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Ups and down(town)s 

Longtime Downtown Partnership leader reflects on tensions and triumphs

click to enlarge Beth Kosley has left the Downtown Partnership's cozy confines to help Woodland Park focus on its city center. - COURTESY DOWNTOWN PARTNERSHIP

Beth Kosley is everywhere in downtown Colorado Springs. From the whimsical statues on street corners, to the dust of wrecking balls, to the stylish new downtown shuttles.

Kosley was a strong leader for the Downtown Partnership from 1995 until she left in October to lead Woodland Park's Downtown Development Authority. Over the years, she was the main advocate and a tough one at that for the city center. She made plenty of friends and enemies along the way.

Kosley arrived in the Springs a few years after City Council approved a downtown revitalization plan. Little of the plan had been achieved, though a Business Improvement District (BID) for two downtown blocks was in place.

Kosley set to work, partnering with business, government and the community. Under her leadership, voters expanded the BID twice, from two blocks to 10 blocks to more than 30 blocks; that allowed for streetscape improvements throughout downtown. Meanwhile Kosley helped establish Art on the Streets, and the shuttle.

But Kosley ran into a wall when the plan's biggest goal, a convention center, was dumped by voters in 2005.

"When that project died, for a while there was a lot of licking of wounds and a lot of 'Oh gee whiz, now we can never do what we wanted to do,'" Kosley remembers. "Well, wrong, you can do lots of other things. So, we just needed to get the energy changed."

Kosley encouraged the community to help draft a new plan. The recently approved Imagine Downtown plan puts a stronger emphasis on residential development and expansion of arts and cultural attractions. It also has given birth to the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), a quasi-governmental entity that subsidizes downtown development, with the hope of accelerating growth.

With that new direction in place, Kosley was ready for fresh challenges up Ute Pass like whether to build a U.S. 24 bypass around Woodland Park. (Kosley hints that she'd be hotter on simply lowering the speed limit through the Teller County town, and concentrating on other programs for downtown Woodland Park.)

Since Kosley's departure, Ron Butlin, a Classic Companies executive, is serving in Kosley's place at the Partnership for a year, after which a permanent replacement will take over.

We talked with Kosley about her roots and her time in Colorado Springs.

Indy: What was your background before you led the Downtown Partnership?

BK: I had been running an organization in Pennsylvania called Pennsylvania Downtown Center ... We were under contract with the state to provide technical assistance to their official designated Main Street programs.

Indy: Why did you decide to leave?

BK: Because I missed being in a local community and having local networks ... When the job came up in Colorado, I just threw my hat in.

Indy: Would you say expanding the BID was your first big victory here?

BK: Yes, of course, each of those elections were milestones, and each one of those projects getting [checked off] on the completed list all felt like milestones. [Also] Art on the Streets is just a fabulous program, and I can't say enough about the supporters who have made that possible over the years, with U.S. Bank starting it and then Nor'wood Development [Group] coming in, and now GE Johnson.

Indy: There must have been a lot of networking for you in the beginning.

BK: The thing about community development, I don't care where you are or what you're doing, if you're not building good relationships, it's not going to get done.

Indy: Do you feel like you were working more closely with developers recently than you had earlier in your career?

BK: I don't know if I would say that exactly, because one of the things that the Downtown Partnership always had been strong on was representation of a broad base of community leaders. ... Now, my personal experience being engaged in financial assistance really goes back.

In Pennsylvania, I was running a program at Bloomsburg called Bloomsburg Revitalization, Inc., and we had an extremely innovative board for those days. I mean, this was 1982. I worked for them for five years, and we would take options on property; we did a lot of matchmaking to try and get certain types of businesses placed into the downtown. We were very aggressive, and we ran a loan program that was a low-interest financial assistance program. ...

So that kind of redevelopment had been my training ground really, and when I came back to a local community [meaning Colorado Springs], they hadn't been in that kind of a position until we started doing the DDA.

Indy: Speaking of development, what projects do you wish you could have seen completed?

BK: I think it's been frustrating for a whole lot of people that the southwest [downtown] area and its associated arts district didn't pop.

Indy: What have other cities done right that we haven't?

BK: I don't know why this is, but I think it's been expressed not just by myself but a couple members of the Downtown Partnership board or DDA board from time to time, and that is: There was such a big push in other cities toward the residential development in other downtown areas ... [In the Springs] lack of building stock that was easily converted into housing is one problem. We didn't have it in downtown. We had some of it. But we didn't have the big kind of voluminous warehouse spaces that other downtowns had to play with. So, there was that circumstance.

But for a series of different reasons, and none of them are probably "the one reason," we didn't get that housing out of the ground when that trend was really rolling, and now, of course, the window is shut a little bit right now because of the economy.

Indy: It must have been disappointing to see the sour economy swallow some big projects.

BK: The projects with market merit will come back when this economy turns. There's no doubt in my mind about that. If they made sense in a good market, they're going to make sense when the economy comes back around.

Indy: Seems like you dealt with a lot of tensions in your time. What store owners want isn't always what bar owners want. Retailers and charities bump heads. Development isn't always popular. What were the biggest challenges and how did you deal with them as a mediator?

BK: I think the most important thing is being as fair as you can possibly be, and as kind as you can possibly be, and to be as open to discussion and get others open to discussion. I didn't always succeed with that. There were times when I lost my temper, and I always regretted that. ... But there were times too when situations were pretty prickly and we were able to work through it, more often than not.

Indy: What issues drew the hottest tempers?

BK: The conflict that can arise between nighttime users of downtown and daytime users of downtown. That was always a pretty prickly one. The other one, and I've got say it, is the issue of street population. And people don't want to be mean, but they have to have a safe, comfortable environment for visitors and families and so forth, and there were often conflicts around those issues. So those are probably the two, and again what that relates to is public space.

stanley@csindy.com

Courtesy Downtown Partnership

  • Beth Kosley is gone now, but she's still everywhere in downtown Colorado Springs.

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