Columns » Outsider




Let's assume that you own a couple of downtown buildings. You work in one, and the other's vacant. You also happen to own a parking garage across the street. What do you do with the vacant building?

Do you tear it down, and convert it into a parking lot, so you won't have to walk across the street to work? Of course not, unless you're an eccentric billionaire. You sell the vacant building, or you fix it up and rent it out. You don't just rip it down, and throw away a few hundred grand.

But if you're the mayor, a City Council member or the city manager of Colorado Springs, and the building belongs to the taxpayers, you don't give a good goddamn about asset conservation or about fiscally prudent behavior.

No. What you care about is ease and comfort for your own ample backsides. That's why the city just threw away a few hundred thousand of your money Sunday before last, when City Manager Jim Mullen ordered the demolition of the historic Udick Building, a 1920s-era bowstring truss building just north of the old City Hall along Nevada Avenue at Kiowa Street.

Mullen ripped down the building for one simple reason: so that he and his bosses can have their own private parking lot right next to their new offices at the old City Hall. For arrogant elitism combined with lofty contempt for the taxpayers, this particular caper beats anything in the last 50 years. It's a reckless misuse of city resources, it's visibly self-serving, and it damages what remains of downtown's historic fabric.

The official line is that we need more parking in that area because of Council's impending move into the soon-to-be renovated building. I wonder. Although the old City Hall is an architectural gem that ought to be preserved, renovated and reused, it's clearly inappropriate as either a public forum or as an office location for Council.

For starters, the renovated third floor Council chambers can only hold 99 people, substantially fewer than the current facility, which itself is undersized. Apparently, the city intends to plop down the overflow crowd in front of a TV set in the basement, and stick any citizens who might wish to address Council on the elevator up to the third floor when their moment arrives. Now that's what I call open, transparent and accessible government!

This noble old edifice will also contain Council offices. Note that your elected representatives will have virtually no contact with rank-and-file city workers; they will remain in the City Administration Building at Nevada and Colorado avenues. This means that Council members will not be able to build the informal networks that are critical to good decision-making.

That's good news for the city manager, who will gain command over the flow of information to Council.

Although the city may think that tearing down historic buildings and throwing away money is the essence of good government, it's comforting to know that common sense is alive and well in the private sector.

Consider the homely frame building at 702 South Cascade Avenue. Built in 1901, it functioned as a neighborhood grocery store for many years. Such stores have largely disappeared from Colorado Springs, thanks to supermarkets. Intermittently vacant for many years, 702 South Cascade is about to be reborn as Shuga's, a coffeehouse/pastry shop/cool place to go.

Thanks to building owner Steven Mullen, and hopeful entrepreneur/present Indy colleague Alexius Weston, the tired old structure is getting a major renovation. Stripping off some awful exterior siding, Alexius was delighted to discover a perfectly preserved sign, probably executed in the '40s, advertising Meadow Gold ice cream. It covers nearly half of the building's north wall, and it's signed by the company that created it -- Bancroft Signs.

As old-timers know, Bancroft Signs was founded before the turn of the 20th century by William H. Bancroft, a pioneer artist in Colorado, whose shimmering impressionist landscapes can be seen at the Fine Arts Center and the Pioneers Museum. Alexius' sign, as fresh and vibrant as the day it was painted 50-odd years ago, is a wonderful addition to the south downtown streetscape, as well as a poignant reminder of the neighborhood's past.

And when you drop by Shuga's for a latte, you might notice that, although the neighborhood was first developed around 1880, the city has yet to install curbs and gutters on nearby Rio Grande Street.

But don't worry. Curbs and gutters are mere amenities, especially in working-class neighborhoods. Particularly when compared to urgent municipal necessities, like private parking for Council members ...


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