He was almost the Colorado Springs city manager.
Assistant City Manager of Operations Greg Nyhoff was one of the top three choices for the position before being edged out by Penny Culbreth-Graft late last year. But Nyhoff says he tastes no sour grapes. He's quite fond of Culbreth-Graft, and is certain she'll do a good job.
Nyhoff, however, won't be here to see it. By the time this story prints, Nyhoff will have cleared out his office. He's moving to Modesto, Calif., a city of about 200,000 people in north-central California, where he'll take over as city manager.
Nyhoff says it's a good time for a move. He'll soon have two kids in college; another hasn't yet entered high school. And he's sick of sitting through snow flurries at baseball games. But he'll miss the friends, and he'll miss the state. He grew up in Colorado and was Fountain's city manager before joining the Colorado Springs city government.
During the past two years, Nyhoff was responsible for city public works, parks, planning and the Colorado Springs Airport. We talked with him about his accomplishments and his thoughts on the future of the city.
Indy: What do you think the Springs' biggest challenges are?
GN: I am a believer that the citizens of any city ... will pay for the level of services that they wish to have. And I think one of the biggest challenges is there's a little disconnect on what I see us supporting especially public safety and the level of services that people expect.
Indy: Any emerging issues that aren't being talked about?
GN: It's critical for the community to understand the importance of the Southern Delivery System. As a Fountain city manager we were partners with Colorado Springs, because if you really want to see ... "managed growth" ... you're going to have to make sure you have those resources available ...
[And] you don't hear a lot about some of the not-so-positive things that happen late-night downtown. For me, I went out at 2 o'clock in the morning last summer and I had no idea that there was the unrest that there was.
Indy: What's needed: better police enforcement, better private security, or closing some of the clubs?
GN: There needs to be some cooperation between us and the businesses to ... really figure out: Is it a timing thing? Can we do something different, business owners, so that we don't create this time when everybody is thrown out on the streets of Colorado Springs at 2 a.m.? Does that mean we change parking requirements?
I was looking at Modesto. They've got a lot of nightclubs, and from 3 to 4 in the morning, there's no parking downtown. So, that basically just moves everybody out. And so, there's a lot of those solutions talked about, and I think it's going to be a combination.
Indy: Any challenges that you were looking forward to taking on before you decided to leave?
GN: There's an Imagine Downtown plan, and we have not pushed the plan as quickly as I would have liked to have seen, to where we can actually start seeing the results of what this community wants for its downtown. So, I would have loved to stay and watch the next couple years of downtown renewal.
Indy: What do you think your top accomplishments were in the Springs?
GN: I guess [being] customer-driven that's what I'd say was one of my greatest accomplishments.
Frankly, the Stormwater Enterprise is something I came in at the very end of, and it was to the point of, "How do we get this community together to support the fee structure that we had?"
Indy: Do you feel like people are accepting of that more now than they were in the beginning?
GN: I hope people are seeing the benefit, are starting to see the projects that we're able to do. I still think that there will always be the philosophical argument of, "Is this a tax or is this a fee?" ... But it's critical because we look at this coming year's budget and if you saw the sales tax numbers for this month, they're down it's $15 million worth of revenue for stormwater projects.
I was here for the floods of 1999, and I was in Fountain at that point in time. And you want to do everything you can to alleviate those problems.
Indy: You're a big proponent of smart growth. What do you think the Springs does well, as far as growing, and what could it do better?
GN: I think from a land-use perspective, as far as the importance of the commercial base, the importance of business parks and office space and residential living, I think we're pretty balanced ...
We do suffer from what a lot of communities do, and that's when it comes to the whole transportation systems, typically, you have to have a problem before you actually fix it. So until you meet certain thresholds of inconvenience, shall we say, for a motorist, do you actually move forward on this.
The [Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority] I wasn't here when that started but that has been an absolute blessing as far as building the infrastructure to handle future growth. But that will run out.
Indy: Is there a natural limit to urban sprawl?
GN: People will always live where they want to live. And Colorado's very property-rights supportive of its citizenry ...
I think a real controlling factor is going to be utilities at some point, water mostly. It's very costly to run a system to get surface water out of the mountains. And people are allowed to put wells in. Communities have well systems, [and] I think we're already starting to see ... signs of concern. So, I think that, above all, will start determining whether we see a lot of sprawl.