Columns » Outsider


Unruly citizens must unite!


So now it gets serious. In the next few months, we'll see whether the citizens of this community are ready to roll over for the pseudo-conservatives on City Council.

Because if they are, they'll cheerfully stand by as Council spends a couple of billion dollars of ratepayer money on the Pueblo Reservoir scheme, while continuing to give developers a free ride. Not only that, they'll also file obediently to the polls and vote to give the city (and their unindicted co-conspirators, the county commissioners) another $60 million from the citizens' pockets (gotta build roads to those new developments!).

Moreover, they'll cheerfully acquiesce to 25 years of $3.6 million annual subsidies to the proposed convention center. And finally, they'll sit back like so many sacks of potatoes and nod believingly while Council explains that the city can't afford either to keep or renovate the City Auditorium.

Of the scores of magnificent buildings constructed during the city's optimistic youth, those 50 golden years from 1871 to 1921, few remain. And of those remaining few, three belong to the city: The Pioneers Museum, City Hall and the City Auditorium. All were constructed with public funds, for public use, and all remain in public use.

It hasn't been easy to preserve them. In the'70s, when the Pioneers Museum was still used as the county courthouse, commissioners decided to tear it down and build a new one on that site. Thanks to a group of outraged citizens, it didn't happen. But without their effort, that magnificent structure would be chunks of rock at the bottom of a landfill.

In the late '70s, city government abandoned the historic City Hall and moved to the cramped, junky and tasteless new City Administration Building at Colorado and Nevada avenues. For 20 years, old City Hall just sat and deteriorated, until, thanks to a visionary mayor and council, it was restored and reborn as the seat of government.

And now the City Auditorium is under the gun. Council members seem to think that it's scarcely used, that fixing it up would be an intolerable expense, and that the kind of folks that use it, and the kind of events that it hosts are, well, just too low class to be tolerated.

Let's begin: The auditorium is heavily used. According to a March 5 memo from Parks Director Paul Butcher to the mayor, the facility has averaged 320 days of usage over the last several years. This, at a deteriorating structure with no air conditioning! Clearly, if it were fixed up and available for big events in the summer, it'd do even better.

And how much will it cost to fix? Not $3 million-plus as I myself estimated last week, but -- according to Butcher's memo -- $1.3 million.

But what about those massive city operating subsidies that the Auditorium has required? Aren't they unsustainable?

Not exactly. Over the past five years, the operating subsidy has averaged a grand total of $82, 767. Last year, the city had to kick in a big $7,617. C'mon -- in the context of billion-dollar budgets, this isn't even peanuts; it's a rounding error.

But let me tell you: It was absolutely surreal to sit through Monday's meeting and listen to certain council members bitch sanctimoniously about the auditorium's problems. It would have been a little easier to accept if they hadn't spent the previous hour heaping compliments on the proposed convention center plan, which calls for an annual subsidy of $3.6 million from the city, as well as sticking us with a contingent liability of $160 million.

And consider Councilman Jerry Heimlicher's remark, that "it's demeaning to have the kind of events that it has now ... it was meant for recreation and arts appreciation." That kind of unashamed elitism may be why Heimlicher, as well as some of his colleagues, are so eager to turn over the building to the Colorado Springs Conservatory, a private arts academy.

But for all of its long life, the auditorium has been an egalitarian, profoundly democratic venue. It's hosted boxing matches, cat shows, antique shows, raves, concerts by Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg; metaphysical fairs; creative callouts; the Body Packaging Show -- all the stuff, highbrow, lowbrow and everything in between, that we, the unruly citizens of Colorado Springs, actually like.

And you know something? It's our building. It doesn't belong to the mayor, or Council, or their developer buddies. It belongs to all of us, and it's time to preserve, protect and defend it.

So let's get going. In the next few weeks, auditorium supporters will be hosting a massive community meeting (at the City Aud, of course!). We'll let you know the date in upcoming issues -- be there!!!


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