So, what happened on the Westside in 2005?
Top story: Big plans by state for Hwy 24
The year 2005 featured numerous newsworthy events, activities and issues on the Westside, most of them of an upbeat nature.
The following is our list of the top 20 Westside stories of the year.
1. CDOT envisions wider highway
At four 2005 public meetings through June, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) asked citizens to “envision” what U.S. Highway 24 ought to be like in the future. At an open house Nov. 10, attended by about 240 people, CDOT and its consultants revealed its solutions. The ideas - one for a six-lane freeway, the other for a six-to-eight-lane expressway - would at least double the swath of the current four-lane highway, based on the plans CDOT has presented so far. Concerned that the project is bigger than it needs to be, both local committees in the planning effort (one consisting of elected officials, the other of government engineers and planners) have sharply questioned the CDOT proposals, along with most citizens contacted by the Westside Pioneer. “I want to see it sized down,” County Commisioner/ Westside leader Sallie Clark commented.
CDOT officials have responded that anything smaller would fail to address increasing traffic counts along the highway and also grade too low to receive federal construction funding.
2. Gold Hill Mesa breaks ground - After several years of discussion and planning, ground preparation began last spring for Phase 1 of what will eventually be a 214-acre residential/commercial development south of Highway 24 and east of 21st Street. Phase 1 is a roughly 56-acre area on the highest part of the property, just north of Lower Gold Camp Road, on which Gold Hill Mesa Township LLC (a group of investors planning the project) has city approval to build 306 homes. No structures have gone up yet, but the necessary utilities are to be laid in place by January to begin the foundation for the community center that will be a focal point for the development, according to Robert Willard, the manager of the LLC. The first model homes are expected to be built later in the year, possibly by August. Also anticipated to begin in 2006 (on the lower part of the property, north of Phase 1, near Fountain Creek), is work on the water- quality ponds. These ponds are required to control the amount of run-off into the creek from the development, which is being constructed - under state and federal health standards - largely atop chemically treated tailings from what was once the region's largest gold mill.
3. Westside public schools improve - District 11's Westside schools had plenty to feel good about in the past year, with students testing higher at most of the schools, expanded “magnet” offerings, increased enrollment and major building upgrades on the way. Here are capsule highlights: Midland Elementary's “magnet” International Baccalaureate (IB) program received its official certification after 2 ½ years offering the program… Holmes Middle School adjusted its curriculum strategy to begin offering pre-Advanced Placement classes, in line with Coronado High's Advanced Placement that allows students to take college-credit classes in high school…. Buena Vista received a grant that allowed it to begin offering its magnet Montessori program for preschool and full-day kindergarten at no charge through at least the 2006-07 school year… Whittier Elementary began offering its “Eagles” program for gifted students… Bristol started offering Suzuki violin training for grades K-1 as part of its gradual move to an arts magnet school… Voters authorized spending for the $131.7 million bond issue they had approved in 2004; this will include $16.7 million in buildings improvements at Westside schools, starting primarily at Buena Vista next summer… Led by a 100 percent proficiency level in Marilyn George's fifth-grade class at Buena Vista, most Westside students improved their Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) scores over the previous school year.
4. New, expanded and relocated businesses - Several major developments occurred on the Westside in 2005. Perhaps the most widely watched was the hardware-store situation. At the start of the year, the Westside had two - the Baker's Best at Red Rock shopping center and the Ace Hardware at Uintah Gardens. But in April, by coincidence, both stores announced plans to close. Drastic rent increases were the reasons given in both cases. Ace reopened this fall in the former McKinzey-White bookstore at the West Wind shopping center.
Other business-development highlights this year: The Old Colorado City Lofts renovation/ development transformed the upper two floors of the historic three-story Waycott Building at 2432 W. Colorado Ave… ArtSports owners Mike and Christin Zapp constructed a 26,000 square-foot building in Holland Park to create one of the biggest indoor training facilities in the Pikes Peak region… The Ranch Steakhouse & Market, owned by Ranch Foods Direct founder Mike Callicrate, opened on Garden of the Gods Road after a remodeling what used to be the Hungry Farmer restaurant at that site … In Motion/Wellness Physical Therapy owner Brian Surage relocated to the West Wind shopping center in a new, customized building… The aging one-story building at 1621 W. Colorado Ave., owned by Joe and Linda Schmeiler, was rebuilt into a two-story commercial/residential building… After an interior/exterior overhaul, Rita's Fajita's (owned by Rip and Janice Blackwood) replaced the Western Sizzlin' chain restaurant at Eighth Street and Highway 24.
5. RTA makes presence known - Although no major projects were scheduled on the Westside in 2005 (and won't be until 2007), locals saw plenty of Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) work vehicles or contractors during the year. Numerous streets (including most of those in the Holland Park and Midland neigborhoods) received pavement or chipseal overlays; other work funded all or in part by the RTA included new curb and gutter and stoplights, refurbished bridges and paved alleys. It was the first year of the RTA, which is funded by a 1-cent sales tax.
6. Volunteers add to Red Rock trails - More than 900 volunteers joined Colorado Springs Parks staff to expand the Red Rock Canyon Open Space trails system in 2005. Kim King, City Parks volunteer coordinator, said Red Rock volunteers worked a total of 5,082 hours, which, at an estimated value of $15 per hour, saved the city $76,230.
7. Buffalo shooting on Westside - Hundreds of Westsiders witnessed the bloody deaths of five buffaloes May 9 in a front yard on Colorado Avenue. Colorado Springs Police shot the animals to death after they had escaped from G&C Packing, a long-time slaughterhouse and packing facility at 240 S. 21st Street. In September, G&C owner Frank Grindinger, who blamed the escape on carelessness by a truck driver who had been unloading 57 buffaloes at G&C, revealed the first of a set of planned gate/ enclosure improvements intended to make it impossible for the animals to get away during the unloading process again.
8. I-25 widening project begins - This $150-million project (nicknamed “COSMIX” by the state), which started in July, will include the replacement of the Bijou Street and North Nevada Avenue/ Rockrimmon Boulevard interchanges and completion of the 12-mile interstate widening from South Circle Drive to North Academy Boulevard. The biggest Westside impact during 2005 was the widening work between Fillmore Street and Garden of the Gods Road, which closed off the center strip and its shoulder so that lanes could be built there. The lanes are now in, but won't be opened until nighttime weather warms enough (possibly by April) to allow a final pavement overlay. Also completed in 2005 was the roughly half-mile-long, 16-foot- high noise wall in front of 70 homes in the Holland Park neighborhood.
9. Gold Camp Road decision unpopular - In July, after more than a year of public discussion, the U.S. Forest Service released its much-anticipated Envi-ronmental Impact Statement (EIS) decision on the long-closed 8.5-mile segment of scenic Gold Camp Road. The decision called for opening the segment to one-way traffic, but left implementation - as well as the pursuit of funding - to a yet-to-be-named citizen committee that would work with the Forest Service. Congressman Joel Hefley, who had secured the appropriation that funded the EIS effort, criticized the decision as a “ho-hum” job that “didn't provide much of an answer.” No EIS action has occurred yet because of appeals from those who want the road to stay closed, as well as a U.S. Fish & Wildlife concern about impacts on a spotted owl habitat.
10. Facelift for Old Colorado City - After close to three years, the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District completed its project with Colorado Springs Utilities to install new streetlights. The historic-style fixtures are brighter than the 50-year-old cobra-headed lights they're replacing, which also makes it possible to continue removing the “pawnbroker” globe lights that were part of the district's formation in 1979 but have been failing with greater frequency in recent years. In addition, the district has begun a landscaping upgrade; the first part of that project was implemented at Old Town Plaza (at the southwest corner of Colorado Avenue and 25th Street).
11. Old Colorado City events grow - The Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group expanded the physical size of Territory Days (adding the 2300 block) and the scope of its Scarecrow Days and Christmas-season promotions. Meanwhile, OCCA continued to sponsor the Egg Hunt at Easter and facilitate the Car Show in August. One drawback to the events - mainly Territory Days - is that some people who live in the neighborhood around the Old Colorado City Historic District have complained to OCCA about crowds, occasional drunkenness and a lack of parking enforcement.
The one major non-OCCA event in Old Town, the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, drew a record estimated crowd of more than 30,000 people March 12.
12. OWN keeps “spirit” despite inner turmoil - Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), a volunteer advocacy group for the older Westside for 27 years, sponsored a first-ever Spirit Awards this year to honor people who have made improvements to their homes or businesses. Internally, OWN had a little rough sledding, with two board members resigning and a key philosophical disagreement on who OWN should represent (residential interests only or residential and commercial). OWN will hold its annual board-member election Thursday, Jan. 12, with four of the nine seats to be voted on by Westside residents at the meeting.
13. Phase 1 of library preservation - Contractors all but completed Phase 1 - chiefly involving improvements to the building exterior - for the Old Colorado City Library's preservation project. Going into 2006, the only remaining work in Phase 1 was completing the front steps to the building, which had been closed since July due to issues related to encasing the steps in the original sandstone. Phase 1's $450,000 cost was covered by a Colorado Historical Society grant and private donations. Three phases in all are planned for the estimated $1.7 million effort to upgrade the Andrew Carnegie-built library. The goal is to make it look like it did when it was new in 1904, yet include modern features that patrons appreciate.
14. Bus-service expansion impacts Westside - Under the RTA ballot-issue language calling for 10 percent of the 1-cent sales tax to be used for transit, the budget for the Mountain Metro bus system was doubled. On the Westside, the popular Colorado Avenue bus between downtown and Manitou Springs now runs on the half-hour, and there are two new routes (Route 13, from downtown to Holland Park) and Route 32 (Uintah Gardens to Silver Key to Wal-Mart).
15. Heimlicher, Hente re-elected to council - Jerry Heimlicher, whose District 3 includes the older, south Westside; and Scott Hente, whose District 1 includes Pleasant Valley and the area north of King Street, were re-elected to four-year terms on Colorado Springs City Council last April. Heimlicher, who ran unoppposed, championed Old Colorado City by ensuring a streetlight replacement agreement with City Utilities, reducing commercial use of Bancroft Park and stopping a fee increase for the park. In Hente's campaign, he identified Pleasant Valley's crumbling Camp Creek ditch as his number one campaign issue. Fixing it has since become one of the high-priority items for City Council's planned new stormwater enterprise fund.
16. Garden of the Gods fund-raising - In nine years, the Garden of the Gods Foundation, funded by the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center, had spent more than $850,000 on maintenance to the heavily used city park. For its 10th year, the foundation decided to go for a $1 million 10-year total with a “Summer of Celebration” that encouraged donations at a variety of events. According to season-end tallies, the foundation soared over this goal, gathering about $150,000 in donations plus another $98,000 from the Visitor Center during 2005. “We were thrilled,” said Foundation founder Lyda Hill. “There aren't that many public city parks in the country that get that kind of support.”
17. New name, upgrade for Penrose - A $2 million entry facility is under construction at Penrose Stadium - a clear sign that the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foun-dation bought it from El Paso County (which used to give it a low spending priority). The stadium, along with the Indoor Arena and 61 acres in all, is renamed Norris-Penrose (it was formerly Penrose Equestrian Center) in honor of longtime area rancher Bob Norris, who had given a significant donation to make the ownership changeover possible. The foundation sponsors the annual Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, which returned to the center in 2005 after three years at the World Arena.
18. Alta Mira subdivision work starts - Construction began in July on this development near King and 19th streets. Formerly known as Indian Heights, Alta Mira is the largest Westside subdivision this year, with 43 single-family homes. The lots are being cut partly into the hillside along a new cul-de-sac to be called Mountain Mahogany Drive. The subdivision borders the 24-acre open space known as the Mesa Wildlife Preserve.
19. Rock Ledge adds offerings - City and volunteer leaders of the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site organized two new fund-raisers: the Fiddles, Vittle and Vino bluegrass festival in the summer and the Holiday House Tours at Christmas. In other ranch news, the Rock Ledge baseball team won the annual old-fashioned Labor Day game against a Denver-area team for the first time.
20. No Man's Land discovered - For decades, the stretch of Colorado Avenue between Red Rock shopping center and Manitou Springs has seen few, if any, public improvements. This began to change in 2005. Seeking to upgrade Manitou Springs' western gateway, the Manitou Economic Develop-ment office obtained a Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant to do an analysis of the area.
Honorable mentions: Construction began on the new Colorado Springs Police Gold Hill substation on Moreno Avenue… The Pleasant Valley Neighbor-hood Association, with cooperation from Colorado Springs City Parks, put plantings in place of pavement on a 31st Street center divider, in preparation for a “Welcome to Pleasant Valley” monument sign that will mark the entry to the neighborhood.
Westside Pioneer article