At the end of April 2009, we'll be marking not celebrating the 10-year anniversaries of several occasions, including one that became a nightmare for many people in this region.
No, not the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, which happened earlier in the month, on April 20, 1999. And certainly not John Elway's retirement from pro football, which took place on May 2, 1999.
Between those events, actually starting April 29, the Great Flood of 1999 struck southern Colorado.
Anyone who was living here at the time, especially in Manitou Springs or along the path of Fountain Creek, probably would have distinct memories of just how bad it was, as 13 inches or more of rain pummeled the area in just four days. Streets were washed out or closed in Manitou, and the old spa building became a sea of mud. Creek erosion closed a stretch of U.S. 24 near 21st Street. Electrical service was affected. Farms downstream were inundated. Infrastructure, especially water pipes, took a big hit.
The damage came to $30 million in this county, and then-President Bill Clinton declared El Paso and a handful more counties as disaster areas. But even with federal help, the flood and its aftermath pushed local governments to the max.
Why bring it up now? As we look to 2009, with our city and county financially strapped, we can only shudder at the thought of how another natural disaster could paralyze the area. Many departments already are threadbare, and budget cuts may have left our governments incapable of handling the unexpected.
You could say we're due, perhaps overdue, for some kind of local crisis related to weather, infrastructure, roads and bridges, you name it. But hopefully not in 2009.
That said, let's look at the year ahead:
Economic pain. The first quarter probably will be tough across the area, but if President Barack Obama (nice to be able to use that title) and his administration can take steps that restore confidence, positive momentum could build through the year. Just imagine how different the outlook would be if the timing were different, and we were facing another year or two of the George W. Bush regime. Instead, something tells me the back half of 2009 will bring a noticeable rebound, with fewer foreclosures, layoffs and businesses shutting down.
Local taxes. After the failure of County Question 1A in November, some new approach eventually will come forward for helping public safety and health. Perhaps we could see a scaled-down version of 1A as soon as November 2009, in an off-year election with low turnout.
University Village. The project on North Nevada Avenue, north of Garden of the Gods Road, should become reality in 2009, with Costco reportedly planning to open in late summer and others, including Lowe's and Kohl's, not far behind. The retail center, including restaurants and other commerce, should enhance that area and boost sales-tax revenue. Too bad it won't be as funky as we had hoped, with its proximity to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Goodbye, 3.2 beer? It'll come up in the Legislature, as supermarkets and convenience stores try to do away with the dinosaur state law that forces them to sell watered-down brew.
Gambling. Cripple Creek should enjoy an increase in visitors come July, when casinos can stay open 24-7 and have higher maximum wagers ($100), plus craps and roulette. Most of those customers should come through Colorado Springs, creating a challenge for motels, businesses and the convention and visitors folks.
Sports. Next year could be special for Air Force football, as well as for Colorado College and Air Force hockey.
Elections. Four district City Council seats will be on the April ballot, with three formidable incumbents Scott Hente, Darryl Glenn and Jerry Heimlicher seeking another term and a handful pursuing term-limited Margaret Radford's spot. That one could produce a new face and more diversity, which Council needs. In November, School District 11 will have three board positions up for grabs, with Tami Hasling, John Gudvangen and Sandra Mann perhaps facing challenges if they decide to run again.
City streets. They'll continue to deteriorate, with nowhere near enough money to fix them, Thank you, Doug Bruce.
Did somebody say Doug Bruce? No longer an elected official, he'll surely find ways to sue the city and county, perhaps even the state. Still, we'll do our best to keep the spotlight off him.
Local arts and entertainment. The downturn has impacted local galleries, artists and musicians, stage and music venues. That'll continue until people feel less squeamish about how they spend their money.
Downtown. Barring unforeseen delays, the U.S. Olympic Committee will move by next fall into its new headquarters on the corner of Tejon Street and Colorado Avenue, bringing a major infusion of well-paid staff members into the city center. That should benefit everything from restaurants to gift shops.
Military. As the numbers in Iraq come down, that should mean more soldiers and their families back in our midst and then there's the 4th Infantry Division headquarters relocating to Fort Carson, with about 5,000 additional troops. In other words, all those stories and projections about a new influx will come true.
Unexpected. This brings us back to where we started, wondering how the city and/or county might deal with a negative surprise such as a flood, a huge fire or another major bridge having to close. You can't predict any of that, and we simply have to hope that, on that front, 2009 is as uneventful as possible.
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