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City rejects community vision for Leon Young Pavilion in Hillside neighborhood

Demolished hopes

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The Leon Young Pavilion likely will be demolished. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Leon Young Pavilion likely will be demolished.
Near the corner of Corona Street and Fountain Boulevard in Southeast Colorado Springs, at the southern end of Shooks Run Trail, there’s a pavilion that looks as if it’s seen better days.

The splintering wood structure is littered with trash, and the lopsided picnic tables underneath are decorated with cobwebs. Two brightly colored, hand-painted murals adorn sections.

The Leon Young Pavilion, named after the city’s first, and only, black mayor, is a hallmark of the Hillside neighborhood in Southeast Colorado Springs. In recent months, neighbors have rallied around it in an effort to preserve Young’s legacy, and create a unique, new community space.

At first, their efforts appeared to have paid off.

The Hillside neighborhood thought it was getting $150,000 in federal grant money to rebuild the Leon Young Pavilion. So did the city’s Community Development Division, which allocated the funds in its 2018 draft plan, after a neighborhood youth group brought the ailing structure to officials’ attention.

But when the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department entered the mix, things got more complicated. Though the money was available, Parks was unwilling to rebuild the pavilion, says Senior Grants Analyst Tilah Larson, because it could get in the way of the city’s vision for a connected trail system.

Parks’ refusal felt like a “slap in the face,” says Victoria Stone, a neighborhood activist who helped coordinate efforts to rally the community around the project. “It makes it feel to me like maybe we’re a forgotten neighborhood or that our voice doesn’t matter.”

The Legacy Loop, a planned trail system that incorporates the Shooks Run Trail, and circles the greater downtown area, was first envisioned a century ago. There is no timeline for completing it, and the project is complicated by steep costs and stubborn landowners.
“Both the Legacy Loop and Envision Shooks Run plans have identified the corridor as a priority for near-term infrastructure upgrades,” reads a statement from city spokesperson Dee Brown. “With that in mind, the parks department needs to be thoughtful about not putting new elements in that space that will not align with pending plans.”

But it’s unclear why the Parks Department believes the Leon Young Pavilion could get in the way of trail construction. The pavilion sits near the Loop’s southern end, and already has a wide, smooth trail in place that goes around the structure. And Catherine Duarte, a representative from the city’s Community Development Division who worked with the city to identify the pavilion as a space for federally funded improvements, says she looked at the city’s plans and didn’t find any reason to believe the project would interfere.

Duarte says that reason wasn’t given until after the neighborhood had worked for months to engage the community about the project and envision what the space could become.

Parks initially said rebuilding the pavilion wasn’t a good option, Duarte says, because “it attracted too many transients and there was too much trash and it was just a big headache. But [Parks representatives said] if we built something new it would just keep attracting transients, because it wasn’t convenient for locals to use as a place for recreation.”

So Hillside neighborhood activists embarked on a mission to prove that the community did want to use the space. They organized a block party in May with about 200 people in attendance, and put up poster boards where people could vote on what they wanted to see. The overwhelming response, they say, was to demolish the pavilion and rebuild it into something new.

The Community Development Division put the funds on hold for seven months while Parks worked with the neighborhood to try to come to a consensus about what to do with the pavilion.

Larson says Parks was happy to demolish the pavilion, but they “just weren’t comfortable with then reinvesting a significant amount of money when you don’t know how things might change in that corridor overall.”

Eventually, time ran out, as Parks still hadn’t come to an agreement with the community when Duarte had to finalize the grant action plan. The project won’t happen, at least not this year.

That wasn’t made clear to the neighborhood until a couple of weeks ago, says Hillside activist Josh Rafail, who helped organize the block party and get the community involved. Rafail says the announcement came as a shock.

“I was disappointed that we had been getting our hopes up, and for something that could be considered a very important and beautiful thing that represents this city — to be told that it didn’t matter enough and was going to be canceled, that was just disappointing.”

June Waller, another activist and longtime resident, had a different reaction. “I’ve only been here for 54 years. I wasn’t surprised at all. Like most things in this neighborhood, I thought we were used.”

Larson says the pavilion is on Parks’ list of structures “to be addressed.” That probably means it will be demolished at some point, she says, but there’s no timeline for when that will happen.

In the meantime, Duarte says the neighborhood will be a high priority for community development funding next year. If Hillside can reach an agreement with Parks by the 2019 deadline, the project could still happen.

“I let the Hillside neighborhood know that they’d be in at the very beginning of the process to give them the time and to lay out the deadlines necessary,” she says.

Duarte says she “feels for Parks,” as the department is working with a small budget in a spread-out city.

The neighborhood isn’t giving up. Activists have letters of support from the Living Word Baptist Church, Concrete Couch, the Legacy Institute, the Colorado Trust, Colorado Springs Food Rescue and Catholic Charities. They hope to get more, and are planning another block party for mid-August.

“I think the reason I care about it the most is I feel like somehow there is a stigma that people on the Hillside don’t turn out, people don’t vote, people don’t care,” Stone says. “But people came and said what they wanted...And part of me feels like that should matter.”

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