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Guest column: CDBG funding cutback for Westside is a sign of success

By Dave Hughes

       While you have summarized the cut-off of CDGB funding for OWN now (see Westside Pioneer article), you haven't given Westsiders a fuller explanation of how and why that funding was made in the first place. Let me fill in some blanks.
       In the late 1960s, Colorado Springs became the recipient, on application, of a series of annual federal “Community Development Block Grant” (CDBG) funds. The Springs, like many cities with deteriorating downtowns or neighborhoods, could use these funds, under Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules, to start the revitalization of those areas.

City governments first had to declare and map out which run-down parts of town were full of “slum and blight.” The city then made plans on how to bring those areas back. In some cases they declared an “urban renewal” area. Downtown Colorado Springs was so declared. And it used those funds, along with some city funds, to tear down buildings, some historic, lower the price for the land and market it to outside investors.
       Downtown is still struggling.
       The city then drew a circle around the 8,000 homes on the Westside and the 50 empty buildings on Colorado Avenue, declaring it also a slum and blighted. For a while, Old Colorado City was made an urban renewal area too, but we proved to City Council that our revitalization plan (already in place, combining CDBG funds and private and public loans) was better.
       HUD required that the city communicate to all property owners inside neighborhood areas and get their opinions on the city plans, especially expenditures of block grant funds. That was easy for the downtown, as well as for the 100-plus properties in Old Colorado City.
       “Communicating” with the owners of 8,000 households was not going to be easy, for there were no Westside-wide homeowner organizations in the mid '70s. So Bob Traer, a homeowner on the near Westside, and I, who became a homeowner in 1977, but was putting my energy into the commercial area, formed the Organization of Westside Neighbors in 1978.
       Traer became president. The city started funding OWN with block grant funds so we could print and mail a newsletter to inform everyone inside the NSA about community development plans, hold meetings and picnics and solicit feedback. An elected OWN board, including members from six areas of the Westside, would meet, talk to the city, review its plans and represent the 8,000 homeowners. By 1980 the "Westside Plan" was adopted by city ordinance after plenty of Westsider “feedback” to the city planners.
       Well, after 36 years of “redevelopment” efforts, 90 percent of which has been done by new and old homeowners and small-business persons by renovation, very little destruction, voluntary historic preservation, plus some public works from the annual city CDBG funds, supplemented by regular city budget items, the “Westside Plan” has worked!
       Neither HUD nor the city needs to specially subsidize the Westside, Old Colorado City or OWN anymore.
       Editor's note: Dave Hughes, a retired Army colonel and Westside resident, is widely credited for leading the revitalization of Old Colorado City and the Westside, starting in the late 1970s.

(Posted 9/28/14; Opinion: Guest Columns)

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