-- Elliott Roosevelt, mayor of Miami Beach, c. 1958
"Nobody in the history of the human race ever washed a rental car."
-- Business proverb
Even a few days after hearing about the city's shameless scheme to sell the City Auditorium for peanuts, and then conspire with one of the more ruthless developers in the state to make the development site a tax-free zone, I think it is a singularly nasty piece of work.
But it's not without precedent.
Let's go back to 20 years ago, when the prime site at the southeast corner of Tejon Street and Colorado Avenue was a city-owned vacant lot. A few years before, there had been a thriving row of 19th-century commercial buildings there that the city, thanks to an ill-conceived "urban renewal" plan, had condemned and demolished.
Years had passed, and no developer had expressed the slightest interest in building there. Finally, the city struck the deal, which resulted in the construction of the Plaza of the Rockies.
It wasn't much of a deal -- the city essentially gave the site away, and threw in half of the Tejon Street right-of-way, because the developer argued that the site was too small. But city officials insisted that it was a good deal anyway, since the developer agreed to build a skating rink on the ground floor of the building. It'd be a great public amenity, and because of that, the whole thing made sense.
Sure enough, the developer came through, and everything was fine for a few years. Seemed like an ideal public-private partnership. But then the economy went south and the building went into foreclosure and was acquired by the Jenkins/Nor'Wood interests -- the same folks who now seek to acquire the City Auditorium.
And surprise: Jenkins closed the rink, and the city, royally scammed, rolled over like a puppy dog and let 'em skate. Always eager to do business with Jenkins & Co., City Utilities then pre-leased several floors in the to-be-built Plaza of the Rockies South Tower. I'm sure that they got a great deal, aren't you?
So now the city wants to sell one of its crown jewels to the Jenkins' for a little over a million bucks -- about the price of an appropriately vulgar mega-condo in the Broadmoor.
You'd think that the passive bureaucrats and asleep-at-the-wheel elected officials who are pushing this deal would realize by now that the Jenkins, pre (David) et fils (Chris), are too smart for 'em, but apparently not.
This deal is so absurd, so outrageous, that it's almost a waste of breath to fulminate against it. If the pea-brains on City Council want to do it, it's up to us to stop 'em. And the only way to stop 'em for sure is to create a rival buyer for the property.
Let's create a nonprofit entity whose goal is to acquire and operate the City Auditorium for the benefit of the citizens of Colorado Springs. Its pitch would be pretty straightforward, to private citizens, to auditorium users, and to charitable foundations.
Here's the deal: For a little over a million bucks, we can acquire a perfectly functional, eminently useful building, which will continue to host hundreds of events every year. It's a building rich in history, and one that must be preserved, not only for today, but for centuries to come.
The city, which for much of its recent history has kowtowed to the short-term business interests of the development community, is, like Douglas Bruce, a greedy and neglectful landlord. If we can't as a community preserve and restore so magnificent a structure, then we're not much of a city.
So how do we start? Frankly, I'm not sure -- as a columnist, I'm a lot better at complaining than creating. But in common with a lot of people, I have wonderful memories of the City Aud; for example, going to a Marty Robbins concert there in 1956 with Julia Smith, the prettiest girl in 11th grade, as my date.
So I'm not going to let the bad guys win without a fight -- and I suspect that a lot of other folks feel the same way. If you're one of 'em, e-mail me. Together, we can win this battle.
And I think that we will. We don't rent this city; we own it. Colorado Springs is not the urban equivalent of Rent-a-Wreck, everybody's low-priced spread. The politicians and bureaucrats work for us; they don't work for fat-cat yuppies and rich developers.
It's time to kick ass.
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