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All we need is new vision

City Sage



This week, SolidFire, a Boulder-based provider of "all-solid-state primary storage systems" for cloud computing enterprises, announced that it's raised $25 million in fresh venture capital. That brings to $37 million the amount that the 16-month-old company has raised this year.

Self-described as "Boulder's hottest storage startup," SolidFire is located in that city's downtown. It'll use the dough to hire smart people to design, refine and market its products. The company is about to hire dozens of young professionals, pump millions into Boulder's economy, and create new wealth. If the company continues to expand, the restless young entrepreneurs who come to work for it will themselves seed a half-dozen new ventures, and thus create yet more jobs, tax revenues and sudden wealth.

We were once, in this area, a worldwide magnet for daring young entrepreneurs, who created tens of billions of new wealth (in today's dollars) in a few years' time.

It wasn't very complicated — all it took was a guy named Bob Womack, who found gold in Cripple Creek 120 years ago. During the next 10 years, between 1890 and 1900, the population of Colorado Springs soared from 10,000 to 35,000, bank deposits increased by nine times, and the number of millionaires living in the North End jumped from three to more than 50.

When Womack found gold in Cripple Creek, he wasn't just a simple cowpoke who stumbled upon gleaming nuggets in a stream bed. He had been studying the area for years, and had taught himself a little geology. So whether he knew the dull gray veins in the country rock were sylvanite, a gold/tellurium ore, or whether he needed Winfield Scott Stratton to confirm it — accounts vary — Cripple Creek might have remained a cow pasture forever, absent Womack. He saw something where others saw nothing.

So what do we have in Colorado Springs to build an entrepreneurial culture and bring fierce young men and women here to create new companies and rebuild our dispirited little city?

Let's look at the west side. In the eyes of most Springsites, there's no there there. Despite the successful renovation and revitalization of Old Colorado City, much of the historic west side is in slow decline. Several thousand century-old frame houses and cottages line residential streetscapes that are little changed since the early 1900s. Most are in some degree of disrepair. Many of the houses are tiny, set on small lots cheek by jowl with their next-door neighbors. School enrollment is declining, and once-vibrant neighborhood elementary schools have closed and/or consolidated.

Isn't this just a classic example of a deteriorating inner-city environment? And why do anything about it? The real estate market has spoken, and its message is clear: Nobody wants junky little cottages on junky little streets in junky little neighborhoods — so let nature take its course.

Then again, maybe we're not seeing what's before our eyes.

What we have are tightly knit, dense, safe and eminently affordable urban neighborhoods close to downtown. Houses too close together? Look at Key West. Junky old buildings? Look at Denver's LoDo, circa 1975.

Re-imagined, the west side could become a magnet for young professionals, new companies and a thriving new economy. Local government could help, rather than hinder, the area's rebirth.

For example, here are some ideas of what could be done:

• Approve the west side historic preservation overlay zone, which has been moving sluggishly along since 2005. Such designation would allow owners of more than 4,000 properties to qualify for renovation tax credits of up to 20 percent.

• Create and maintain bicycle-commuting infrastructure linking downtown and the west side, turning it into a mini-Copenhagen with dedicated lanes, stoplights and trails for bike commuters. Goal: to have 10 percent of all west side-downtown commutes by bike. Ten percent may not sound like much, but it would vault that area over the citywide rates in Portland and Minneapolis.

• Finally, forget boundaries. Look at the west side, Manitou Springs and other close-in neighborhoods as a single entity, and adopt policies that knit them. Get to work on No Man's Land, the strange little piece of El Paso County on West Colorado Avenue between 31st Street and Manitou Springs. Forget the planning grants, jurisdictional squabbles and buck-passing.

Just do something!

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