by Ralph Routon
If it could happen in Portland, why couldn't it happen in Colorado Springs?
That has been the underlying theme this week as about 50 people from the Colorado Springs area — split fairly evenly among business, nonprofit and governmental leaders — have spent the past two days in Portland, Ore., learning as much as they can about the Rose City’s transformation over the past two decades.
The probing and analyzing aren’t finished, with one more full day ahead Wednesday before the 2012 Regional Leaders Trip concludes.
Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect that Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region could emulate every aspect of what has taken place in Portland, if only because of the population and geographical differences.
While the Springs’ metro area has a little more than 600,000 people, Portland’s three-county market adds up to about 2.3 million residents. Portland also has major rivers, making it a major port not far from the Pacific Ocean, and its thriving downtown Portland State University has nearly 30,000 students, three times the size of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Still, it’s easy to see how Colorado Springs might draw from some of Portland’s other major changes since the early 1990s. That’s particularly true in efforts to revitalize, and even remake, the downtown area, with a priority of public transportation (streetcars and light rail in addition to buses) as well as creative approaches to urban-area housing.
Several of Portland’s leaders also have talked about some of the attributes that Colorado Springs and their city have in common, such as desirable living environments and natural beauty that are attractive to visitors, businesses and potential new residents.
Springs Mayor Steve Bach didn’t make this trip, but he spoke by video connection to the group Tuesday morning, asking everyone to look into how Portland’s city government has helped stimulate business development, as well as how public-private partnerships have helped get things done.
Bach admitted that “we don’t have the financial resources” to solve every problem, especially with increasingly dire infrastructure needs (roads and bridges). But he said that he will be coming to the City Council and Board of County Commissioners “in the next month or two” with fresh ideas about how to share services and save money.
The contingent in Portland includes four City Council members (Jan Martin, Val Snider, Brandy Williams and Lisa Czelatdko) and two county commissioners (Amy Lathen and Peggy Littleton), as well as County Administrator Jeff Greene and Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder.
The fourth annual trip (earlier groups went to Austin, Charlotte and Oklahoma City) is organized by the Center for Regional Advancement, an arm of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC. The trip’s published objective is the “look at the commonalities” between the Pikes Peak region and Portland, “searching for innovative ideas and effective partnerships that will drive more economic success.”