Watch the 2023 State of the City
Read the State of the City address
“Friends, greater things are yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this city. Let’s get to work!”
These were my concluding remarks 100 days ago when I was sworn in as the 42nd mayor of the great city of Colorado Springs.
And, friends, working is what we have been doing. I set out an ambitious and aggressive 100-day blueprint. 42 actions items as a nod to being the 42nd mayor of this great city.
This guiding document was meant to capitalize on our momentum, drive tangible action out of the gate, and to deliver on the promises I made to our residents.
All 42 items have centered on three major priorities. One. Building support within government. Two. Building trust with our community. And three, addressing our most pressing and urgent issues.
First, let's talk about building support within government.
Friends, Colorado Springs continues to experience steady growth. We are the 39th largest city in America, and as of this year, we have more than half a million residents living in our city. As we continue to grow, our voice in the decisions that impact us must grow too.
This includes decisions at the local, state, and federal levels. We must establish that voice, and, as your Mayor, I will ensure we are at the table. Because if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
My team and I have been busy building these important relationships. I had the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and meet with congressional leaders and share the most pressing concerns facing our city in the areas of housing, infrastructure, Space Command, our airport, and economic development. I had valuable conversations with leaders from both sides of the aisle, including Congressman Lamborn, Senator Hickenlooper, Senator Bennett, and other Colorado leaders like Representatives Jason Crow and Lauren Boebert.
I’m also working with our state legislators, mayors from around the state and Governor Polis to ensure we have a good pulse on new legislation and opportunities coming from the State. Last week, Sallie Clark, my government and military affairs advisor, helped me host our first State Legislator meeting. Productive conversations are happening with these state elected officials around affordable housing, infrastructure, emergency preparedness, and economic development. We are working to ensure our community’s interests are well represented.
And to my colleagues representing our community on the state level, thank you for your leadership and service.
Most importantly, I am working with our City Councilmembers to ensure our local government is collaborative, innovative, and healthy. I am proud of the work we have already done, including an all-day Council-Mayor retreat in mid-August that helped us align priorities and address the question – what kind of city do we want to be 20, 30, 50 years from now? This conversation is not done. We will continue our work together in service to the residents and future residents of Colorado Springs.
The importance of these intergovernmental relationships can be summed up with – USSPACECOMM. In early August, the Biden Administration announced Colorado Springs as the permanent home of U.S. Space Command.
This announcement was the culmination of years of work by “Team Colorado,” a delegation of local, state, and federal leaders working together for the best interests of taxpayers and national security. Because of this collaboration and advocacy at ALL levels of government, Colorado Springs is now the home of U.S. Space Command – for good.
If you were part of the “Team Colorado” efforts on the local, state or federal levels, please stand to be recognized.
55 days into office and Space Command became a reality. At this rate, I am unstoppable. Just kidding.
Though I am not kidding about the long-term economic impact of retaining Space Command, which is in the billions of dollars. And the positive results have been immediate. In the short few weeks since the president’s announcement, Boecore chose Colorado Springs for a large expansion, making a capital investment of $7.8 million and the promise of 600-plus jobs that are high-paying.
We expect to see additional growth and gains in aerospace, cybersecurity, defense and technology – which means an expected influx of high-paying jobs for our residents.
While we’re talking about the economy, El Paso County is leading the state in the number of state-incentivized projects this year. And I'm very proud to share that since June 6, City Council has approved five economic development agreements, an unprecedented number in such a short amount of time. Nearly 1,700 projected new full-time jobs created, 500 jobs retained and a total of $440 million in projected capital investment in Colorado Springs secured. Four of the five agreements are with small businesses that are planning to expand in Colorado Springs. Thank you, Chamber & EDC for your partnership.
And we are tracking about 20 new expansion and attraction projects with jobs paying between $70,000 to $100,000. This increases the opportunities for our residents to make a livable wage and improves the quality of life for them and their families.
This goes without saying, our economic vitality is getting stronger. Momentum is in our favor, and as we celebrate these wins, I will lean into our enduring workforce challenges, to close the skills gap and increase workforce development efforts in these high-paying, in-demand jobs, through partnerships with local stakeholders in education, workforce development organizations, and local businesses.
The direct and indirect economic impact of the U.S. military in Colorado is roughly 40% of our local economy. And our military members and their families are a valued part of our community. I’ve spoken with General VanHerck with USNORTHCOM and NORAD and Lieutenant General Clark with the U.S. Air Force Academy. When I asked them what the City could do to support them, their responses centered around our housing supply and attainability for military families.
Of course, the need for housing transcends our military members. It’s top of mind for many, and it’s top of mind for me. Our housing supply impacts everyone, including the pillars of our community – think of our teachers, firefighters, nurses and law enforcement officers. It’s also affecting our seniors. Recognizing this need, I'm pleased to share that work has begun on the Silver Key Senior Apartments, offering 50 units. And the Myron Stratton campus is also adding an additional 50 units for seniors.
There was a time when residents would express frustration because we were losing all our young people to cities that were “cooler.” Now, what I hear from parents is, “We need housing so we can kick them out of our basement.”
This is among the reasons why I appointed Steve Posey as our first Chief Housing and Community Vitality Officer, and we’re convening various stakeholders to unlock the housing supply for middle-income earners, residents who make between $50-$100,000.
We will continue to champion innovative housing solutions, like 3D-printed and modular homes, and explore creative solutions and partnerships with faith leaders and schools around excess land that can be used for much-needed housing.
I’m very proud that Colorado Springs was the first big city to opt into Proposition 123. This will unlock state funding and allow housing providers to apply for state funds that will help create much-needed missing-middle housing for our growing workforce. Opting in means we have committed to increasing our housing inventory by 2,600 units over the next three years. The demand is here, and our local builders are poised to meet the challenge of building our diverse housing supply to keep pace with our growing population.
Friends, there is still much work to be done. We will lean into our local nonprofit partners like the Community Housing Affordability Taskforce, Pikes Peak Housing Network, Pikes Peak Real Estate Foundation, and Solid Rock Community Development Corporation. And I will be working closely with our state partners to address the housing crisis. Which is why I have reached out to Mayor Johnston of Denver, Mayor Brockett of Boulder, and Mayor Coffman of Aurora.
To leverage our collective bully pulpit and join me and other state partners in meaningful reform on construction defects to encourage builders to develop more attainable homes. Efforts like these are how we build support within government and ensure Colorado Springs is at the table.
Second, Building Trust With Our Community.
Thank you to the community leaders who have stepped up to participate on one of our four Solutions Teams around housing, public safety, infrastructure and economic vitality.
If you participated in any of these teams, as a city leader, co-chair, or facilitator, including the Mayor’s Civic Leader Fellows, please stand to be recognized.
We convened a group of rivals of sorts, and this group of diverse leaders with varying life experiences has provided me with solutions in each of these four areas. Egos were checked at the door and they did the hard work of learning from each other, and putting Colorado Springs ahead of individual preferences.
I’ve heard from a number of you who felt left out that I didn’t include you, don’t worry, I have a job for you.
The Community Listening Tour engaged more than 1,000 residents from all six Council districts. I'm appreciative of the level of involvement and interest our community has shown to engage and help shape our future together. These residents gave freely of their time on a Friday evening, to share feedback, to engage with one another, and to be heard. Thank you to all who participated. And thank you to the City Councilmembers for their partnership. This feedback is directly informing our City’s new strategic plan, which will be finalized in June 2024.
Friends, democracy is a participatory sport, not a spectator sport. Democracy is best served when people show up and speak up. And what we witnessed on the listening tour is democracy in action. The residents gave us kudos and they expressed great frustration. Both were present, and that’s okay. This is democracy. Alive and well in Colorado Springs. Though we may not always agree with one another, we can speak respectfully, peacefully, and we can listen to one another and learn from different perspectives by having more voices at the table.
From the people and business owners Downtown who talked passionately about the impacts of homelessness; to those on the Westside who are looking to the city to improve walkability, our sidewalks and multimodal transportation; to our friends in the Southeast who are ready for economic opportunity and to have a bigger voice in the decisions that impact them; to those in the North and the East who are concerned about our pace of growth and our city services being able to keep up; and to all our residents who shared their pain points and offered ideas, I hear you. And I thank you for your willingness to be a part of solutions. For the full Listening Tour reports, visit ColoradoSprings.gov.
In addition to the listening tour, we’ve also established ways for the Mayor’s Office to communicate more regularly and directly with residents. Every other week, I'm delivering a biweekly report on our progress and what we’re working on. And every month, I'm meeting with our media partners to share updates. These efforts follow my promise to lead a government that is transparent, proactive and approachable.
And I meant it when I said I'd engage people who didn’t vote for me. Someone stopped me on Nevada the other day and said, “Sir, I want you to know I didn’t vote for you, thank you for engaging us, and I wish you success.”
To that gentleman, I am here to serve you. And I am here to serve all. This is what you can expect from my leadership, and we will continue to find creative ways to build trust within our community.
Third and certainly not least. Addressing our most pressing and urgent issues.
Many of the complaints I heard as a mayoral candidate were around improving the condition and accessibility of our roads and sidewalks and ensuring we have an adequate number of police officers to keep us safe – and to make sure our parks are well maintained. Colorado Springs, I hear you.
As Mayor, I am tasked to lead three direct and essential City functions. These are (a) ensuring your safety, (b) caring for our infrastructure and (c) maintaining our parks. These are the main responsibilities of City government. The majority of the City’s budget is allocated to these three areas, and investment will continue to be in these areas under my watch.
Thanks to you, the voters, who invested in our critical infrastructure needs over the last several years. Our roads continue to improve, and our stormwater system has held up despite historic rain this summer. We had more than 14 inches of rain in May and June, which is just shy of what you would see in the Amazon on average. Interesting huh? Without that investment in stormwater, we would have experienced major flooding and widespread damage throughout the city.
The vastly popular 2C initiative continues to deliver meaningful results, reducing the number of residents' complaints by 90%. In terms of lane miles, we have repaved the distance from Colorado Springs to Athens, Georgia. And we need to keep paving the whole way to Athens, Greece, to resurface our entire existing road system. We are making progress, and we will continue to beat that drum.
We have filled nearly 70,000 potholes this year, and 37,000 in my first 100 days. Residents help us greatly in this effort when they use the GoCOS app to report potholes. If you haven't yet used the app to report something to the city, I encourage you to do so. It’s a helpful tool, and our team is committed to responding to your needs.
I'm also proud of the critical capital improvement work underway thanks to voter support of the Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority, or PPRTA. This funding is allowing us to complete major and very expensive improvement projects like the accelerated efforts underway to widen portions of Marksheffel Road, rebuild the Circle Drive bridges, reconstruct South Academy Boulevard, and make extensive updates to Black Forest Road to support the rapid growth in this part of our city.
My hats off to the public servants on our Public Works team who work every day to repair, renovate, and maintain our city streets, bridges, structures, and other public infrastructure.
One of these team members is Daniel Valesquez. Daniel works day in and day out to clean our medians and streetscapes. Mowing. Trimming trees and bushes. This work never ends.
Daniel, who is 22 years old, recently just celebrated his 2-year anniversary with the City. He came to serve the City by way of our Work COS program, a workforce development partnership we have with Springs Rescue Mission to help create a pathway out of homelessness. Daniel is a stud. Three years ago he was homeless. Today, Daniel has his own apartment, a car, and is a rising member of our public works staff. I met Daniel for coffee and wanted to learn about his big “why.” His response was, “I am tired of mediocrity. I want a great life.”
As Mayor, I am committed to continued partnerships with our local homeless providers for more success stories like Daniel’s. I’m thrilled Daniel was able to join us today. Daniel, please stand up to be recognized.
As I have made my rounds throughout the City and asked people what they love about Colorado Springs, the number one answer is access to the outdoors. Friends, our great outdoors help define our quality of life. It’s what brought the founder of our city General William Jackson Palmer over 150 years ago to envision and create a great city. It’s also what brings tens of thousands of tourists every year to Olympic City USA. Thank you, Doug Price, and the team at Visit COS.
As Mayor, I am committed to the good stewardship of our natural environment, and the long-term maintenance of our park system. It’s why I am excited about connecting our trails, the thrilling plans for Coleman Park on the city’s east side, the reclamation of the Pike View Quarry and the future of the Jimmy Camp Creek and Corral Bluffs Open Space. Corral Bluffs is one of the most significant scientific discovery sites in the world, revealing the transition from dinosaurs to mammals and how life as we know it began.
Jeresneyka Rose knows a thing or two about caring for our city’s parks. She grew up in Southeast Colorado Springs, the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in our city. While a negative light is sometimes cast on that part of town, I am here to affirm what many in the Southeast know to be true, and what Jerry knows to be true. In her words, and now mine, “Southeast Colorado Springs is a beautiful, vibrant, colorful, cultured, connected, talented, intelligent community.” Right, Yolanda?
Jerry took that conviction to get involved with the redesign of Panorama Park. Her leadership and involvement are interwoven in what has become an award-winning model for public-private partnership and elevating the community’s voice into the built environment. Panorama Park is an incredible success story, and I would like to approach future park projects this way.
Jerry’s work led to a fellowship with the Trust for Public Land and now she works for our Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department. She also earned a Mayor’s Young Leader Award from Mayor Suthers and is currently a Mayor’s Civic Leader’s Fellow.
Jerry, thank you for your great work! Please stand to be recognized.
Now, to public safety – a top priority and our most pressing issue. While total crime incidents have fallen, and that’s something to celebrate, other numbers are not trending in the right direction. Average response times for calls for service have increased, and getting to the authorized sworn strength of officers remains a challenge and opportunity.
Furthermore, we need to fund more community and public health programming that addresses the public safety realities around behavioral health needs, and a training academy that equips our officers with the best training, particularly around de-escalation techniques. Friends, clearly, we have work to do.
That said, I’m proud of the many public servants in our community who are dedicated to this cause. Let me tell you about Officer Kali Myers.
I met Officer Myers on a ride-along. She is a former third-grade teacher who caught the public service bug after participating in some ride-alongs herself. Now, she’s serving our city as a sworn officer with the Downtown Area Response Team. I asked her about the safety realities of her job, and she shared with me that she thinks about it often, but that she’s made her peace with that part of the calling and is willing to put her life on the line for her fellow residents.
As a great man once said, “There is no greater love than this, that a person lay down their life for another.” Officer Myers is here today, and I thank her and her colleagues in our police and fire departments for their selfless sacrifice and service to our residents.
Kali, please stand up to be recognized.
This November marks one year since great tragedy struck our community at Club Q. We remember the victims, survivors and their families. Our first responders worked quickly on scene, and then tirelessly in the days and months that followed to ensure justice for the victims and their families. We are grateful for their courage and diligence.
Friends, the weight of the badge is heavy, we expect a lot from our law enforcement officers. We expect more and more and more from our police, to be brave for us and to be perfect in their interactions with us. Our officers are asking for more training, and our community is asking for better training around de-escalation techniques. Colorado Springs, I hear you.
That is why I'm resolute about the need for a police training academy, and it is why City Council and I aligned on referring a TABOR retention item to the November ballot. On your worst day, you want the best-trained officer to answer your call. And that’s why a vote for this ballot item is a vote for public safety. I hope you join me in voting YES on 2A, this November.
I want to be clear; this is not a tax increase. If approved by voters, it will allow for $4.75 million in city excess revenue to be invested in our public safety, which benefits the entire city compared to a one-time credit of $21 for residents with a Utilities account.
This is your hard-earned money, and I don’t take that lightly. This is why the City is easing and will continue to ease the burden of your property tax increases, by providing a temporary tax relief to our residents, including the many property owners who are on a fixed income.
Solutions like these are how we will continue to address our city’s most pressing and urgent issues.
And as President John F. Kennedy wisely said in his inaugural address: “All this work will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
Friends, the state of our city is strong, and it will take all of us working together to navigate our enduring city challenges. With the continued need for infrastructure to keep up with population growth, homelessness, and the ever-present threat of wildfire, among them.
We are continually preparing to meet the threat of wildfire through fire mitigation, and increased partnerships with 5 area agencies to fight wildland fire. And I need you to do your part and join us in our preparedness efforts. Take part in one of our drills, attend a Living with Wildfire workshop, visit our COS Ready page, have a go-kit, and please sign up for Peak Alerts. Preparedness takes working together.
As for how we’re addressing homelessness, we must together embrace the best practices that work, including the development of permanent supportive housing, continued investment in behavioral health programs such as the City’s homeless outreach teams, and better access to mental health services.
And speaking of mental health, we know that an unhealthy mind is the root cause for many of our social crises, including domestic abuse, homelessness and suicide. This is why my wife, Abbey, is activating her platform as the first lady of Colorado Springs around mental health. As a former nurse and now nurse educator, and with this crisis close to our home, she is poised to take this on. She is already convening experts in this area so we can address this issue upstream, and downstream, and find the gaps in our current mental health landscape.
Thank you too to the many partners already working on this. I SEE you. We have solid mental health resources in our community led by inspiring people. The City’s mental health campaign is focusing on improving awareness of and access to resources and mental health providers.
Similarly, I’d like to applaud City Councilmember David Leinweber for his passion for mental health. We both have a desire in 2024 to see 1,000 neighborhood parties held across the city. Why is that important? A 2020 global study found that knowing as few as six neighbors can reduce the likelihood of feeling lonely and improve our mental well-being.
Most people see my success story. Immigrant, now US citizen turned pastor turned business leader turned Mayor. Buried in that story is the 17-year-old kid who came into the country lost, lonely, and struggling. I was fortunate and blessed to have mentors, counselors and people who believed in me. That is why I'm standing here before you today.
So, my mental health call to action is simple. Host a neighborhood block party. Attend a neighborhood party. Check-in on your neighbor. Talk to someone. Mentor a younger person. Sign up to be mentored. Be present with your kids. Commit to attending a place of worship. Practice forgiveness. Stay active. Go for a walk, in nature. Take up a relaxation practice. Quiet your mind. Sleep. Eat a healthy diet. Write a thank you note. Journal and track gratitude. Spend time with a furry friend. Commit to making a difference and find ways to serve and help others.
Friends, we are on an incredible journey together to build an inclusive, culturally rich, economically prosperous, safe, and vibrant world-class American city on a hill that shines brightly. And it will take all of us to make Colorado Springs into a world-class American city, because WE ARE COLORADO SPRINGS.
To the residents and many community leaders and lovers of Colorado Springs and our Pikes Peak Region, far too many to name, thank you for all you do for our city and all you will do to propel our city’s progress. To my wife, Abbey, and to my kids, Dawit, Tumi and Zion, thank you for holding my hands and for running with me in this season where we are leading positive impact in our community.
May God bless your families, may God bless the great city of Colorado Springs, and may God bless the United States of America.
Onward and upward.
2023 Highlight Video
Lifetime Achievement Award
At the 2023 State of the City address former Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“John Suthers has served our city and our state through dedicated public service for 35 years,” said Mayor Yemi. “It is my honor to present him with the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his remarkable career and positive impact on our city.”