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Otis Park Community Center would make a great makerspace 

DiverseCity

A stone’s throw away from the burgeoning Knobhill Urban Arts District, Otis Park Community Center is nestled near the Platte Avenue corridor, an area peppered with multi-generational local businesses, fast food chains, pawn shops, low-income housing and motels. It’s one of the neighborhood’s few community gathering spaces.

While diverse and rich in culture, the area is known to struggle — in particular, the neighborhood near the Platte Avenue and Academy Boulevard intersection was pinpointed in the 2010 U.S. Census as being one of the city’s poorest. People with few resources can get a lot of value out of a community center, even a tiny one like Otis, but many people either don’t know it’s there or have forgotten about it.

Otis, located at 731 N. Iowa Ave., is named for William A. Otis, whose family contributed to irrigation projects designed to bring water from the Pecos River to the Southwest for agriculture. Originally, the center started in the 1970s as a therapeutic recreation center (spearheaded by the late Nancy Lewis, who rose to city parks director) to provide programs for those who were differently abled.

It was a good fit at the time, but Otis, the smallest of the city’s community centers, struggled to remain relevant as the city built larger centers that could offer more. During the recession, cutbacks and low attendance led to most of Otis’ programs being moved to the Colorado Springs Senior Center and Hillside Community Center. City Sports Program Coordinator Joe Braun, who currently oversees the center, says the biggest attraction at Otis these days is a city youth program known as One Springs Boxing gym.

Kim King, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services administration manager, says there aren’t any plans to rebuild or restore the old building in the near future, beyond a new roof and gutters. Braun is most excited by exploratory talks with Pikes Peak Library District to create a mobile library at the site.
But while aging Otis struggles to hang on, the neighborhood around it is blooming. If you’ve driven up Platte Avenue lately, you’ve noticed the murals created by local urban artists. Among them is Creator Supreme Private Tattoo Studio owner Paes164, who says he moved into the area intentionally about a year ago. He wants to see the area revitalized — but not by turning it into a block of Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s drive-thrus.

“Most of these busy neighborhoods [like] Academy, Powers and all those spots, no one would open the door to allow us to paint those murals, whereas, in Knob Hill, on Platte, 90 percent of those buildings are owned by the tenants that are in them,” he says. “So, they have all the say as far as letting us do that artwork.”

Paes says the art district is creating a culture within itself and artists are determined to keep it in people’s faces. Now, parents park their cars and walk with their children along Platte Avenue to look at the murals, he says.

“Tons of high school students come by to take their senior photos, and literally a dozen local artists have recorded rap videos under these murals,” he continues. Paes receives messages all the time from neighbors thanking him for cleaning up the area.

“There are side streets all up and down Platte whose streetlights have been out for two years,” he says. “... Now, all of a sudden, there are murals in the same alleyways and owners are like, people are actually coming to my store.”

So, let me propose an idea for Otis: Make it a makerspace. Imagine a revived Otis, with some of the cool features of Library 21c, and a theme that taps into the creativity of the arts district. Perhaps it could offer recording space, photography and art classes for budding neighborhood artists?

Paes says he’s passionate about giving a platform to young developing artists, but he hasn’t yet connected with many youths in the neighborhood. Instead, he’s working with kids through the Council of Neighbors and Organizations and Colorado Springs School District 11. But he’d love to have a place to connect with the teens in Knob Hill.

Imagine what could happen if those kids came together to transform their neighborhood and, in turn, help shape our city’s art culture.

This is the fifth and final part in our series on the city’s vibrant 
community centers.

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