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Local headlines to expect in 2017

Between the Lines

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Progress is obvious from above I-25/Cimarron in this December shot. - COURTESY CDOT
  • Courtesy CDOT
  • Progress is obvious from above I-25/Cimarron in this December shot.

Something about the start of odd-numbered years always throws me off. They don't naturally create excitement or anticipation.

Come on. How do we get psyched up about 2017? Especially after being so hopeful about 2016, then seeing those past 12 months turn into such an absolute train wreck in so many ways (don't worry, this isn't about the election).

Colorado Springs already has begun jumping past 2017 and looking forward to 2018, when the city will host another U.S. Senior Open golf tournament — highlighting The Broadmoor's 100th anniversary celebration, certain to spawn a series of momentous events.

But let's not jump ahead of ourselves. We're stepping gingerly into the new year, still shell-shocked (who will die next?) and unsure what to expect, also knowing we can't do much now to predict or influence what's about to happen in Washington, D.C. — the newest spectator sport for America, brought to you by 24/7 cable network news.

Closer to home, though, we can look at the year ahead and project a handful of major news themes for Colorado Springs and the state. Without further ado, here they are:

• City Council election. It's only 90 days away, on April 4, as voters will choose the six district representatives who will shape the city's next four years, perhaps as part of a power-wielding majority. We already know that District 3 incumbent Keith King isn't running again, and District 2 rep Larry Bagley might not. We've heard that Colorado Springs Forward will be pushing several candidates, probably challenging Jill Gaebler in District 5, Helen Collins in District 4 and Don Knight in District 1. Even the safest incumbent, Andy Pico in District 6, likely will have an opponent.

That could mean a major upheaval, and a sudden new coalition might lead to sweeping changes. But the timeline is short: Candidates have to announce by Jan. 23, and mail ballots go out in mid-March. That's just two months for the campaign, which is fine with many voters but could make it easier to fool the electorate. That's where we come in. And yes, we're paying attention.

• Interstate 25. First, the good news. Later this year, barring unforeseen delays, the new I-25/Cimarron interchange will be fully operational, and that's awesome for an area that depends so heavily on summer tourism.

But the focus already is shifting toward widening I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock, specifically whether anything can be done to make that happen as soon as possible. It's not enough just to have a study. This needs to be a fast-track, design-build project, as the Cimarron interchange has been.

• Marijuana. You may have seen some post-election stories about whether Donald Trump's administration would allow states such as Colorado to continue with their own permissive marijuana laws, despite pot still being classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 substance. That concern is real, with Trump's nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, on the record just months ago saying, "Good people don't smoke marijuana."

It's also true that every state except Alaska allowing recreational marijuana voted for Hillary Clinton. So don't be surprised if this becomes an issue in 2017, impacting Colorado and this region — it's a billion-dollar industry in our state — if Sessions decides to enforce federal law.

• Higher-ed leadership. Our two highest-profile institutions, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy, are heading into transitions. UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak leaves in February, and interim replacement Venkat Reddy (dean of the College of Business) appears likely to become the permanent choice. Reddy has been close to the UCCS pulse for years and has strong ties with the local community. He'd be a great pick.

Meanwhile, the AFA superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, is heading into what surely will be her final semester at the Academy, ending her fourth year. We can expect an appointment to go to Congress sometime in the next few months, and the next superintendent will have a tough act to follow. That new leader might have to decide whether it makes sense to move forward with a new AFA Visitors Center as part of City for Champions.

• Building projects. Some of the region's most significant planned undertakings will encounter crucial milestones in 2017. That list starts with the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, which faces a March 31 fundraising deadline to achieve necessary financing. From all indications, those pieces will fall into place and we'll have a spring groundbreaking. Next up will probably be the Pikes Peak Summit Complex, which has many moving parts but is gathering momentum.

As for achieving reality, we'll see the National Cybersecurity Center taking shape in a renovated facility on North Nevada Avenue, and UCCS will be wrapping up its new Ent Center for the Arts in late 2017. By the end of summer, Colorado College plans to finish and open the new, audacious Tutt Library.

For those who have pushed for more downtown housing, the 169-unit complex at Colorado and Wahsatch avenues could be done by the end of 2017, with more such projects in the works.

That's just scratching the surface of potential headlines for 2017. In other words, this odd-numbered year might be interesting enough here at home that we don't have to fixate so much on ... yes, that new spectator sport.

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