Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers touted his city's success in navigating the pandemic's economic fallout during his second to last State of the City address on Friday, while acknowledging the community’s persistent struggle with high costs of living.
Suthers spoke to a packed ballroom of city influencers inside the Broadmoor Hotel for the mid-day gala, which also honored former mayor Mary Lou Makepeace with the city’s 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Pikes Peak Region certainly has not been immune to the ravages of the coronavirus, from recording the state’s first death from the virus to ongoing outbreaks in El Paso County. It’s one place in the state that’s been resistant to enforcing public health guidelines.
From an economic perspective, however, the state’s second-largest city has proven resilient.
Despite a few closures, the downtown added 20 businesses in 2020 and 30 more so far this year. The city’s tourism sector, hardest hit during lockdowns, has bounced back particularly well. Nonprofits like Downtown Colorado Springs point to data showing hotel occupancy rates in the city ranked among the top in the nation this past summer. Suthers credited popular attractions like a new summit complex atop Pikes Peak and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum.
“I’m pleased to report that 2021 has seen a remarkable recovery,” Suthers said. “Tourists came in droves to see our many natural and manmade attractions.”
Colorado Springs continues to earn high marks in national rankings for top cities to live in. Those distinctions and overall growth along the state’s Front Range has led to record-high local housing costs.
To combat that, Suthers said the city has met a goal of building or preserving a thousand affordable housing units each year of his six-year administration, with many more planned for construction in 2022.
“(The city) continues to look for innovative ways to make the best use of federal dollars to meet local housing needs...to set our community up for success in meeting our housing goals in coming years,” he said.
Kristy Milligan is the CEO of Westside CARES, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping low-income residents on the westside of El Paso County. She applauded recent municipal investments in affordable housing units. But she said those investments can’t happen fast enough.
“I can’t tell you how many people I know on fixed incomes...who just want to find somewhere to live inside and are sleeping in their cars and are accumulating tickets for sleeping in their cars because there’s nowhere safe for them to park,” Milligan said.
She also faults the city for recent ramped-up efforts to remove homeless encampments within city limits while more people find themselves out of work due to the pandemic.
In his speech, Suthers defended the vigorous enforcement of city camping bans while commending new options for people working to make ends meet, such as an $18 million expansion of the Springs Rescue Mission.
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