Mike Kazmierski quietly walked away last week as president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., making it clear that he wasn't interested in stirring up any hard feelings.
The reasons for his resignation, clearly the result of differences in philosophy between him and the EDC's board, already have been covered. So a few days before his departure, Kazmierski sat down for breakfast and talked about positives, not negatives.
Kazmierski fully believes that his EDC staff and operation had much to do with minimizing the damage from the economic recession, and it's hard to argue. They couldn't stop some companies from leaving, shutting down, or finding more incentives elsewhere. But they did lure other employers to Colorado Springs, perhaps not manufacturing giants but healthy and hungry corporations hoping for the best and liking what they saw here.
He also leaves with the city in good position to develop as a new mecca for what's known in the business world as "data centers" — a trend that has real possibilities because of the favorable climate here and insulation from natural disasters that threaten so many other areas.
Yes, he's pursuing opportunities in economic development elsewhere, and he fully expects something will materialize.
But enough about that. Because you need to know that Kazmierski isn't finished having a positive impact on Colorado Springs.
Whether he lives here another six months, a year or longer, he has one remaining item on his agenda. That's a planned ballot issue for the 2012 election, renewing the capital-funding portion (55 percent) of the 1-cent sales tax that created the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. Kazmierski was actively involved with the initial PPRTA campaign in 2004, and he feels justifiably proud of the results.
Without PPRTA, we wouldn't now have the much-needed projects that already have been finished or nearly completed, from the Union Boulevard-Austin Bluffs Parkway interchange to similar work at Woodmen Road and Academy Boulevard, plus the hastily rebuilt Cimarron Street Bridge and major access improvements between South Academy Boulevard and the airport. There will be more, such as six-laning Austin Bluffs all the way from Nevada Avenue to Academy, and adding lanes to Woodmen to make it another major east-west artery.
The portion of PPRTA that covers capital projects, however, has to be renewed or it will expire in 2014. That's where Kazmierski comes into play again. Already, new Mayor Steve Bach and other area leaders have indicated they would support extending the local sales tax that covers PPRTA work, because they see it as a tax extension, not an increase.
But that support is not guaranteed. It's contingent on organizers delivering to voters another batch of smart, sensible and much-needed projects for the rest of this decade and beyond.
This is not the place, just yet, to get into specifics of which proposals make the most sense, though we look forward to participating when that time comes. Some target areas might include portions of Fillmore Street, a possible connection between Centennial Boulevard and Interstate 25, and roads in the Southgate vicinity. Regardless, there will be a conscious effort once again to satisfy residents in all areas under the RTA umbrella.
Toward that end, Kazmierski and others already are working to make sure the next ballot issue stays on target. In our conversation, Kazmierski didn't mention a single specific project — just that he was more concerned right now with making sure nobody sidetracks the primary purpose. For example, some supporters of mass transit have said they'd like additional money to replenish bus service, after all the cuts in routes caused by massive subtractions to city funding. But that's not within the parameters that voters initially approved. It's part of the PPRTA tax's other 45 percent, which actually is permanent.
Coming up with the second version of PPRTA projects and pushing that ballot issue won't be glamorous work. But for Kazmierski and others, it's simply important unfinished business.
Colorado Springs will lose Mike Kazmierski eventually. But even though it's no longer part of his job, he's still determined to leave this city and region in the best shape possible.
That's an admirable way to go out.
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