COLORADO SPRINGS – The state of any city coming out of the pandemic is likely different than it was in days prior. Here in Colorado Springs it seems some sense of normalcy is returning, at least in the job market.
“The reality is that even a worldwide pandemic could not halt this city’s historic momentum and ascendance as a great American city,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said in his State of the City address Friday.
The city, Suthers says, has returned to 100 percent of the “jobs lost during the pandemic.”
The mayor attributes this economic “comeback” to the defense sector, health care industry, and a “record” amount of residential and commercial construction.
Suthers said through 2014, the city’s annual economic output was $30 billion. Last year, it reached $40 billion.
“In other words, it took 143 years to achieve a $30 billion dollar economy, but it’s taken seven years to grow by a third to a $40 billion economy,” Suthers said. “Perhaps nothing has been so dramatically transformed in the last several years than downtown Colorado Springs.”
Suthers noted the hundreds of hotel rooms and thousands of downtown apartment units that have been constructed, or are planned for the near future.
Then there’s the “newest, but quickly expanding” sports economy, which has grown to a half-a-billion dollar industry in Colorado Springs, through it’s City for Champions Project. That project is powered by Weidner Field, the U.S Olympic & Paralympic Museum, and the Ed Robson Arena at Colorado College.
Suthers also spoke to the honor of late Tom Osborne who died this year. Osborne was president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp.
“When it comes to sports in Colorado Springs, no person brought more vision, creativity, hard work and enthusiasm than Tom Osborne,” Suthers said.
Suther’s touched on some downsides of the past year as well.
In late 2020, the Trump Administration announced its decision to move U.S Space Command Headquarters from Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs to Hunstville, Alabama. Suthers criticized the move saying, “the decision was not in the national interest and should be reversed.” And he hinted that he isn’t dropping the subject any time soon.
“I can only say, ‘it’s not over ’till it’s over,” he said. “The recent admission by former President Trump that he ‘single-handedly’ made the decision supports our position that it was not merit-based. We will continue to aggressively press our case in Congress and the White house.”
And other side effects of the city’s success have created challenges for many people who live in Colorado Springs in recent years.
Over the summer, the average price of a home broached the $500,000 point (median price of $452,000), an increase of around 20 percent in just a years’ time. The growth in home values has benefited homeowners, but has left thousands of people struggling to afford a place to live.
In his 2018 speech, Suthers announced a goal to build 1,000 affordable housing units in the city each year. The numbers Suthers presented during his speech on Friday show that though the city is meeting that goal, the number of afforadble housing units built each year since – has fallen.
“We hope to achieve even greater results in the years ahead.,” Suthers said. “The Colorado Housing Finance Authority reports that Colorado Springs has seen a 65 percent increase in the number of units being built with low income housing tax credit financing.”
Suthers highlighted just 839 affordable units planned to break ground in 2022 – falling short of the goal set in 2018.
In regards to homelessness, Suthers reported “good news,” as the city can provide a shelter bed for anyone who seeks it. And, he says, the city will supplement its permanent supportive housing initiatives with drug and mental health treatment programs.
“But as to those who decline shelter, we are enforcing camping bans as vigorously as the law allows,” Suthers said.
Suthers says clean-ups of 1,400 illegal camps in 2021 resulted in the collection of nearly one million pounds of trash.
Other once-neglected areas of the city are seeing new life, according to the Mayor.
The southeast area is seeing massive amounts of redevelopments, between a business park at the airport and the construction of several Amazon facilities.
Suthers pointed to an $8.5 million project to rebuild Panorama Park and said the city has “initiated” $160 million in public investment via roads and bridges.
To wrap up his adress, Suthers looked towards the future. He voiced his support behind Ballot Issue 2C, which will extend the tax for Trails and Open Spaces, and 2D, which will retain tax revenue to fund fire mitigation projects.
“It’s up to us to take the necessary steps to ensure the city has the natural resources, infrastructure, and the economy to maintain its high quality of life,” Suthers said. “Quite simply, it is up to us to be good ancestors that future generations of Colorado Springs need us to be.”