COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The future of the Westside Community Center remains uncertain after the City of Colorado Springs could not come to a deal to sell the property located off 17th and Bijou.
The inability to sell the property comes to the relief of many people who live in the surrounding neighborhood who have been fighting its sale since last summer.
“What people are realizing is that people need to come together. We need to understand what neighbors are and what community really is.” said Richard Mee, one of the leading organizers of the movement often carrying signs donning the slogan “Save the Westside Community Center.”
The Westside Community Center has had a tumultuous path. In 2009, city budget cuts related to the Great Recession put it in the crosshairs of budget cuts. That’s when the Woodmen Valley Chapel, through its nonprofit arm the Center for Strategic Ministry, stepped up and became the operator of the community center.
That was the deal until the summer of 2020, when the Center for Strategic Ministry announced it did not intend to renew its contract for operation that expires in December.
Stu Davis is the president of the center and the director for the Westside Community Center.
“When community centers are done right, they build community and they act as a hub for a neighborhood,” Davis said. “For the last 12 years, the CSM and Woodmen Valley Chapel has been really excited to be a part of helping re-instill and provide that kind of community-building activity. And it’s certainly very apparent how much the neighbors value that, judging by the thousands of people that come to our campus each month.”
The center hosts a number of events and organizations in its three-building campus. Ice cream socials are held in the summer, the YMCA has a kids camp currently operating from it, and Westside Cares often operates a food pantry from the building.
“Sometimes [events are] really fun, like our movie nights in the summer. Sometimes they’re educational or they have a specific outcome where they’re trying to connect people to agencies, to organizations that can help them, but it’s all designed to continue to connect community and people on the west side,” said Davis.
In November, the city started the “request for proposal” process, where the city heard pitches and questions from potential buyers and what they would do to the property.
The city was working with an agreement with Mountain Song School, but a deal with Colorado Springs School District 11 could not be made.
Next on the list was the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, but a deal couldn’t be made with them either.
Mee and others are frustrated that neither of the two potential buyers had the intention of running the community center as it operates now, nor would either have allowed for the flexibility of programs the group was hoping for.
The city will simply say they hope for a center to “benefit the community,” and Mee says he’s been told the intention is to keep a community center.
The entire RFP process was disheartening, Mee said. One developer asked if it would be allowed to level the building.
“The answer to that question was ‘there could be remediation issues,’ so just simply in their answer shows they didn’t necessarily intend it to remain a community center,” Mee said.
The group wanting to save the WSC had a priority to stop the “request for proposal” process.
With no deal to come from that RFP, the city says negotiations have ended over the property as of July 2.
In one of the group’s weekly meetings on Tuesday night, the group reassessed their priorities. They made it clear they want a seat at the table to help determine the center’s future with more involvement from the community.
“Let’s let the Westside residents decide what the best programming is.” Mee said.
There has been progress on the communication front. Mee said he and a few others from the group are scheduled to meet with leaders from the city’s park and recreation department, as well as other leaders.