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The Eight Drab Suits of City Hall



Remember the bright, shining myths that brought the Spaniards north to New Mexico and Colorado in the 16th century? Weren't they looking for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, unimaginable wealth awaiting those who were bold enough to find and seize it?

Alas, centuries have passed, and instead of unimaginable wealth we've got McMansions in the dusty foothills west of town. And instead of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, we've got the Eight Drab Suits of City Hall. Whatever else you may say about our new Council, one thing's clear: They're not going to be very interesting to cover. In fact, they're gonna be dull -- painfully so.

OK, they're dull. And they're about as retro as any eight men could be. I mean, these guys make Don Rumsfeld look like a Prada model. But maybe being '50s throwbacks isn't so bad, if they can learn a few lessons from their '50s predecessors.

Half a century ago, members of the Colorado Springs City Council were white, male, middle-aged, reasonably prosperous and proudly Republican. And, it may surprise you to learn, they were also bold, creative, unafraid of risk, devoted to their city and breathtakingly farsighted. The last half-century of growth and prosperity in Colorado Springs came about only because of their decisions.

Like their present-day counterparts, they were pro-business, growth-oriented conservatives. But, luckily for us, conservatives in 1953 differed importantly from today's crabby entitlement warriors, whose agenda is too often limited to tax breaks, deregulation, going after gays and filling potholes.

In the early 1950s, the continued growth and prosperity of Colorado Springs was by no means a sure thing. To begin with, the city had no economic base to speak of, apart from a couple of military bases and a cheerfully low-rent summer tourist business.

Our water supplies, all of which came from the Pikes Peak watershed, were inadequate -- a fact that an ongoing drought has made evident. We were isolated from national markets, thanks to an inadequate transportation network. Ours was a bucolic, peaceful and beautiful small city. It was also poor and stagnant, ill positioned either to grow or to prosper.

Working with the business community, Council set out to solve these problems. Thanks to Joe Reich and Chase Stone, Colorado Springs became one of the first cities to proactively recruit a major employer, launching a successful effort to be designated as the site for the new Air Force Academy.

City officials lobbied the Feds to make sure that the brand new interstate highway wouldn't bypass Colorado Springs, as originally planned. And finally, despite dismayed opposition from a substantial majority of the voters, Council made two decisions that shaped today's city.

In the early '50s, the Colorado Springs "airport" consisted of a couple of Quonset huts, from which a handful of passengers daily would walk out on the tarmac to board a wheezing DC-3 for a bumpy trip to Denver. It was obvious to everyone that the airport would never amount to much; obvious to everyone except City Council, who forked over the enormous sum of $45 per acre to buy several thousand acres of surrounding antelope pasture -- just in case we ever needed a real airport.

Council also decided to solve our water supply problems by embarking on the Blue River Project -- a staggeringly expensive undertaking, whereby the city would create reservoirs on the Western Slope, 100 miles away, and build a pipeline to transport it to Colorado Springs.

Bringing water across the mountains seems pretty mundane today, but it was a remarkable achievement 50 years ago. Remember, ours was a city of less than 50,000 people, with a tiny city utility and a negligible tax base.

Council was literally betting the farm on transmountain diversion -- had it failed, none of us would be here. Or, more accurately, some of us would be here, but Colorado Springs would be like, say, Trinidad in the mid-'80s -- small, picturesque and broke.

So let us hope that our new City Council draws inspiration from their predecessors, and not from today's fearful naysayers. Some advice: The present can take care of itself, but the long future of this community is your responsibility, for a brief time.

With water, with transportation, with open space, with taxation: Make decisions that will delight your children and grandchildren, not your campaign contributors.


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