In 1962, the year that I didn't quite graduate from college, I left Colorado Springs to seek adventure, fame and fortune in the larger world. I couldn't wait to shake the dust of this provincial little burg off my shoes — after all, I was a promising, even brilliant young man! What would I be? Why not a rock 'n' roll-singing, Great American Novel-writing, professional golf-playing president of the United States?
Nineteen years later, in 1981, I returned to the city of my birth. I didn't fly in aboard my own LearJet as I had imagined, arriving instead in a dusty U-Haul towing an old pickup truck. My then-spouse followed in our Volvo with the two kids, 3 and 5. We had a few thousand dollars in the bank, some junky furniture and the optimism of youth.
We saw the Springs as a safe haven, a welcoming little city where we could make a fresh start. We wanted to escape the crime, chaos and strangeness of Miami, we had family and friends here — so why not?
We were right. Alice built a practice as a clinical psychologist while I got involved in real estate, art dealing and local politics. We rented for a while, and eventually bought a house in Rockrimmon, then a relatively new subdivision. The city was everything that we had hoped for, and then some.
Colorado Springs in the 1980s was open, accessible, growing, quarrelsome and lots of fun. A new cohort of business, nonprofit, educational and political leaders in their 30s, 40s and early 50s was coming into power. Change was everywhere, but the city still seemed like a small town.
I soon came to know some of the folks who were shaking things up. Murray Ross had launched an ambitious little theater company called TheatreWorks, while Bee Vradenburg, Kathleen Collins, Phil Kendall and Charles Ansbacher were pulling a new performing arts center out of the ground on Cascade Avenue. The two Steves (Bach and Schuck) were the restless young Turks of the business community, while 50-something Springs native Bob Isaac presided over City Council with an iron hand, sometimes clashing with Kathy Loo and the three Marys — Councilors Mary Lou Makepeace, Mary Ellen McNally and Mary Kyer. Jerome Page headed the Urban League while Vice Mayor Leon Young teamed with city development director Jim Ringe and fiery Dave Hughes to preserve Old Colorado City. Dave Lux opened Old Chicago and the Ritz Grill, and Colorado College grad Richard Skorman somehow put together Poor Richard's Feed & Read. John Venezia and Lew Christensen dreamed big and built bigger, creating Briargate on 10,000 acres of empty northeast prairie.
Those were exciting times, but so what? I think we're beginning an amazing time of change, renovation and rebirth. We old folks may still be around, but this isn't grandpa's city anymore. The men and women who were in elementary school in 1981 are tossing the geezers to the curb and taking over.
What will they build, what will they keep, and what will they discard? I have no idea, but here are some thoughts.
• Think big! Learn from Denver, Boulder, Columbus and Omaha. It's fine to fill potholes, pave streets and keep utility rates down, but that's small ball. Denver went from dusty old cowtown to world-class city in 25 years. Don't be afraid of the future.
• End the intermittent war between downtown and the 'burbs. Neither can really prosper without the other.
• Would it make sense to have passenger rail to Denver, maybe even directly to DIA? How about local light rail or streetcars? Rethink transportation.
• Build a sustainable economic base. We tried and failed. Absent federal dollars, today's Colorado Springs would dry up and blow away.
• Support fledgling local businesses. Remember when City Council drove David Amster-Olszewski and SunShare out of town in 2013? The then-tiny company moved to Denver, opened an office in Minneapolis and today employs more than 50 people.
• Solve problems, don't study them. Local governments are fond of swimming through glue, appointing task forces that produce reports and nothing else. Don't elect rigid, argumentative, do-nothing ideologues to office.
Finally, learn from the past. While Skorman, Makepeace, Bach and Schuck are still around, find an opportunity to spend time with them. You could even call me — but only if you'll spring for drinks...