GUEST COLUMN:
Need community solution
By Mike Crepeau

       For more than three years, a handful of people have been involved in bridging the gap between historic Old Colorado City and historic Manitou Springs in an effort to create greater economic vitality in the Westside tourist districts through work with the jurisdictions of El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs.
       Unfortunately, significant progress is being hampered day in and day out by unilateral government decisions such as the recent no-solicitation ordinance proposed by Colorado Springs for the downtown and by forgoing a true public process.
       The Waldo Canyon Fire last summer devastated the Westside historic districts. The rolling disaster that is currently the City of Colorado Springs' no-solicitation ordinance will only add to the turmoil of the coming 2013 tourist season, with the city spending tax dollars defending a poorly conceived solution to a community concern.
       If the courts ever allow the ordinance to be enforced, it will displace panhandlers and vagrants to the tourist districts of historic Westside and historic Manitou Springs that are clearly facing enough turmoil from the economy's slow rebound.
       It's also been made clear that the residential districts in and around the Westside tourist districts have been hammered by panhandlers and vagrants above and beyond the effects of the fire. So why does the City of Colorado Springs seem bent on heading more problems to the Westside?
       What concerns me is that the city did not have a “stakeholder process” and several councilmembers were more than willing to forgo any public process, according to news reports. While I agree the downtown has a reason to be concerned, the facts remain the facts. More than 300 businesses in just Old Colorado City signed a petition asking for protection if the city passed the ordinance for downtown only, and several hundred residents signed and e-mailed concerns to council.
       The Westside sees almost 3 million tourists annually. Twenty-five of the top tourist sites in the city are located west of downtown - not downtown. Almost 14,000 jobs are created in El Paso County due to tourism. Property taxes in the county would be almost $400 more per person if we didn't have Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak Highway, Cheyenne Canyon Park, Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs.
       Kudos to Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder and his city for taking the reins and working for a solution to the issues their community has faced, but the fact of the matter is that we on the Westside tourism corridor in Colorado Springs face the same issues.
       My suggestion: Let's let the community chime in and actually have a stakeholder process. Let El Paso County, Manitou, Old Colorado City and the Colorado Avenue businesses work with the ACLU and staff members of the City of Colorado Springs to create a community solution that we can all live with. Let's have a small task force of the above-mentioned folks, much like we did with the no-camping ordinance two years ago and stop wasting precious tax dollars and staff time arguing in court when there is now clearly no reason to pursue the proposed no-solicitation ordinance with its current language and exclusion of a vital part of our city and local economy.

Mike Crepeau is a motel owner who leads the Avenue Merchants group, a consortium of businesses on Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street.