Watch the full State of the City Address
Watch Mayor John Suthers Give the State Of the City Adress
Read the full State of the City Speech
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you to those present and those watching on Springs TV and on social media, for your interest in the state of our city. This is my fourth State of the City Address since my election in the spring of 2015. I’m grateful to the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC, the Broadmoor and today’s event sponsors for assisting me to fulfill my legal responsibility to make an annual report to our citizens.
I want to extend a special welcome to my colleague, Michael Hancock, the Mayor of Denver, who has joined us for today’s event. Mayor Hancock and I are the Yin and Yang of mayoral politics in Colorado and I greatly enjoy our relationship. Thank you, Mayor, for being here.
We gather today on the 21st day of September in the year two thousand eighteen. In the 147th year since General William J. Palmer founded the City of Colorado Springs, in the 100th year since Spencer Penrose opened the great hotel in which we meet today. In the 76th year since Fort Carson was established by Congress. In the 60th year since the United States Air Force Academy opened in Colorado Springs. In the 53rd year since the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was established, and in the 40th year since the United States Olympic Committee moved its headquarters to Colorado Springs.
I mention a few of these milestones in our city’s history not just because I’m a student of history, although I am, and try to learn as much as I can about the history of Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Region, but I reflect on our city’s history to make a point – to confront a sobering reality. What we call history, after all, is simply our description of our ancestor’s present. Their contemporary achievements and failures have become our history. As the famous historian, David McCullough, points out, “when writing history, it is of critical importance to convey the reality that things need not have happened as they did.” The triumph of the American Revolution was not a given. The victory of the Allies in World War II was not certain. And William Palmer could not be certain the colony he created in 1871 would grow and prosper and become a great city. Frankly, the odds weren’t very good. There are 73 incorporated cities in Colorado today. But there are over 1500 ghost towns. The fact Palmer invested so much of his own money in Colorado Springs certainly improved the odds. But the life of our ancestors in Colorado Springs was no more certain than ours. They knew no better how things would turn out than we do. But they confronted issues, made decisions and took actions, both good and bad, which have become our history. And ladies and gentlemen, the issues, decisions, actions and opportunities for leadership that I discuss today will become part of the history of Colorado Springs for those generations that follow us. So while we should never take ourselves too seriously, we must take our responsibilities to future generations very seriously.
Now, as to the state of our city today, we need not consider only subjective self-assessments. We can consider the assessment of a leading national news organization that applied objective metrics to compare the most dynamic and economically prosperous cities in America. In doing so, U.S. News and World Report rated Colorado Springs the second best place in America to live and the number one most desirable city in America. We rated the highest of any city in quality of life, but also ranked very high in affordability, job opportunities and other economic criteria. Our health care and educational institutions also rate high. The fact is, as a result of unprecedented levels of public and private investment, Colorado Springs has taken its place among the great cities of America.
A big contributing factor in achieving our current national status is the manner in which we have confronted, in three short years, a very large public infrastructure deficit. Three years ago, 60% of our city’s roads were in poor condition and our stormwater system was so deficient that we were facing multiple lawsuits, including one that could prevent us from turning on the Southern Delivery System when it was completed in April of 2016.
In November of 2015, voters in Colorado Springs passed Issue 2C, agreeing to invest in our roads, $250 million over 5 years, and the result has been dramatic. When the third season of paving is complete next month we will have paved 700 miles of road and improved 467,000 linear feet of curb and gutter, including 3,226 pedestrian ramps in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In November of 2016 and November of 2017 our voters passed Issue 2 and Issue 2A, agreeing to invest in our stormwater program, including reinstating a stormwater fee which will allow us, over the next 20 years, not only to meet our various legal obligations, but to create the best stormwater program in Colorado. Further, general fund dollars freed up by the passage of the stormwater fee will allow us to hire 120 police officers and 32 firefighters over the next four years. The additional sworn personnel are essential to reducing critical incident response times and making our public safety capabilities among the best in the country.
Another major factor in Colorado Springs’ success has been the job creation that has been achieved in the past four years. After years of stagnant job and wage growth, the Pikes Peak region has emerged as one of the best economies in the country. Profit and non-profit organizations are moving here and expanding here. We’ve created 24,000 jobs since June of 2015, an average of 7,300 jobs per year. And wages have climbed significantly during that same time. And we’re talking about very good jobs. The median salary for posted jobs in our region is currently over $77,000, far above the median salary for the State of Colorado. Registered nurses, software engineers, systems engineers and Cybersecurity personnel are among the most needed positions.
The real-estate market also remains among the best in the country. Demand is high, new construction is at record levels and homes are appreciating at a healthy rate. Yet we remain among the most affordable of the most desirable places to live in America. In April of this year the City Council ensured that we will continue to offer affordable housing options and a high quality of life to city residents by approving an amended annexation agreement for Banning Lewis Ranch, ensuring that our city has the necessary room to grow.
The health of our commercial market is also evident by the new construction downtown and throughout the city. New residential units and business growth are increasing the vitality of our downtown core, and there are more exciting things to come. Next year the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame will open, cementing our brand as Olympic City USA. And as we announced in July, we are moving forward with a downtown stadium and sports center. The stadium, which will be part of a residential and commercial development two blocks from the Olympic Museum, will be built by the Colorado Springs Switchbacks and Weidner Apartment Homes. The Indoor Sports Center, which will be home to Colorado College Hockey and be accessed by various Olympic and Paralympic organizations, will be built on the Colorado College Campus. Our sports ecosystem in Colorado Springs, which now generates close to a half billion dollars of economic activity annually, is now an essential part of our city’s persona.
Our city’s higher education institutions are not only effectively carrying out their educational mission for over 40,000 students, but they have become huge economic drivers as well. The annual economic impact of Colorado College is approaching $175 million, for Pikes Peak Community College its almost $400 million. UCCS is approaching $600 million in annual economic impact and the United States Air Force Academy is a billion dollars. That’s a total annual economic impact of almost $2.2 billion.
Our Airport is continuing its resurgence. After bottoming out at 600,000 enplanements in 2015, we have seen increasing traffic ever since and expect a total of 900,000 enplanements in 2018. And our tourism industry continues at record breaking levels. Our local tourist venues are seeing record attendance and the Gazette reported earlier this year that no less than 22 hotels or motels were under construction or in the planning stage in El Paso County. And despite new hotels and motels coming on line, our occupancy rates continue to increase.
As I indicated earlier, our success in Colorado Springs is due to our unprecedented level of public and private investment. Our citizens deserve great credit. And so does our city’s legislative body, the City Council. When I was elected Mayor in 2015, both the Council and I expressed a heartfelt desire to work together and move our city forward. And ladies and gentlemen, we have done so. We have confronted important issues and challenges in our city in ways that other governments at other levels and other places have not. Since June of 2015 the Council has eliminated the business personal property tax and improved the business climate in the city, referred important infrastructure measures to the ballot, approved an Intergovernmental Agreement with Pueblo essential to our city’s future, approved an amended annexation agreement for Banning Lewis Ranch, also essential to our future, provided increased funding for police and fire staffing, returned transit funding to levels committed to years ago, facilitated affordable housing projects in our community, and made major landlords more accountable for the condition of their properties. The Council has also been very engaged in the difficult task of balancing public sentiment, the law and compassion in dealing with the problems of chronic homelessness in our community.
I want to take the opportunity to publically express my great appreciation to the Council for the tremendous work they’ve done over the last 3 ½ years. My thanks to Council President Richard Skorman, President Pro-Tem Jill Gaebler, and Councilmembers Merv Bennett, Andy Pico, Don Knight, Tom Strand, Yolanda Avila, David Geislinger and Bill Murray. Would the Council members who are present please stand so we can all recognize your public service. (Pause) As many of you know, Councilmember Merv Bennett is term limited and will be leaving council in April and I’d like to express special thanks to him for his dedication to our city during his two terms on Council, including two years as Council President.
And while we’re congratulating good public servants, let me also recognize the great work being done by city department heads and their dedicated staffs. I know we’re joined today by our Police Chief, Fire Chief, Chief of Staff, Jeff Greene, and several department heads. I’d ask all City employees here today to stand and be recognized for your great service as well. (Pause) And we have dedicated city utilities employees here today as well. I want to take a moment to introduce the new CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities, Aram Benyamin. Also I want to thank Interim CEO, Eric Tharp for his leadership over the last several months.
But ladies and gentlemen there is one outstanding public servant in Colorado Springs that cannot be with us today. Colorado Springs Police Officer, Cem Duzel, was shot in the head when he responded to a call in the early morning hours of August 2nd. For weeks, his life hung in the balance and today, he is recovering at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital. There are lots of cameras here today, so let’s have those cameras document this audience’s expression of appreciation for Officer Duzel and the sacrifice he has made for our city. Let’s stand and let Officer Duzel know how we feel (Pause) Thank you.
Governor John Hickenlooper will be leaving office in January and I want to express my personal thanks to him for the close working relationship he and I have enjoyed over the years. Governor Hickenlooper has been mindful of Colorado Springs interests and among many other things was instrumental in having the National Cybersecurity Center locate in Colorado Springs and ensuring it had funding to get off the ground. Term limited State Senator Kent Lambert also deserves kudos for his unwavering support of the NCC.
While so much of our news in Colorado Springs has been positive, we continue to address ongoing challenges. Those of you who have heard my State of the City speeches over the last 2 years know that I’ve been critical of our State government for failing to move forward on important issues such as the expansion of I-25 from Monument to Castle Rock and much needed public pension reform. So it’s very appropriate today that I commend the Governor and the General Assembly and the Colorado Department of Transportation for finding a way to make the I -25 expansion happen much sooner than initially projected. In fact, we broke ground on the project three weeks ago. And thanks are due also to our El Paso County Commissioners and our local voters for their help in making it happen.
The Governor and Legislature also made considerable progress this year on pension reform. My hope is that they’ll closely monitor the impact of this year’s changes and take whatever future steps are necessary to protect the fiscal integrity of the pension funds and the interests of Colorado taxpayers.
Speaking of the interest of taxpayers, I feel compelled to comment on two issues on the November ballot designed to address state highway funding. One is Proposition 110, it would raise the state sales tax .62%. However only 45% of the revenue would go to state highways. 15% would go to multi-modal transportation and 40% would be split between cities and counties. We estimate Colorado Springs would receive around $18-20 million a year for local roads from this proposal. Here’s the problem for Colorado Springs. As indicated earlier, in November of 2015 our voters approved Issue 2C which raised our city sales tax .62 to generate at least $50 million per year for our local roads for 5 years. In 2018 it will generate about $52 million for our local roads. In passing Issue 2C we increased the total sales tax .62 from 7.63% to 8.25%. If Proposition 110 passes it would raise the total sales tax to 8.87%, which in my opinion is too high. If that happens the Council and I probably wouldn’t seek to renew 2C for another 5 years in 2020. In which case, Colorado Springs would be giving up over $50 million per year in local road construction for about $18-20 million. That’s not a good deal. And there’s another ballot issue, Proposition 109, otherwise known as “Fix Our Damn Roads” which would direct the legislature to use existing state revenue to bond $3.5 billion in state highway construction, without raising taxes. So for the residents of Colorado Springs, I’d suggest that Proposition 109, the Fix Our Damn Roads proposal, is a better deal. You get $3.5 billion in state highway investment without a tax increase and you get to retain a much higher level of investment in local roads.
Our booming local economy with rising rents and housing costs has made the always pressing issue of affordable housing even more pressing. The Council and I will use all the tools in our toolbox to facilitate the expansion of affordable housing in Colorado Springs. That means utilizing state and local resources, including low income housing tax credits, Private Activity Bonds, the El Paso County Housing Trust Fund and the City’s federal grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The many housing units managed by the Colorado Springs Housing Authority need to be updated and expanded. We need to facilitate development of affordable units by non-profits like Greccio, Partners in Housing and Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust. And we need to ensure local developers are aware of various incentives available to construct affordable housing in our community.
I am pleased to report that 485 affordable units have recently been completed or soon will be. That includes 240 units at Copper Ridge, 180 at Traditions at Colorado Springs and 65 permanent supportive housing units at Greenway Flats on the Rescue Mission campus. In addition more than 400 existing households also received assistance with down payments and essential repairs.
While this is admirable, we need to step up the pace. I would suggest we make it a community goal to build, preserve and create opportunities to purchase an average of 1,000 affordable units per year over the next five years.
We also need to continue to work hard to appropriately address the closely related issue of homelessness in our community. That means ensuring that service providers are available to meet shelter needs and address mental health and substance abuse problems and also trying to minimize the adverse impact of homelessness on the health, safety and welfare of all our citizens. It’s a difficult balancing act and I want to thank all the individuals and organizations that are working so hard to address the difficult issues involved. The Springs Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Pikes Peak United Way, Urban Peak, Peak Vista, Community Health Partnerships and all the Continuum of Care members. These agencies are working together to provide complimentary but not duplicative services. And our local churches are providing thousands of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars to the effort through the “COSILOVEYOU” initiative.
I appreciate the City Council passing a ban on camping within 100 feet of our waterways. That was a necessary public health initiative. Our immediate goals are to assist the Springs Rescue Mission and Salvation Army to add more than 300 low barrier beds to the 300 already existing. We believe that will allow us to aggressively enforce no camping bans. Further, our Municipal Court will create a homeless court program to divert those cited for various offenses to the mental health, drug treatment and shelter programs they need. Our local service providers will supply the navigators who will assist homeless court participants to get these services.
Our booming tourism industry suffered a bit of a setback when the historic Pikes Peak Cog Railway closed due to aging infrastructure. My hat's off to the Broadmoor for their willingness to invest tens of millions of dollars to rebuild the Cog and my heartfelt appreciation to Mayor Ken Jaray and the Manitou City Council for working with the Broadmoor to make it happen. I am very disappointed that a small group of Manitou residents are jeopardizing the future of this iconic attraction so vital to tourism in our region. And speaking of aging infrastructure, in June we broke ground on a much needed and long overdue Summit House on the top of Pikes Peak. Completion is scheduled in the fall of 2020, hopefully to coincide with the reopening of the Cog Railway. The challenge is we need to raise up to $15 million of the total cost of almost $60 million from private sources. I’m pleased to say we have already raised $7 million privately, but we still need broad public support. Just think, if everyone here today made a donation at givetopikespeak.org we’d be off to a great start.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is so much going on in our city that it would take a speech of insufferable length to adequately summarize it all. So I’ve given you the cliff notes version. But suffice it to say, the state of our city is dynamic and each and every day we are witness to the people, places and events that will shape our city’s history for future generations. Our present will be their history. My wife Janet and I consider it a great honor and privilege to be so involved in our city at such an exciting time. The fact we both literally grew up with Colorado Springs adds to the meaning and purpose we derive from the task. Its Janet’s love and support that helps me suffer the slings and arrows of public office and gives me the stamina and perseverance to stay laser focused on the job of moving our city forward. Thank you, Janet for all you do for me and for Olympic City USA.
In 147 years, General Palmer’s colony has grown to become a big city. Little London has grown to be among the best cities in America to live, work and play. It’s a tribute to our predecessors that even after 147 years and a population of almost a half million people Colorado Springs is the most desirable city in America to live. Our job is to ensure it remains so far into the future. As I say repeatedly, our challenge today, as citizens of this great city, remains the same that General Palmer embraced. We must continue the task of building a city that matches our scenery, a shining city at the foot of a great mountain. Let us also embrace the challenge and let us all resolve to become the good ancestors that future generations of Colorado Springs residents need us to be, because we are writing their history. Thank you, and may God continue to bless the City of Colorado Springs.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Chuck Murphy was awarded the Spirit of the Springs Lifetime Achievement Award.