Mayor Suthers delivered his second State of the City address on Thursday, September 8.
Watch the Mayor's full State of the City speech
State of the City full text
Ladies and Gentlemen, the city charter of Colorado Springs directs that the mayor is to report on the State of the City once each year. And I come here today, in the 145th year since the founding of our city, to do just that.
A year ago, in my first state of the city address, I reported that the state of the city was good but the potential of our city was great. Today, I am very pleased to report that in the last 12 months our city has moved forward significantly on the continuum from good to great.
We have made tremendous strides on the three priorities I outlined in my mayoral campaign and in my first state of the city address. First, to improve the political climate in the city by restoring a collaborative relationship between the mayor and the council and between the city and other governmental entities in the Pikes Peak region. Secondly, to invest in the city’s critical public infrastructure, particularly our roads and stormwater system. To do so is necessary for the public health, safety and welfare of our citizens and those of downstream communities, but also critical for our future economic development. And finally to aggressively promote new job creation, so as to increase the economic opportunities and quality of life for our citizens.
Let me report on each of these objectives. The City Council and I continue to work together on the issues that are necessary to move our city forward. We don’t all agree on everything, and we sometimes differ as to the boundaries of executive versus legislative responsibilities, but for the most part our relationship is collaborative and respectful. And I want to extend my sincere gratitude to the members of the council, several of whom are here today. Merv Bennett, Council President, Jill Gaebler, Council Pro-tem, Councilmembers Keith King, Don Knight, Andy Pico, Larry Bagley, Tom Strand, Helen Collins and Bill Murray. Would the councilmembers who are here please stand so we may acknowledge your good work.
As to infrastructure, the progress we’ve made in the past year has been extraordinary. Last September I spent much of my state of the city speech making the case for issue 2C, which was on the November ballot and asked the citizens of Colorado Springs to raise the sales tax.62 percent for five years to raise approximately $250 million for improvements to our deteriorating roads. The voters responded, passing 2C in overwhelming fashion with 65 percent of the vote. We are now hard at work implementing 2C, coordinating with Colorado Springs Utilities, PPRTA and others to maximize the impact of our efforts. From May to the end of the paving season next month we will have paved approximately 221 lane miles and poured over 177,082 tons of asphalt. We will have also replaced 93,015 lineal feet of curb and gutter and replaced or repaired 240 pedestrian ramps. And that’s just the beginning. I ask our citizens to be patient. 2C is a pay as you go effort and each summer for at least five years you’re going to see lots of cone zones. Please see them as a sign of our progress in fixing a problem that was a long time in the making. In November, the voters also overwhelmingly approved issue 2D, which allowed the city to retain $2.1 million to apply to much needed trail repairs in our parks and open spaces. That work has progressed very well and will be complete by November of this year.
We have also made considerable progress in the past year confronting the serious deficiencies in our stormwater program. No sooner had I been elected Mayor in May of 2015 than the Pueblo County Commissioners served notice of their intent to bring a lawsuit against Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities to amend or revoke the 1041 permit that was issued in 2008 allowing utilities to construct the Southern Delivery System across Pueblo County. Pueblo alleged that the Colorado Springs City Council’s defunding of the Stormwater Enterprise in December of 2009, after a vote of the people a month before, constituted a violation of the 1041 permit and wanted to prevent SDS from going on line as scheduled this past April. Then in November of last year, the U.S. Department of Justice served notice on the city of the Environmental Protection Agency’s contention that our underfunded stormwater program was in violation of our MS-4 municipal water quality permit, thereby giving further credence to the claims of Pueblo County. Intensive negotiations ensued. Yeoman work was done by Jerry Forte, John Fredell, Mark Phifer, and other utility executives and attorneys, by Councilmen Bennett and Pico, Director of Public Works Travis Easton and many others, and we were able to successfully negotiate an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo under which the city and Colorado Springs Utilities will spend $460 million over the next 20 years on our stormwater program, to include the completion of 71 infrastructure projects. We are already working on 8 of these projects and will expend at least $16 million on the stormwater program in 2016. While the result was necessary to resolve a pending legal issue, it was also the right thing to do for the safety of our citizens and that of our downstream neighbors. Again, I commend our City Council and Utilities Board for approving this intergovernmental agreement. We still have issues with our MS-4 permit and we’re continuing to negotiate with the Department of Justice.
It was a great day indeed when the Southern Delivery System went online in April, on schedule and under budget, with the capacity to deliver enough water from the Arkansas River to provide for the anticipated growth of our city over the next 50 years. As I said at the dedication of SDS, the history of Colorado Springs is to a great extent the history of bold and ambitious water projects and SDS is the latest of such projects. We should all be thankful for the vision and foresight of previous city leaders who made our incredible water delivery system possible.
As to the third objective of economic development and new job creation, the past year has also been extraordinary. After a decade of very little job growth, the city’s economy is doing very well. According to the recently published 2015 census estimate Colorado Springs grew by 11,000 people last year, allowing it to surpass Omaha, Nebraska and Virginia Beach, Virginia, and become the 40th largest city in America. And, most importantly, El Paso County added almost 9,000 jobs in 2015. Our unemployment rate has dropped from 9.6 percent in 2010 to as low as to 3.4 percent this year, the lowest in 15 years, and many of our citizens are returning to the work force for the first time since the recession. We now have approximately 15,000 job openings with an average salary of $64,000. The problem is that many of the 12,000 local people looking for work don’t have the job skills to fill many of these job openings in fields ranging from software engineering and healthcare to welding and construction trades. Our high schools and higher education institutions must work with our business community to ensure we have more local students equipped to join our workforce. Effective workforce development must be a very high priority going forward.
As you know, the local real estate market is now considered one of the very best in the country. The median price of a home rose 6.5 percent last year. Residential demand is very high. 2016 home sales are on pace to set a record. Commercial activity is also increasing. Rents are also rising rapidly and we will need to focus on expanding our affordable housing inventory. When you consider vouchers and subsidized units, there are approximately 9,800 income restricted affordable housing units in Colorado Springs, a large share of which are managed by the Colorado Springs Housing Authority through its various programs, largely for the very low income. But given the demand for affordable housing, especially for lower income people in the workforce, we need to significantly increase the units available. While the city is not a housing developer, it can accomplish this through partnerships with the Housing Authority, other non-profits and local developers. I have asked the Colorado Springs Housing Authority to focus on expansion as soon as possible, and City staff is assembling a toolbox of resources available in our community for affordable housing development – including El Paso County Housing Trust Funds, Private Activity Bonds and Low Income Housing Tax Credits. By better informing developers about the resources available, we hope to generate more interest in affordable housing development.
And I am pleased to tell you that currently there are over 450 units of multi-family housing for low income earners in various stages of application and planning and another 200 units identified for preservation through rehabilitation in Colorado Springs and greater El Paso County.
You may have noticed that our tourism industry is having a very good year. Hotel and motel occupancy rates have climbed to record levels. Lodging and rental car tax revenues, after growing 13.4 percent last year, are up another 14.5 percent so far this year. And yet another sign of tourism growth is the record number of trips up Pikes Peak. We’re tracking 20 percent above last year’s record breaking total of 415,000. Tourism is a very large segment of our economy and we need to continue to nurture and promote it.
The past year saw the State of Colorado’s decision to support the establishment of a National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs. This is something that the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs has been working towards for some time. The TRW building on North Nevada, owned by UCCS, will be renovated to house the center. It’s components will include a Cyber Institute to train business executives and public officials, a Cyber Research, Education and Training Center to act as a workforce development, research and policy arm and a Rapid Response capability for businesses needing assistance in responding to cyber-attacks. We’re grateful to Governor Hickenlooper for his support of this project. We believe the synergy in the local cyber security arena between our local military missions, our academic institutions and our expanding private sector cyber businesses, which now number close to 100, will allow us to become a national leader in cyber security. We are already one of the top 5 cities in America for cyber related jobs. These high paying high technology jobs can be a great boost to our economy.
We’re also excited to see the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation open in the old Santa Fe train station and surrounding buildings. Kevin O’ Neil and his team are delivering on their vision to create a collaborative ecosystem which provides the tools for high tech entrepreneurs to create and excel. Again, this is precisely the kind of economic development we want to foster and promote. The Catalyst Campus is just one indicia of the improving commercial and residential environment in downtown Colorado Springs. New apartments have been and will continue to be built. Livibility.com recently rated our downtown as one of the top 10 in the country, citing our parks, arts and culinary scene as highly desirable.
The Colorado Springs Airport, under the leadership of Aviation Director Dan Gallagher, is yet another topic of continued good news. Our airport’s commercial aeronautical zone continues to attract new businesses and see existing businesses expand. And as we had hoped, the increased revenues on the general aviation side of the airport, which have allowed us to reduce fees charged to our commercial carriers, has resulted in Frontier Airlines returning to Colorado Springs. Already this year they have announced daily direct flights to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Orlando and we are optimistic about the possibility of additional flights by multiple carriers in the future. So far, enplanements at the airport are up 5 percent over last year, and the yearend forecast shows a nearly 10 percent year over year growth. I implore all Colorado Springs and Southern Colorado residents to “look before they book” and fly from Colorado Springs whenever possible.
I guess it was inevitable that Dan Gallagher’s success as Director of our Airport would make him a hot commodity in the airport business, and I’m sad for us and happy for Dan to report that he has accepted a job as Chief Financial Officer for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which includes Boston’s Logan Airport and he will be leaving us in mid-October. The City has commenced a search for a new Aviation Director. Please join me in giving Dan a hand for his outstanding work at our airport.
On the health care front, close to a billion dollars of new health care infrastructure has been announced in the past year. Our two great hospital systems are expanding significantly and we are very pleased to see a world class Children’s Hospital being built in our community. And the partnership between Penrose-St. Francis and UCCS to build and operate a sports medicine complex will bring a City for Champions dream to reality.
UCCS, under the leadership of Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, continues to be a remarkable economic engine for our community. The campus continues to grow and we look forward to seeing the Performing Arts Center become a great community asset on the North Nevada corridor. Our other higher education institutions also continue to excel and positively impact our community. The United States Air Force Academy opened in Colorado Springs 58 years ago this month. Under the direction of General Michelle Johnson, it not only produces outstanding Air Force officers, but it is also one of the most highly selective and prestigious academic institutions in the country. We also enjoy its Division I Sports programs. Colorado College, under the direction of President Jill Tiefenthaler, is among the highest ranked liberal arts colleges in America and contributes to the pleasant aura and culture of our downtown area. The recently announced alliance between CC and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has the potential to dramatically increase the impact of both these great institutions on the arts and culture of the Pikes Peak region. And Pikes Peak Community College, under the direction of Lance Bolton, plays a critical role in meeting the diverse needs of our diverse population, providing very affordable education and preparing students for our local workforce.
While a lot of our economic success over the last year reflects an improving economy, I want to acknowledge a great deal of hard work that has been done by the Regional Business Alliance, the City’s Economic Development Office and many other groups to create an environment conducive to economic growth. I also want to again commend the City Council for approving the elimination of the business personal property tax, passing a construction defects ordinance, making improvements to the Commercial Aeronautical Zone and approving two additional Urban Renewal districts. These actions helped Colorado Springs become a more business friendly city.
And while the mayor may often be the face of city government, the mayor is seldom the brains of city government and I want to give credit where credit is due for the day to day excellent work being done in our city. Chief of Staff, Jeff Greene, our Police Chief, our Fire Chief, our City Attorney, our Parks Department and Public Works Department heads and our other city executives deserve our thanks as do all of the public servants that do the necessary work of the city. I’d ask all our city employees who are here today to stand so we can acknowledge your good work.
Almost 40 years ago, with the announcement that the U.S. Olympic Committee would relocate from New York City to Colorado Springs, our city began an evolution that has resulted in us developing a sports ecosystem that is the envy of the world. With the addition of the Olympic Training Center, 23 national governing bodies, and soon the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame we have become the center of the Olympic movement in the U.S. and the Olympic Committee has authorized us to brand our city “Olympic City, USA.” I want to thank my wife Janet, Doug Price of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Katie Lally and Jamie Fabos of the Mayor’s Office and the very enthusiastic committee they are working with to implement this ongoing and widespread branding effort. I also want to thank Bernard Sandoval and Sandia Advertising for the great logo we’re using. When you add an additional 50 professional and amateur sports organizations that have located in Colorado Springs, sports has become a major sector of our economy. And kudos to Tom Osborne and the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. for the great work they’re doing to help us grow that sector.
While we are seeing very desirable expansion of our private sector economy, please be assured that the city, the RBA, and other organizations continue to be laser focused on sustaining, supporting and expanding our regions’ critical military missions. Colorado Springs cherishes its military identity and we will continue to actively lobby to oppose troop reductions and promote expansion of missions in the Pikes Peak Region. The city is proud to have recently been named one of the nation’s “Great Defense Communities”, an honor that reflects the tremendous support so many local organizations provide for our military members.
So what’s in store for the next year? As we assess the challenges of the year ahead I would suggest that first among them is to progress in our community vision of a campus with comprehensive services for the homeless population in our midst. The city has directed $2.5 million in federal funds towards the first phase of the Springs Rescue Mission Campus and the Colorado Division of Housing another $850,000 . It is our hope that generous private funding will allow the campus vision to be fully realized. I want to thank Larry Yonkers and Springs Rescue Mission and various service providers, particularly Catholic Charities, for their cooperation in developing a cohesive service delivery strategy going forward. Catholic Charities has also been a great partner with the city in finding housing for homeless families.
In terms of economic development we need to approve an amended annexation plan for Banning Lewis Ranch so that the area can finally be fully developed in a manner that delivers a great quality of life for its residents and pays for itself in terms of city services and public infrastructure.
On the tourism front, we need to raise the additional $10 million necessary to get the U.S. Olympic Museum out of the ground as soon as possible and we’ll need to raise approximately $25 million in additional funds to construct the much needed new Summit House on Pikes Peak. A summit house that is worthy of America’s Mountain will serve to make it an even more attractive tourist destination.
The city is also focused on increasing opportunities for citizen engagement, making it easier to do business with the city, to acquire information from it and convey information and opinions to it. Digital engagement is how most young people want to interact with their government. We’re actively pursuing innovative tools to accomplish this objective. I will also be asking the City Council to approve a 311 system through which citizens can get any information they need about city services at one phone number or one internet contact. It would be paid for out of cable franchise fees.
The Council and I are now working on the 2017 budget. While sales and use tax revenues have grown 5.7 percent over this time last year, it will still be a difficult budget year. In addition to increased stormwater spending, the city is committed to staffing our new Fire Station 22, restoring Transit funding to levels promised to voters in 2004 and identifying a site for a new downtown transit center. We will also complete funding of a comprehensive plan for the city. The comprehensive planning process is underway. The plan will be the first in fifteen years and will guide the growth of the city in future decades and provide the framework for redevelopment of key areas including the Southeast quadrant and the North and South Nevada corridor.
We recently learned that next year we will also have to pay more than expected to cover unfunded liabilities in police and fire pension funds. As is the case with so many cities and states, our city’s pension liabilities continue to grow and the Council and I beseech the Colorado Governor and legislature to seriously address pension reform in the near future. It’s a matter that must receive greater focus in our statewide political discussions.
And speaking of inaction at the state level, it’s time to overcome ideological differences between the political parties and do whatever has to be done as soon as possible to fund an expansion of I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock. The seven day a week log jam between Colorado Springs and Denver is hurting commerce between our two great cities and the proposed ten year time frame for a fix is simply unacceptable. It only took eight years after John Kennedy’s challenge to America to land a man on the moon. Surely we can expand 17 miles of interstate a heck of a lot sooner than that.
In addition to the city comprehensive plan, the mayor and council will continue to work on a code scrub process to better align our city code to the realities of our still relatively new city government model. We’ll also be asking the council to approve financing approximately $13.5 million over 10 years to fund the construction of a new police substation in the Southeast section of Colorado Springs. The current substation is obsolete and inadequate for the policing demands of the area. The low interest rate environment will allow us to do so with reasonable annual payments.
Ladies and gentleman, in the last year, U.S. News and World Report and other rating services have ranked Colorado Springs among the top 5 best places to live in America. We were the only city in the top 5 to receive a perfect score for desirability. We are indeed privileged to live in a city of remarkable beauty. One with an outstanding system of parks and trails and one that attracts people from all over the world to see our sites and enjoy our healthy climate. We are continuing the legacy of our founder, William J. Palmer. In the past year we’ve made remarkable progress in growing our economy and improving our infrastructure. But we all know that it’s not just the economy, infrastructure and scenery that makes a city great. At its essence a city is a reflection of its people. And in this past year, in the face of tragic shootings on Halloween and at Planned Parenthood on Black Friday, the people of Colorado Springs again showed the compassion and resilience that makes us a great city. As in the case with fires and floods in recent years, we did not let the tragic events define us but rather we were defined by our response to them. By our efforts to console the victims, and to honor the courage of our civilians and public safety professionals who responded and saved lives. It’s our people, as well as our surroundings, that makes us a shining city at the foot of a great mountain. And it’s our people that will continue to embrace the challenge of creating a society that matches our scenery. I’m ever so grateful for the privilege of serving as mayor of our great city. Thank you and may God continue to bless the City of Colorado Springs.
2016 Highlights Video
Lifetime Achievement Award
George Fellows was awarded the Spirit of the Springs Lifetime Achievement Award.