Columns » City Sage

Looking for the city's next Santa




If you could go back in time, wouldn't you like to try New York City in the early 1970s? Wouldn't you like to be 31, living in a spacious, rent-controlled apartment for $375 a month, working with a group of merry young scoundrels on Wall Street and dating models and future movie stars?

Yeah, I'd love to relive those days — except for the parts I left out.

New York was dirty, dangerous and broke. The subways were squalid, packs of feral dogs roamed Central Park, and everyone I knew had been burglarized, robbed or mugged. Unable to pay its bills, the city asked the feds for a bailout. President Gerald Ford refused, prompting the immortal headline in the Daily News: "Ford to City: Drop Dead."

Bailouts! Whenever you really need one, they're not available. Banks won't give you a loan if you're broke, your landlord won't cut you a break on the rent if you lose your job, and the beautiful person you met at the Ritz last night won't answer your texts. But for some, blessed by fortune or the gods, bailouts come as needed. Colorado Springs has been rescued by the bailout goddess at least half a dozen times.

If not for Gen. William Palmer's railroad and a multi-thousand-acre land speculation by Palmer and his partners, the city wouldn't exist. The town sprouted from the prairie, grew sedately, and just as the regional economy cooled ... sick people bailed us out!

Mycobacterium tuberculosis infected millions of Americans, and there was no reliable cure. Contemporary quackery held that those so afflicted could benefit from moving away from crowded, smoky cities into our pure mountain air. They came, they built houses, started businesses, and looked for investment opportunities.

What's next, when the consumptives aren't copious enough? You strike gold!

Cripple Creek gold transformed our little city into a swaggering boomtown, awash in freshly minted millionaires. Lungers such as my grandfather Charles Farnsworth leapt from their sanatorium beds to start mining companies, but the mines played out, millionaires went broke and stagnation was just around the corner — time for a new metal!

Spencer Penrose had become wealthy enough in Cripple Creek to take a flyer on a low-grade copper mining prospect in Utah. The company, Utah Copper, made him a vast fortune. He built the Broadmoor, Pikes Peak Highway and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and created the El Pomar Foundation. The city prospered in the 1920s, struggled in the '30s and then ... Isoroku Yamamoto.

The Japanese admiral's meticulous, brilliantly executed attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into World War II. Wartime spending and the establishment of Camp Carson revitalized a stricken local economy. When the war ended, Camp Carson and Peterson Field were all but closed, the future was bleak — until along came Joseph Stalin and the postwar boom.

The Cold War brought the Air Force Academy, NORAD and Fort Carson. Defense spending bolstered us for nearly 50 years — until the Evil Empire dissolved and another real estate boom fizzled.

Who would save us this time? Jesus!

Focus on the Family came to town, followed by a host of other religion-based nonprofits. And the two Bills, Clinton and Gates, presided over a booming high-tech economy. Intel! Apple! MCI! Silicon Mountain! Everything was great until it wasn't. High-tech manufacturers folded or moved to China, the economy sputtered ... until the nation was attacked on 9/11.

War again boosted the local economy. But now that those wars are winding down and military spending is sure to decline, where's Santa?

Philip Anschutz? He owns the Broadmoor and the Gazette, so why not keep on spending? Ultra Petroleum? Forget America's Mountain — let's become America's oilfield, where jobs are plentiful and the zesty tang of volatile organic compounds flavors the prairie air.

Or maybe Bailout Santa won't help us out this time. Like New York, we may have to build a new city and economy by ourselves. We'll need new people, new ideas, new dynamism. What about inviting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to move here when his term ends? And the Koch brothers! And any other billionaires who'd like to hang out!

I know the El Paso Club is looking for a few good men...

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