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The Outsider


One of the worst things about getting old is that you remember a whole lot of stuff that most everybody has forgotten.

At best, you're a bore, interminably going on and on about stuff that no one else cares about. And at worst, you're the Ancient Mariner, forcing people to listen and learn. ("It was an ancient mariner, and he stoppeth one of three/By thy long gray beard and glittering eye/Now whyfore stoppeth thou me?")

Here's today's lesson: In government, yesterday's mistakes don't simply disappear into a kindly bureaucratic vacuum. Instead, they're amplified by time. Trivial errors become substantial mistakes, and substantial mistakes become monumental.

For a couple of examples, let's look at the Fine Arts Center and then at the City of Colorado Springs.

In the early 1970s, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center was approached by the American Numismatic Association, which wanted to buy several lots along Cascade Avenue, then part of the FAC's grounds.

To all but two members of the Board, the ANA's proposal seemed attractive. They liked the idea of having another similar institution next door, the financial folks were offering a good price, and it seemed unlikely that the FAC would ever need the land for expansion.

Longtime residents May Mullett and Ann Galbraith were alone in opposing the proposed sale. As Ann told me a few days ago, "The FAC had some financial problems, but we just thought that there were other avenues that could have been explored."

Thirty years later, Colorado Springs has become a metropolitan area of close to half a million and the FAC, a magnificent facility for a city of 30,000, is woefully inadequate. And it's also landlocked, hemmed in by the ANA to the east, Colorado College to the north, and Monument Valley Park to the west. So what are they going to do?

Apparently, they're going to try to get a piece of Monument Valley Park. On May 22, FAC officials met with members of the League of Women Voters and unveiled a sweeping proposal for the construction of a new wing, to be constructed partially on park property west of the existing parking lot.

The plan calls for the closure of Dale Street west of the FAC, and for the historic south faade of the great John Gaw Meem building to be partially obscured by the new wing. Apparently, they plan to offer the city some other property in exchange for the use of the parkland.

Given that the FAC has yet to officially announce this plan, it may never happen. But the institution's dilemma is clear: Because of an ill-considered decision a generation ago, the FAC is literally trapped. It's not at all clear that the city would approve of this scheme, and if the League of Women Voters -- long the foremost protector of the city's parklands -- decides to oppose it, I suspect it's DOA.

Selling the Cascade Avenue frontage was a real doozy of a mistake, but it pales next to the cumulative impact of extraordinarily bad planning decisions that the city has made over the last few decades.

Looking at today's downtown, and comparing it with the extraordinarily beautiful downtown of the late '50s, you assume that Victorian Colorado Springs simply fell victim to the inexorable forces of market capitalism.

Not so; it came down as a result of ill-conceived city ordinances, most of which remain in effect. And what are those ordinances?

1. Building codes that force owners of older buildings to make expensive and often unnecessary alterations.

2. Downtown's core zoning (C-6 high-rise, parking exempt), which encourages the demolition of low-rise buildings.

3. Flat parking as a use by right in virtually every commercial zone, which creates further incentives to tear down older buildings.

So how are we going to do better in the future? We might start this very afternoon at six o'clock, by going to the Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall on the Colorado College Campus to hear Jennifer Moulton.

Now Denver's Planning Director, C.C. graduate Moulton is the former president of Historic Denver, and, more recently, the author of Ten Steps to a Living Downtown (on the web at

Moulton isn't just a theorist; she's been a major player in the extraordinary revitalization of Downtown Denver and LoDo. Her appearance is sponsored by our own Historic Preservation Alliance, who expect a big crowd; hopefully, some of our own elected officials will show up.

And yes, we will be taking names!


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