Colorado Motor Sports Hall of Fame.
- Gene Smith, a City Parks employee who guided the historic restoration of Rock Ledge Ranch from its first public programs in 1977 until his retirement in 2009.
7. Kum & Go gone - In 2013, the Kum & Go chain was planning to buy properties for two convenience store/gas stations on the older Westside. One of them, in the 2300 block of West Colorado Avenue, faced strong Westside opposition because of perceived incompatibility with Old Colorado City's neighboring historic shopping district, and the company abandoned the idea later that year. The other planned site was the northeast corner of 21st and Broadway streets. Probably because this seemed like a logical location - facing onto the envisioned access to the Gold Hill Mesa development's future commercial area - no opposition materialized. However, in 2014, Kum & Go backed out of that deal too, as part of an apparent pullback from an aggressive strategy that had put 11 stores in the Springs in about a two-year span. Ironically, soon after, the owner of a nearby 7-Eleven bought the 21st Street location. No plans have been announced. But there is one Westside Kum & Go. A new store/station opened in May at Fillmore and Chestnut streets - the first development on the realigned Chestnut and in the Palmer House redevelopment project just north of Fillmore.
8. Goodwill's new 2300 block plan - A year after an unsuccessful attempt to sell its two-acre property on the south side of West Colorado Avenue's 2300 block to Kum & Go (see #7 above), the nonprofit agency has taken the site off the market. The new plan for Goodwill (or Discover Goodwill, as it has rebranded itself) is to expand its vehicle-repair facility there and contract with other entities to service their fleet vehicles. The hoped-for result is an enterprise that will pay for itself while fulfilling Goodwill's mission of providing work opportunities for the disabled and disadvantaged, a company official explained. Also remaining on the south side of the block is the attended donations center, which is open to the public for drop-offs. Goodwill had owned the bulk of the avenue's 2300 block (both sides of the street) next to Old Colorado City for over half a century before moving its headquarters to Garden of the Gods Road in 2012. Junior Achievement has since bought most of the north-side holdings - except the Goodwill retail store, which continues to operate at Colorado and 23rd.
9. Sentinel Ridge/ Mainstreet - In 2009, the Sunrise Company planned to build 88 homes on 45 acres southeast of Fillmore Street and Mesa Road as phase 1 of what was intended to be a four-phase homebuilding plan on 134 acres. But the bottom fell out of the housing market nationwide, and the land remained fallow. In 2014, Sunrise was back with a new plan for the “phase 1” area (although not yet talking about any follow-up phases). The new plan calls for mixed uses on the 45 acres: homes, a church, a rehab/assisted care facility and 15 acres of open space. With smaller lots and attached housing (unlike the former plan) more than twice as many homes could be built. Development started on the care facility in late 2014. The property covers 7.6 acres along Fillmore Street at Grand Vista Drive, with a 2016 opening anticipated. There was one controversy as Sentinel Ridge went through the city approval process. Culminating at City Council, the disagreement involved the 8-acre church site at Fillmore and Mesa. First Evangelical Free Church, on the Westside since the mid-'50s, hopes to buy the parcel and relocate there some day. The Sunrise-proposed zoning would have allowed other low-impact uses, giving the church more selling flexibility if its relocation fell through, but council agreed with Mesa Road residents - worried about excess traffic - to limit the zoning there to allow a church only.
10. Calvary Worship Center expansion plan - A land-use appeal that has raised the suggestion of city religious discrimination will go before City Council Jan. 27. At issue is the proposed major expansion by the church, located off King Street east of 30th. Despite a city staff recommendation that the project would meet city neighborhood goals for infill and redevelopment, the Planning Commission voted in October against Calvary's proposal. The three-phase plan over five years calls for two building demolitions along with two additions totaling about 70,000 square feet and the creation of about 150 new parking spaces. The commission sided with neighbors who argued that it would be too intrusive, cause traffic and parking problems and possibly even disturb a hillside with a history of sloughing. After the 6-0 vote, Calvary Senior Pastor Al Pittman submitted a six-page appeal alleging that the commission decision did not stick to facts, and even reflected “disparate treatment of the church based on its proposed religious uses of the property.” Because of the rezoning request involved, council has final say on the matter … unless it winds up in a courtroom.
11. Stage 4 - About 130 top cyclists from America and other countries competed in the fourth annual, week-long, seven-stage U.S. Pro Challenge. Stage 4 Aug. 21 was in Colorado Springs and featured four 16-mile loops of the downtown and Westside, including segments through Old Colorado City, the Garden of the Gods and a few Westside neighborhoods. The event was lauded as an economic boon for the city, although the race blocked nearly all traffic through the Westside for about four hours. A unique aspect of Stage 4 was a one-man breakaway in the last third of its 70 miles by 42-year-old German cyclist Jens Voigt, who had announced that 2014 was his last year of racing. He held onto his solo lead until about a half a mile from the downtown finish line, when the peleton finally caught up and he was passed by a flurry of sprinters. Elia Viviani put on a final burst with about 200 meters left to claim the Stage 4 victory. The Pro Challenge was ultimately won for the second straight year by American cyclist Tejay Van Garderen.
12. Silver Key to relocate - After starting in the downtown area in 1971, Silver Key Senior Services has been headquartered on the Westside, at 2250 Bott Ave., since 1978. The nonprofit agency helps the region's needy people age 60 and over with transportation, meals and other services. But in 2016, Silver Key plans to move to another part of town. Pending a closing that's scheduled in March, the site will be the Airport Square property on South Murray Boulevard, in southeast Colorado Springs. The purchase price is expected to be more than $1 million. According to Lorri Orwig, Silver Key's chief development officer, the move-in date will be no sooner than “early 2016.” As part of that, the agency will embark on a fundraising campaign for renovations at the Murray site. A feasibility study determined that $4.5 to $6 million could be raised through fundraising, she said. Earlier in the year, Silver Key had made an offer, accepted by District 11, to buy the former (now vacant) Bates Elementary School. Orwig said the agency was forced to back out after determining that the property's renovation cost “would have significantly exceeded” what could be fundraised. In relocating, Silver Key's goal is to be more centralized in a larger building - one that's in better shape than the Bott building - on a site that has room for expansion, Orwig explained.
13. Flood-prevention work - Camp Creek and the two Douglas creeks, three principal drainages through the Westside, suffered flooding damage after the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire. In response, the city began an in-depth study of Camp Creek's needs (see Story #5 on Page 7). In the meantime, the city made emergency repairs in all three drainages. There were two on Camp Creek. One project, costing $200,000, built a roughly 4-acre sediment basin at the north end of the Garden of the Gods. The basin will work in conjunction with a future, larger detention pond in that area, planned as part of the Camp Creek study. The other Camp Creek project in 2014 paid a contractor $350,000 to repair broken concrete in the Pleasant Valley ditch. Both Douglas Creeks start in the hilly areas north and west of Garden of the Gods Road, but cross under it in concrete-lined ditches as they drain southeast toward Monument Creek. The city spent $5.1 million in 2014 on both drainages, repairing concrete bottoms, building/maintaining sediment catchment basins, planting grasses and bushes upstream to offset burn-area vegetation loss, cutting down trees in drainages and installing creek-monitoring cameras. Other area flood-damage efforts have been in Bear Creek Regional Park, where El Paso County Parks is doing work on and around various trails and roads, at a total cost of about $350,000.
14. Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center - A major renovation/expansion project that curtailed interior space, programs and business hours throughout 2014 is nearing the finish line. The improvements are due for completion May 15, in time for a planned celebration of the 20-year anniversary of the non-profit facility, which faces toward the Garden at 1805 N. 30th St. The upgrades affect nearly all parts of the two-story building, including a broader stairwell (from 4 ½ to 7 feet wide), consolidation of the two gift shops, the theater's relocation from the second floor to the first and an addition near the old north door that will allow more exhibit space. The contractor is Art Klein Construction, which built the center new in 1995. The center is owned and operated by the Garden of the Gods Foundation, a nonprofit entity that donates a percentage of its customer revenues to maintenance of the park. The anniversary improvements are being funded through a private donation.
15. OCCA Welcome Center - The Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) bought a vacant, two-story 1899 Victorian-style house at 2324 W. Colorado Ave., renovated it and opened it for use in October. The first floor is styled after the Convention and Visitors bureau downtown, where visitors can drop in to use the bathrooms, pick up information on such aspects as lodging, restaurants, attractions and events. In addition to a welcome center, the 1,638-square-foot, structure will become OCCA headquarters, including office and storage space that the group formerly had to lease. Two upstairs rooms have been converted into offices that are now being leased to other businesses; also, the OCCA is offering its downstairs meeting room for rent to other groups, as needed.
16. OWN defunded - Nearly 40 years after the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) formed to help rally residents in the city's battle against Westside blight, the city has stopped funding the volunteer group, as part of a new direction in the use of federal funds related to blight and poverty. However, OWN President Welling Clark said he and the other board members plan to continue their efforts. These include organizing outreach events (such as the annual picnic or election-timed political forums), providing information about helpful programs and analyzing planned projects or public policy changes affecting the Westside, An opportunity for citizen participation will be March 12 at the annual OWN town hall, which will include election of board members. Five seats are open. The city funding - about $8,000 a year - had once paid most of OWN's costs for printing and mailing its Westside Story newsletter four times a year. Now OWN has stopped publishing it. However, the Westside Pioneer is giving the group news space for a regular column. (See Page 6.)
17. Coronado High - After a lengthy selection process, District 11 named Darin Smith as the new principal of the Westside's flagship high school. He took over going into the 2014-15 school year, replacing Marcia Landwehr, who had retired. Smith is uniquely attached to Coronado, as an alumnus himself, a teacher there for five years, an assistant principal the last four years and a school parent himself. Two sons graduated from Coronado in 2014, two are attending now (a daughter, Class of 2016; and a son, Class of 2019), and a daughter is at Holmes Middle School.
In other Coronado news: The extracurricular robotics team (now technically for all of District 11) won a regional event, and went to the national competition for the fifth time in six years... The golf team won state for the first time. Adding to that enjoyment, all four of Coronado's state golfers (including Isaac Petersilie, who was second individually) are underclassmen this year.
18. November election - For many on the Westside, the big local election story was the defeat of Ballot Question 1B (property fee for a new county drainage authority). This sent local officials back to the drawing board on how to deal with what has been identified as roughly half a billion dollars worth of backlogged flood-control needs. Voters did approve Ballot Issue 1A (property tax refund for county park projects), which will include upgrades in Bear Creek Park and the Nature Center. Also, despite strong Republican returns nationwide, voters supported local Democrats Pete Lee and Michael Merrifield in state districts that include parts of the Westside. Lee won a third two-year term in House District 18 while Merrifield - who had represented HD-18 from 2002 to 2010 - will return to office for four years as the senator for Senate District 11.
19. Old Colorado City History Center - The volunteers who run the museum/bookstore and plan its historical programs had a down/up sort of year. The down part peaked in the summer, when the center, located in a converted church across from Bancroft Park, had frequent problems with vagrants camping out, leaving garbage and worse. The issues forced the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) to dip into savings and to seek donations for building alterations that would discourage such abuse. This was on top of 2013, when the rains led tounanticipated building drainage fixes and even the cancellation of an annual, major fundraising event (the Cemetery Crawl). But then good news came. Donations arrived in response to Westside Pioneer stories on the trashy trespassers; a show of digitized historic Colorado Springs photos - organized by an OCCHS member/photographer as an OCCHS benefit - attracted purchases of numerous copies; and earnings from December's annual Holiday Tour of historic buildings had its highest earnings in five years. OCCHS Treasurer Suzanne Schorsch announced that the nonprofit entity was “back in the black” as a result.
20. Gold Hill Mesa - Residential development is continuing unabated on the 210-acre development south of Highway 24, east of 21st Street and north of Lower Gold Camp Road. Now with close to 250 homes (and more on the way), Gold Hill developers started this winter on Filling 4, which is platted for 41 lots on 5.2 acres. Preparation work has included considerable grading to allow the extension of Eclipse Drive, up from Portland Gold Drive to a new flat area not far north of Lower Gold Camp. Construction manager Barry Brinton predicted that street paving would begin early in 2015. Homes are likely to go up later in the year.
The 14-acre Palmer House Redevelopment north of Fillmore Street is taking shape, seven years after being rezoned for a commercial center and shortly after the Fillmore project in 2013 that realigned Chestnut Street through the property. Last year, Kum & Go opened a store at the new northeast corner of Fillmore/ Chestnut; and Les Schwab, a national tire store chain, bought a 2-acre parcel. Also, a retail business is close to agreement on a 10,000-square-foot store across from Kum & Go, developer John Gatto said in a recent interview…
Junior Achievement (JA) of Southern Colorado officially moved into the former Goodwill building at 2320 W. Colorado Ave. The nonprofit is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of renovating some of the 40,000-plus square feet into business “towns” where students can get hands-on business experiences. JA's former offices had just 9,500 square feet…
Although the Garden of the Gods gets an estimated 2 million visitors a year, the city park did not have a ranger dedicated to it alone until additional hirings made this possible…
The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority finished its last two 2004 Westside projects - at the 25th Street bridge and the Chestnut/Garden of the Gods intersection…
Lorig's Western Wear, one of the oldest retail outlets in the city, relocated to the historic Schmidt building in Old Town's 2600 block...
Bear Creek Lanes, a 24-lane bowling alley that opened in 1958 on South 21st Street, closed last fall. The property is for sale…
The 60-plus-year-old gym at the former Bristol school was demolished for a redevelopment project…
The city upgraded two Westside detention ponds, off 19th Street and off King Street...
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) tore down the former Express Inn at Eighth and Cimarron. CDOT had bought the site for a future project right of way. It may have earlier use as a staging area for the Cimarron interchange replacement.
Westside Pioneer article