Let the fundraising begin
City Parks needs $715,000 in donations to manage White Acres, Section 16 purchases

       With City Council agreeing on an ordinance April 14, as expected, to buy White Acres, open-space advocates gave themselves plenty to do over the next two years.

A well-worn hogback social trail indicates White Acres' popularity even before its open-space designation.
Westside Pioneer photo

       That's because the $1 million, phased purchase of the 45-acre parcel west of 26th Street and Gold Camp Road has become linked with city hopes to buy as open space the adjacent undeveloped, 640-acre Section 16 (which the city now leases for that purpose from the State Land Board). And without the pledged private contribution of $715,000 - which the advocates must fundraise to obtain - the city would have a hard time affording the costs of both parcels, according to Chris Lieber, development director for Colorado Springs Parks.
       The council vote on White Acres culminated a months-long effort by the Westside's cash-strapped Bethany Baptist Church to sell a hillside property that had been donated to the church decades ago… and by open-space supporters who were determined not to lose such a scenic, highly visible site to a housing development. The latter possibility arose after the church formed a partnership with an area developer. Meanwhile, “Save White Acres” signs began appearing around town.
       City Vice Mayor Larry Small said he believes White Acres is important primarily because it is so visible from much of the city below. “Our backdrop is important,” he said. “That's why we have a city here.”
       The current deal was struck a few weeks ago, when the church agreed to lower the asking sale price to a level that City Parks staff thought could be handled with its Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) tax funds and some private assistance.
       That assistance will come from a joint fundraising effort by two non-profit groups: Friends of Red Rock Canyon, which has focused particularly on White Acres (south of Red Rock); and the Westside-based Palmer Land Trust, on the 640-acre Section 16 (southwest of Red Rock and White Acres, with a trailhead off Gold Camp Road). “It's one contiguous landscape,” explained Scott Campbell, executive director of the Land Trust, which over the years has secured various area properties as open space, including three on the Westside. “White Acres is small, but it's a key connector between Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Section 16.”
       At the council meeting, Don Ellis of the Friends group, which has volunteered physical work and fundraising efforts at Red Rock since forming in 2004, said the joint concept is to “combine our resources so we can approach a larger pool of donors.”
       In an interview, Ellis added that, because of White Acres' earlier fundraising deadline (this year), the first $75,000 from the $715,000 campaign will go to that cause. “So if you really want to contribute for White Acres, you better get it in soon,” Ellis said, half-jokingly.
       The city has asked for the $75,000 this year to cover most of the $100,000 Phase 1 cost that takes in 15 acres of the property (the ordinance requires four annual purchase phases in all, ending in 2012). Because of last year's purchase of Coral Bluffs out east and phased payments on other open-space properties such as Red Rock, the balance in the TOPS fund (which comes from a .1 percent sales tax), is now around $800,000. That might not be so much of an issue - because the fund is projected to build back up at the rate of about $2 million a year - if the city wasn't already committed to trying to purchase Section 16 by December 2010, when its multiyear lease runs out.
       Negotiations with the state on buying Section 16 are slated for completion this June, so the city does not yet know what the property might cost. In an interview, Lieber estimated that it would likely run between $3 million and $5 million.
       “We're trying to keep as much cash balance as we can in 2009 and 2010 so we are in a position to address the needs that might arise for Section 16, assuming our negotiations with the State Land Board are successful,” Lieber summarized to council.
       For Section 16, the fundraising goal is $640,000 ($1,000 for every acre). That deadline is the end of 2010, because of the lease ending then, Campbell noted.
       Raising that amount will be “challenging in and of itself, especially in this economic climate,” he said. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the state's Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) fund (which comes from the state lottery) would normally be one of the first places where the Land Trust would apply. However, that's not allowed, because the city already has a $1 million grant from GOCO (in addition to its TOPS funds) for Section 16. “So the $640,000 has to be raised from other sources, whether other grants or individuals,” Campbell pointed out.
       His hope is that the White Acres fundraising will be “successful and quick, so once we know the price agreed on with the state for Section 16, we can start our campaign as soon as possible.”
       A fund for donations is being set up through the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, according to Ellis. He told council that, even though he has not been soliciting funds (not wanting to do so until council acted), supporters have already given him $14,000 in commitments.
       Several people who have advocated saving White Acres spoke at the council meeting, including Merrilyn Caduff, who had “many wonderful memories” of playing there as a child and now “others can also enjoy this.” Another speaker was Clint Tafoya, a minister who for eight years has rented the property's only house, built in the mid-'50s by the 26th/Gold Camp intersection, and has often used White Acres' open areas, by agreement with Bethany Baptist, for teen retreats through his own church. Recently married, he now hopes to buy the roughly 2-acre parcel and continue to live there. And, Glen Pressman, a neighbor of the property for 25 years, said he was glad it will become official open space - in part because of the considerable unauthorized use it has received. “What were deer trails are now social trails, and what were social trails are becoming wider,” he said.
       Section 16 has been leased as open space for more than 30 years by the city or county. It nearly became a subdivision 15 years ago, when a developer initiated talks with the Land Board and County Parks; however, county commissioners at that time nixed the idea. “That threat helped people pass TOPS [the open-space tax] in 1997,” Campbell said, “and it also kept it on the city's radar screen.”

Westside Pioneer article