Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade encouraged citizens to work together to navigate the city's challenges during his first State of the City address on Thursday at The Broadmoor conference center.
"Friends, democracy is a participatory sport, not a spectator sport. Democracy is best served when people show up and speak up," he said.
He thanked the more than 1,000 people who attended listening sessions recently held in collaboration with the city council. Though some have criticized the format of the meetings, feedback from them will be used to inform the city's new strategic plan, set to be finalized in June 2024.
"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," Mobolade said.
The mayor also announced a plan to hold 1,000 neighborhood parties next year as a way to bring people together.
"Why is that important?" he asked. "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."
The study he referred to was conducted by Nextdoor, with Brigham Young University and others.
In her official role as the city's First Lady, Abbey Mobolade is working on mental health issues. Mobolade said his wife is convening experts to fill gaps in the city's current mental health landscape.
Since taking office in June, Mobolade said he's been building relationships at all levels of government. He highlighted the recent decision to keep the U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs as an example, saying it will help provide billions of dollars to the local economy with additional growth expected in aerospace, cybersecurity, defense, and technology.
He said further gains are expected as El Paso County leads the state in the number of state-incentivized projects for 2023. City Council has also approved five economic development agreements, which Mobolade said will bring the creation of nearly 1,700 projected new full-time jobs and a total of $440 million in projected capital investment in Colorado Springs.
"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," he said.
The mayor also focused on affordable housing, a topic mentioned heavily during his campaign for office. This summer, Mobolade appointed the city's first Chief Housing and Community Vitality Officer, which will, in part, work to increase housing opportunities for middle-income earners or residents who make between $50-$100,000.
The city opted into Proposition 123, which dedicates $300 million annually to affordable housing. Mobolade said the move allows housing providers to apply for state funds.
"Opting in means we have committed to increasing our housing inventory by 2,600 units over the next three years," he said. "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."
The mayor also called upon citizens to support a ballot measure to help fund a new police training facility this November.
"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," he said.
If approved, the measure would allow the city to keep $4.75 million in tax refunds to help acquire space for a new facility. The city estimates the refund to be just over $20 per person, although only those who have accounts with Colorado Springs Utilities would receive them.
The $4.75 million would serve as seed money to leverage additional funding. The cost to retrofit a property would likely be between an estimated $12 million and $21 million. A brand-new facility could cost as much as $45 million.
"Solutions like these are how we will continue to address our city’s most pressing and urgent issues," Mobolade said.
The speech came exactly 100 days after Mobolade was sworn in as the city's 42nd mayor.
“All this work will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin,” Mobolade said, quoting President John F. Kennedy.
Mobolade also presented former Mayor John Suthers with the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor is given once a year, during the annual State of the City address. Recipients are chosen for their notable achievements and lifelong contributions to the city of Colorado Springs.
“John Suthers has served our city and our state through dedicated public service for 35 years,” Mobolade said. “It is my honor to present him with the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his remarkable career and positive impact on our city. This award is an affirmation that he is a good ancestor.”'
Suthers' tenure as mayor of Colorado Springs ended in 2023 after he served the maximum two terms in office.
A native of Colorado Springs, Suthers was elected as district attorney of the 4th Judicial District in 1988. In 2001, then-President George W. Bush appointed him as U.S. attorney for Colorado. Suthers also served as the attorney general for Colorado from 2005 to 2015.
He was elected mayor of Colorado Springs in May 2015 and again in 2019.
Past recipients include philanthropist Lyda Hill, former Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, and longtime civic leader Bill Hybl.
In accepting the award, Suthers joked the lifetime achievement honor made him nervous.
"...because I'd like to think I have more life to live and more contributions to make, I want to very very sincerely thank Mayor Mobolade for this recognition. I am humbled by it," Suthers said.
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