What about major events in Old Town?
Suggestion for door-to-door poll to find out Westsiders’ opinions
Territory Days - menace or marketing magnet?
As opponents have emerged in recent months, the annual three-day festival, along with other major Old Colorado City events, are facing scrutiny such as they have never known.
But in all the debate, one key unknown remains: the majority opinion. Do most businesses and residents favor such events or not?
“We should get an outside source, a professional person to poll every single business in Old Colorado City and all the residents around there,” suggested Jim Fenimore, vice president of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), in a recent interview. Although the extent of the residential area would need to be determined, he emphasized that overall, “we need a poll that won't leave any gray areas for either side and will provide good, honest opinions.”
Although potentially expensive, such an effort could prove useful, agreed Paul Butcher, Colorado Springs Parks director. He emphasized, however, that no matter how lopsided the results might be, one way or the other, the city has an obligation to consider the concerns of even a small minority of people. “I'd love to see the results,” he said, “We could tackle the issues one by one.”
Fenimore leads an OWN task force, formed at the suggestion of Councilman Jerry Heimlicher, that will be looking into Territory Days impacts and how to mitigate them when it starts meeting in late July. The event, which shuts off the avenue over Memorial Day weekend, annually attracts 100,000 or more people. OWN, the city-recognized advocacy group for the Westside, helped facilitate OCCA/city efforts to improve parking enforcement, trash pickup and neighborhood awareness during the recent 30th annual Territory Days.
Two unofficial event-related polling attempts exist right now. One is by Charlie Cagiao, the Old Colorado City pizza shop owner who closed off Colorado Avenue for the Jefferson Starship in May but has met opposition in promoting other such concerts. His petition, which asks people to support “free concerts to promote Old Colorado City,” has gathered 100 signatures in favor, 48 from businesses, he said. It does not, however, say where in Old Town such concerts might be held.
The other current polling attempt is by Don and Linda Schlarb, owners of Old Town Propane Co., 2725 W. Colorado Ave. (a block west of the Old Colorado City Historic District) who have taken a lead role in recent months in fighting against major events on Colorado Avenue.
Their petition states that the avenue should never be closed for more than four hours for an event.
Now sitting on the counter at Old Town Propane, the petition initially went out to Old Colorado City businesses after Cagiao tried to sponsor a second street concert proposed on Colorado Avenue this month. Opposition from several businesses in the 2600 block helped influence Colorado Springs Police to not grant a permit, and he has, for now, given up trying to book bands in Old Town.
Along with signatures from 13 Old Colorado City businesses in the 2500 to 2700 blocks of Colorado Avenue, the petition has been inked by nearly 100 people from around the city (not necessarily the Westside) who shop at the store, the Schlarbs explained in a recent interview.
“This puts aside the assumption that everyone likes Territory Days,” Don Schlarb said.
If their petition's wording ever gained city approval, it would mean the end of the festival, as well as possibly the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade and Old Times Car Show events, because each requires the avenue to be closed for more than four hours in one day.
Territory Days and the Car Show are sponsored by the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group. Shutting down the avenue for big events might be at the expense of immediate customers, but over the long haul they serve to remind the Pikes Peak Region that Old Town is a special place, the OCCA believes.
“People don't understand we have to market the area,” OCCA President Carole Jourdan said. “We have tons of competition. There are new shopping areas going in all the time, and with the constant talk about the downtown and Manitou Springs, we have to avoid being lost in the middle.”
In addition, Territory Days earns thousands of dollars for the OCCA through vendor booth rentals and sponsorship agreements. That money, in turn, is used to advertise and beautify the three-block area during the year.
Views similar to Fenimore's and Jourdan's are held by Dave Hughes, an OWN member who has the unique status of having helped start Territory Days 30 years ago. He has pointed out that its origination reflected a business-led attempt to draw attention to the renovation of Old Colorado City as well as to its colorful history. That historical tie to Old Town is why he and others have resisted moving the festival to a neutral, more remote venue, such as America the Beautiful Park or Penrose Stadium.
In any case, without a comprehensive poll, “everyone is just talking in generalities” about business opposition, he said at a recent OWN board meeting.
At meetings last fall and this spring, the Schlarbs had warned of potential catastrophes from having large crowds near the two 1,000-gallon propane tanks outside their propane business. In the recent interview, Don Schlarb downplayed such concerns. He said the tanks are not likely to explode all that easily; even a gunshot into one of them would be deflected by the thickness of the metal.
However, he said, such does not take away from the fact that major events fail to promote his business, detract from immediate sales and increase his liability because of the “chaos” as hordes of people pass through his property going to and from events in Old Colorado City. Other businesses and residents he has talked to have mentioned similar concerns, as well as trash, indecent behavior, noise, property damage and an overall sense of being “trapped,” he said.
The Schlarbs did rent some of their space for parking during Territory Days, but this was simply an attempt to cut their business losses, he explained.
A write-up by the Schlarbs, titled “Problems Associated with Street Events in Old Colorado City,” states as part of its conclusion, “The recurring theme with all of these problems is too many people in too small of an area. Trying to address every little problem with cardboard trash cans, free flowers, etc., simply misses the point, which is that the Westside does not have the facilities to contain large events. The true solution to the situation stares us right in the face, but no one seems to want to face the facts. The City of Colorado Springs must stop authorizing the closure of major thoroughfares for street events lasting more than a few hours.”
The Schlarbs, who have owned Old Town Propane for 13 years, have been joined at neighborhood meetings by 10 to 20 local residents, who speak to similar concerns. As such, those people were addressed by Councilman Heimlicher when he stated at a neighborhood meeting this month that the opposition had NIMBY overtones because Territory Days already existed when they arrived. Heimlicher further pledged to help solve any problems but that trying to end Territory Days itself was like “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
Don Schlarb's response is that “I don't think there's anything holy about this going on for 30 years.” Besides, he added, “it keeps growing. It might have once been a nice neighborhood block party, but not anymore.”
Although no fistfights have broken out, not all the comments have been civil. Schlarb made this comment, in regard to Hughes' defense of Territory Days: “Frankenstein didn't have a problem with the beast, but the villagers did.”
Cagiao took on Schlarb's propane-hazard concerns. “I'm going to turn that back on him. If he's worried about his propane tanks exploding, why don't we ask him to move to the other side of the highway? Maybe it would be better to have that space empty, so we could build something for Old Colorado City.”
Westside Pioneer article