History repeating itself 

Between the Lines

At some juncture in a few more months, we will face the treacherous task of extensively rehashing and analyzing Steve Bach's first year as mayor of Colorado Springs.

Already, most onlookers could figure out some bullet points of that project: Bach's endless discarding of top people from the "city manager" regime, his tug-of-war with City Council over division of powers, his strange policy on open-records requests, and his fixation on reviving downtown as the cornerstone for boosting the local economy.

One conclusion we can draw, even now: Bach still hasn't found his comfort zone. Keeping up with his rookie year has been like dealing with constantly changing, violent weather. Every week seems to bring a new thunderstorm, a new blizzard, frequent hailstorms and ice storms and even occasional tornadoes. No earthquakes yet, but who knows?

The constituents — and, probably, City Council — would like nothing more than a calm, sunny, breezy month from Bach's government. Instead, the mayor continues as chief weathermaker, creating new havoc on a regular basis.

Last week, perhaps running short of fresh material, Bach came up with a different trick — recycling ideas from the past.

One was remarkably similar to a proposal offered by this column on Feb. 2 ("Circular thinking on rebirth"), revisiting the concept of a world-class Olympic Hall of Fame and museum as a downtown anchor. On this one we can agree, and if Bach wants to take credit for it, borrowing the details from 1986 that resurfaced in this space last month, that's fine. It didn't hurt that Bach gave the job of exploring that possibility to Dick Celeste, the recently retired Colorado College president who before that was Ohio's governor — and a driving force in attracting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland.

The other downtown-related idea wasn't so encouraging. Bach would like to locate all of the area's homeless services in one location — away from downtown, even if it takes years to develop. This is emerging as an apparent goal for Bach, after persistent rumors last month that his "Downtown Solutions Team" would look into the idea of consolidated homeless services.

This should sound all too familiar to anyone who was living here 12 years ago. In 2000, City Council, with leadership from then-Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, approved a $6 million proposal backed and funded by El Pomar Foundation and the American Red Cross. The plan was to build, you guessed it, a homeless services center on Mill Street, just south of the railroad tracks and west of Tejon Street.

At that time, the city's motivation was to sweep the homeless away from its ambitious Confluence Park (now America the Beautiful Park), which was envisioned as a setting comparable to San Antonio's River Walk. There was an Urban Renewal plan to encompass the 30-acre park and surrounding property. Everything seemed to be on the right track.

But nobody had bothered selling the homeless center idea to the residents of Mill Street, an aging but still well-located neighborhood where the homeless center was to be built. Many of those folks rebelled, filed legal action, and eventually succeeded in stopping the homeless mecca from happening when El Pomar withdrew its commitment in June 2001.

Based on that nightmare, it's hard to imagine anybody being inspired to try the same strategy again. Especially since Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs fairly recently completed the Marian House Soup Kitchen (2008) and Hanifen Center (2009) construction projects at 14 W. Bijou St., to better provide meals and other services to hundreds of people every day.

The new mayor, however, apparently wants to resurrect that 2000 approach. Move the homeless and needy elsewhere, so that visitors won't see them so easily en route to or from Interstate 25. Perhaps eventually, the area on downtown's west edge could flourish for generations to come.

Good luck with that. It was a mistake then, and it would be now. You can be sure that grant-making organizations such as El Pomar won't be interested, and the city will have just as much trouble now as 12 years ago trying to convince an existing neighborhood to become home to the homeless.

That aside, there's also the logistical issue of serving homeless families with kids, not to mention abused women, on a site that also offers services to sex offenders, drug addicts and the psychologically unstable.

Yet, Bach wants all this to happen.

Memo to the mayor: Please, just pursue that Olympic idea instead.


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