Colorado Springs is at a serious crossroads in its development, and the ongoing battle for the soul of our city is quickly and quietly being lost to those who place little value on our unique history, character or culture.
Participating in the recent "Imagine Downtown" exercise, it was plain to see that there are two drastically divergent ideas of where development in Colorado Springs needs to go in the future. There are those interests in our community, including some politicos and city administration bureaucrats, who feel that it's time for downtown Colorado Springs to look and live like downtown Denver.
The behemoth Cooper Tower proposed for the corner of Kiowa and Nevada, which is being pushed by those who believe in the "Denverization" of the Springs (and who may have financial interest in the project), literally dwarfs all other buildings currently in Colorado Springs. It towers to 24 stories of vertical mixed-use design. This is over 10 stories higher than the current maximum allowed by the Downtown Action Plan.
This glass-and-concrete "revenue generator," along with another similar skyscraping property named Pikes Peak Place currently being planned for the opposite southeast corner of this same block will cast a permanent shadow of gloom over three of Colorado Springs' significant historic resources: the City Auditorium, Colorado Springs City Hall and the First Baptist Church.
As with the CityWalk condominium tower, there is no consideration for the scale, design and character of existing structures or nearby neighborhoods. This "vision" harkens to the old Looney Tunes cartoon scenes, so humorous in their absurdity, where the lone little building or homestead on its little plot of land stands surrounded by towering skyscrapers.
In the opinion of some local firefighters and others involved in downtown issues, the Colorado Springs Fire Department and has neither the equipment or the training to deal with fires in high-rises like these. Also, these planned skyscrapers require changing a Downtown Action Plan that carefully considered future growth and wisely limited building height to 14 stories, so the cityscape wouldn't blot out the striking mountainscapes to the west. People don't move and live here because they want an "iconic skyline" of skyscrapers, like in Denver; if they wanted that, they would be living in Denver.
Colorado Springs is thankfully blessed with consistent winds to keep our skies fairly clear, if not entirely smog-free. Denver's "iconic skyline" of cement and glass monuments to man's hubris fails to blot out the majestic soaring peaks to the west only because those long ago were obscured by the brown pall of smog that enshrouds that city.
It is true that Colorado Springs is not a small Western town at the foot of America's mountain anymore, and we must come to terms with that fact as a community. At 194 square miles and roughly 370,000 people within the city limits, we now rank among the 50 largest cities in the United States. These are facts that our citizenry seems either largely unaware of or doesn't really care about.
Despite our continuing growth, Colorado Springs has maintained its welcoming, small-town feel, where people smile, wave and say hello. You can see Pikes Peak from virtually anywhere in the 320 days a year of sunshine, helping to make us so unique among American communities.
It is possible to have economic growth, to attract new business and to balance the needs of large employers while supporting our small local businesses and the entrepreneurship that Colorado is nationally renowned for, without destroying the livability and character of our community. For those of us who believe that positive, ingenious, outside-the-box, intelligently planned growth and development need not be the antithesis of the unique Western heritage and vast architectural history that still thrives in Colorado Springs, it's time to get active, educated and involved in the public process, where the decisions are made to affect the future of our community.
Brian L.A. Wess is vice chair of the Colorado Springs Historic Preservation Board, and has been named one of the Top 50 "Realtors on the Rise in the U.S. in 2006' by Real Estate Magazine and RIS Media.