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Noted: Phillips withdraws from community center plan 

CPP leader cites lack of support

Eric Phillips, leader of the nonprofit Community Partnership Project, has ended his efforts to operate the Hillside and Deerfield Hills community centers for Colorado Springs. In an unscheduled speech Monday to City Council at its informal meeting, Phillips cited a lack of support as the reason for his decision and left promptly after reading his remarks.

Council had recently directed staff to work with Phillips, as well with as leaders of a separate partnership initiative planned for Meadows Park Community Center. It was expected to turn over each of the centers in the first quarter of 2011.

The city has budgeted enough money to operate Hillside and Deerfield in 2011 at funding comparable to 2010 but far less than 2009. That means current city staff will remain. Phillips said his nonprofit would still be involved in helping the centers, but did not specify how. Councilman Sean Paige, who worked closely with Phillips on the CPP plan, told Council, "I'm disappointed, obviously, at this point." He said he hoped the city would continue to pursue partnerships to take over the centers.

Two recent Independent stories, most recently on Nov. 11 ("No more homework," News), raised concerns about Phillips' lack of experience and the city's willingness to hand over the centers, as well as taxpayer funds, to Phillips without doing a background check on him first. — JAS

City buys power plant

Saying the deal will save the city $150 million, Colorado Springs City Council has approved borrowing up to $325 million to buy out the city's partner in the Front Range Power Plant, a gas-fired unit south of the city.

The city hopes to capitalize on Build America Bonds, which carry a low interest rate, for $138 million of the debt. (The federal program sunsets Dec. 31 unless Congress votes to extend it.) The balance will come from tax-exempt bonds, private activity bonds and taxable bonds. Front Range Power became operational in 2003 and provides about 40 percent of the city's 1,100-megawatt capacity, energy manager Drew Rankin says.

Although Councilors Sean Paige and Tom Gallagher suggested the partnership to buy Front Range had been a mistake, costing ratepayers more than it should have, Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte says, "There's nothing wrong with Front Range Power. It's been a well-performing plant for us." — PZ

Swigger leaving COPPeR

Bettina Swigger, executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, is leaving Colorado Springs for a similar position at Festival Mosaic, a 40-year-old classical music festival in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Swigger will wrap up her work at COPPeR Jan. 14.

Reached by phone Monday, Swigger explained that she was approached by Festival Mosaic music director Scott Yoo to apply for the position. She beat out 70 applicants across the country for the job, but says leaving "was a very difficult decision."

COPPeR made the announcement Tuesday and already is seeking Swigger's replacement, with a Dec. 3 deadline for applications. Swigger says the arts advocacy organization is prepared for a new leader: "All the plans are in place. It's poised for someone to really just come in and take over." — EA

Freedom draws interest

The Poynter Institute reported last week that the Gazette's parent company, Freedom Communications, Inc., has put its media holdings up for sale. The asking price for the company's eight TV broadcast properties, Poynter reported, was somewhere between $400 million and $500 million. The Independent reached out to Gazette publisher Steve Pope to ask whether or not the paper had a "floor price," but received no response.

This week, the monthly media trade publication News & Tech reported that Freedom has "said it's received offers from undisclosed buyers interested in purchasing its stable of television stations and newspapers."

The report says Freedom acknowledges hiring a consultant to evaluate options, and that an undisclosed number of companies had contacted Freedom with interest in purchasing newspapers or TV stations. — CH

Penrose cutting service

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services plans to end its inpatient behavioral health (psychiatric) program March 31, when it shuts down St. Francis Health Center on Pikes Peak Avenue and Institute Street. Spokesman Chris Valentine says behavioral health is a "community problem," and adds Penrose is talking with local providers about a partnership. Penrose is cutting 26 beds, but Valentine says a deal could result in more than that being added elsewhere in the community.

"We can't do it by ourselves," he says. "We can't make this work any longer, so we need to partner with other agencies in the community to continue to offer inpatient behavioral health services."

St. Francis Health Center has been for sale since 2008 but hasn't attracted a buyer. Valentine notes that keeping the building open costs $1 million a year, which is why it will be closed. — JAS

Big changes at Smokebrush

Smokebrush Gallery and Foundation for the Arts will move to a new location in January, with a new director.

Holly Parker will leave at the end of the year to pursue her work as an artist full-time. Parker, who directed Smokebrush programs and curated the gallery space for two-plus years, began working with Smokebrush in 1998.

"I'm ready to go, and Smokebrush is ready to go into a whole new phase," Parker says, adding that she'll also do some independent curating.

Don Goede, local arts figure and Smokebrush collaborator, will be the new director. Goede was the organization's first choice, according to Parker.

"I don't think I've ever been so excited about an opportunity in my life, honestly," Goede says of the new job, adding that he wants to focus on integrating the healing powers of art and yoga, a longtime Smokebrush mission.

Goede and Co. will do their work inside the Trestle Building (219 W. Colorado Ave., #210), across the street from Smokebrush's current location in the Depot Arts District. The new space, which Goede says will be called "Marmalade," will feature a "communal-type gallery/lounge/workshop space" and offer room for performance art, yoga and tai chi classes and other multimedia events.

Some soft opening events are being planned for December, with a grand re-opening next spring. — EA

Public recycling a reality

Back in early 2009, the city's new partnership with the Active Network was the talk of City Hall. The city agreed to dish out $50,000 for a first-phase contract with the company, and in exchange, Active was supposed to bring in "sponsorships" that would help the city stretch its money (such as naming rights for parks and fountains, and advertising on city vending machines).

Finally, that partnership has borne some fruit. Bins that collect recyclables and trash are going in downtown and in some parks at no cost to taxpayers. Greener Corners, a private company, is heading the program, to be paid for with advertising revenues earned by putting ads on the bins. (If this sounds vaguely familiar, last spring People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wanted to put trash cans back in the parks at no cost to the city, so long as PETA could put pro-vegan messages — and a few scantily clad ladies — on them. The city turned down that offer.)

By April, 225 bins will be up, increasing to 450 by year three of the program. Waste Management, which currently provides trash service to the city, will empty the bins. — JAS

Compiled by Edie Adelstein, Chet Hardin, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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