Shall we deconstruct a typical piece of city bureaucratese, the agenda for the March 27th Council meeting?

It's about 80 pages long. (I say "about," since the City, in its quaintly obtuse way, declines to number the pages, presumably to make the document as opaque as possible.) Looking at agenda items, you'd think that nothing much was going on; just your basic city government moving sluggishly forward. But dig a little deeper, and you'll find a few nasty surprises.

Let's examine the first item, which concerns the creation of a so-called "Infrastructure Authority." Such an authority would be "primarily a financing mechanism for city and regional projects."

After all, "to meet the increasing demands of growth, most of these projects must be pursued within the next ten years." And what projects are these? "Approximately $1 billion in water and wastewater projects infrastructure needs ..."

The language is murky and evasive, but the message is clear: We need a billion dollars, and you're gonna pay, whether through taxes, fees, or utility bills. Oh, and so sorry, the billion doesn't include stormwater projects -- that's an extra $300 million. A billion three -- no wonder they don't number the pages! Just remember, growth pays for itself!

The "Proposed Plan to Finance the Old City Hall Restoration," which sounds benign and civic-spirited, is neither. The City proposes to issue approximately $5 million in so-called COPs, or Certificates of Participation, to finance a variety of projects, including the renovation of City Hall. COPs are long-term bonds all dressed up in smarmy legalisms, which allows the City to claim that these are merely short-term obligations, like leasing copiers, and therefore not subject to a vote of the people.

You gotta admit it. It's pretty nervy of Council to issue debt without voter approval right here in the Dougster's hometown. But for sheer, brutish chutzpah and simple municipal thuggery, it's hard to beat the latest historic demolition scheme.

The City proposes to sell the historic Udick building (just north of the old City Hall) for a total of $300,000. Four-fifths of the building would be "sold" to the so-called Parking Enterprise. Of course, it's not a sale at all -- the Parking Enterprise has no separate existence; it's just another division of the City.

After this mock sale, the building would be demolished, and presto! Another parking lot! And what about the remaining fifth of the property? Why, that'd be sold to the First Presbyterian Church for $51,000, to be used as they see fit.

When asked by Councilman Ted Eastburn whether the Udick building is historic, City Manager Jim Mullen replied that it is not. He's wrong. A bowstring truss structure originally built as a garage in the early years of the last century, the Udick Building is an eminently restorable early commercial building. Many were built in the early days of our city, and few remain.

Those that do -- the Van Dyke Building on Weber, the Old Town Bike Shop on South Tejon, to name a couple -- have been gracefully and appropriately renovated.

A city government that actually cares about preserving what remains of the historic fabric of downtown would never destroy such a building. No private owner would rip it down. Of course, the city manager, by claiming that it's just some old piece of junk, neatly bypasses the Historic Preservation Advisory Board.

But the smelliest part of this extraordinarily stinky deal is the "sale" itself. The First Presbyterian Church, which has torn down three historic buildings in the last couple of years (the Dixie Apartments, the Rousselle Motors Building, and the church's own 19th-century sanctuary), will get a prime little piece of downtown real estate at virtually no cost.

Talk about a sweet little insider deal! The City won't end up with a nickel; the 50 grand from the church will just about pay for the building's demolition.

By contrast, if the City put the building up for sale with a preservation easement, it'd probably bring $200,000 or more from a private investor. Once renovated, it would house a thriving business or two, and would once again grace our streetscape. So why does the City want to tear it down, and throw away $200,000?

The answer's simple. When the old City Hall's renovated, Mullen, Makepeace, and Co. don't want to park their cars with the peons in the city-owned parking structure across the street. They want a nice, convenient executive parking lot. So goodbye historic building, goodbye 200 Gs, hello asphalt. As Sheridan Whiteside so famously said in The Man Who Came to Dinner:

"I may vomit."

-- johnhazlehurst@aol.com


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