Territory Days takes heat from neighbors
Merchants to study ways to lessen annual event’s impacts

       Neighborhood security and clean-up efforts will likely be stepped up for next year's Territory Days, following complaints from some local residents at a meeting Oct. 13.
       Called by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), the meeting revealed past problems with trash, parking, drunkenness, trespassing and even a reported threat of violence in residential areas a short distance from the Old Colorado City commercial area.
       Both Nancy Stovall, president of the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group, which puts on the annual three- day event over Memorial Day weekend, and Lynda Dunne, whose Colorado Main Events organizes it, pledged to study ways to alleviate the neighborhood impacts. A high priority is to expand, improve and publicize police enforcement, they said, which might encourage more people to stay out of the neighborhoods and instead take the shuttle OCCA provides between the Coronado High parking lot and Old Colorado City.
       The physical threat occurred this year, according to resident Rockie Chisesi, after she chastised someone who'd gone to Territory Days for pulling up some of her flowers. Another time, when she asked a police officer to write a ticket on an illegally parked car, she said he declined, saying he didn't want to “spoil their fun.”
       OWN's role, according to OWN President Jim Fenimore, is to let OCCA members “figure out what they can do better, then report back to us and let everyone look at it.” OWN is the city-recognized neighborhood advocacy group for the older Westside. The meeting was held after some residents contacted OWN and said they had issues with the event.
       A suggestion by one OWN member (Kristine Van Wert) to cut back Territory Days from three days to one was rejected as financially infeasible by Stovall. The event, which has attracted as many as 150,000 people, is OCCA's only significant profit- maker, she said. The merchants' group uses the money it nets - $50,000 to $80,000, depending on the weather - to market the commercial district, beautify it and sponsor smaller events, such as Easter and Halloween activities that invite neighborhood families and children for games and candy.
       “Without Territory Days, a lot of things wouldn't happen,” Stovall elaborated after the meeting. “Some of the stores wouldn't survive and would end up as vacancies. I don't know, it's a scary thought.”
       Mazie Baalman, an Old Colorado City merchant and OCCA board member, claimed during the meeting that, unlike the downtown or Manitou Springs, which have strong city support, Old Town is “like an ugly little stepchild” that has to rely mostly on itself to stay financially viable.
       Dunne pointed to the event's 29-year history. “There are people who love it,” she said, adding to the residents, “I'm sorry it has such a negative impact for you.”
       She had the impression that trash problems had been addressed, not only by having cleanup crews throughout the event but in a two-block radius of it. “We pride ourselves on being like Disneyland,” Dunne said. Also, OCCA hires 10 off-duty police officers to ensure all is safe and crime-free. The overall costs for cleanliness and safety come to $18,000, she said.
       Van Wert opined that the merchants are essentially a small part of the Westside and thus shouldn't have so great an impact. Citing figures that the Westside is just 2 percent commercial and 98 percent residential, she said OCCA members would prove themselves “good neighbors” if they cut back the scale of the event. “People are paying more for their houses now,” she added. “They're not going to put up with it.”
       A similar opinion was expressed by Chisesi, who lives on Kiowa Street. “Territory Days is just too big for Old Colorado City,” she said. She believes the event has lost its original historic-celebration premise and now is little more than a “swap meet.”
       She also criticized the fact that alcohol is sold there, which she said leads to inebriated people walking through the neighborhood to get back to their cars.
       Dunne said selling alcohol augments event revenue, stressing that the drinking is confined to specified areas that are monitored by police.
       Nancy Miceli, a former OWN board member who also lives near the commercial area, decried the traffic situation during Territory Days, in which cars poke back-to-back down narrow residential streets looking for close-in parking spaces. “The gridlock is terrible,” she said. “I don't dare leave my house on the weekend.”
       Others who live nearby offered more upbeat opinions. OWN board member Bob Kliewer said he gets “entertainment” from watching the parking-space seekers. “If a space opens up, 10 seconds doesn't go by before it's taken,” he said.
       Dave Hughes, who led the creation of Territory Days (originally a parade for the Colorado Centennial) in 1976, lives just two houses from Bancroft Park but said he's never had a problem from the event over the years. “Maybe because I wear a Stetson (hat), nobody dares go in my yard,” he quipped.
       But he also showed an interest in the neighborhood problems and urged an “organized effort,” if necessary, to bring about better police enforcement.
       One suggestion from residents at the meeting was that the event be moved out of Old Colorado City and perhaps put it at Penrose Stadium.
       Aaron Moore, a Westside business owner, responded that the stadium “wouldn't have the same ambience.” He added, “You shouldn't forget the families who go to Territory Days, what a special time it is for them. The city needs more family events.”
       Hughes said that one of the main attractions for Territory Days is the historic architecture in Old Colorado City. “It's part of what people come to see,” he said.
       Stovall said she could not predict how soon the merchants' group would brainstorm ideas to respond to the residents' concerns, but did not expect it to happen before January. That's typically when the OCCA starts planning for the next Territory Days. There will also be new board members then, she added, and it would only be right to let them come up with the plan. In the meantime, she said, “Lynda and I can talk about it and try to figure out what we can work on.”
       A connection that clearly was missing with the residents at the meeting was a sense that Old Town's commercial success has any significance to them. That's a key point, Stovall said after the meeting. “If the retail district is thriving, it's helping their (the residents') property values go up,” she said. “As a result of what the merchants and property owners have done with Old Colorado City, they've made the surrounding area a nicer place to live.”

Westside Pioneer article