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Progress begins with a conversation, and early this week, local economic, social, and political leaders gathered to discuss the future of downtown Colorado Springs.

On Tuesday evening, Colorado College, The Gazette, and the nonprofit group Food for Thought engaged in a collaborative effort to invest in the area just south of campus.

Held in Armstrong Hall, the event featured a panel of city residents and officials, and the agenda consisted of statements by the panelists as well as fielding questions from attendees, most of whom were non-CC Colorado Springs residents.

Professor Dan Johnson of the Economics department moderated the event and gave a short introduction.

According to Johnson, the event was unequivocally successful.

“I think that goals were met by a wide margin, partly because the goals were modest,” Johnson said. “The goal was to get people engaged in conversation.  Given that people really wanted to talk, that was easy.”

The purpose of the event was to engage the community in ways that will benefit Colorado Springs’s downtown area. The panel focused on issues such as attracting young professionals, providing adequate parking space in the area, ameliorating downtown parks, and making downtown more accessible for elderly citizens.

Some topics were more contentious than others. For example, the subject of the City for Champions proposal sparked fairly acrimonious debate on its financial feasibility and its potential burden on taxpayers.

The City of Champions proposal includes funding a new sports arena that would putatively attract tourism, thereby contributing to the city’s economy. Funding for this arena would be drawn from a combination of private and public sources.

The event was the final installment in a three-part endeavor to improve the state of downtown Colorado Springs.

The first event focused on why past attempts to revitalize downtown have failed and how other cities have succeeded in similar endeavors.

The second discussed improvements that have been made to the city of Omaha, Neb., and which factors allowed for those improvements to transpire.

“The event was very short, so it was very hard to get all the information out about all the exciting things going on downtown,” City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler, a discussion panelist, said after the event. “But I was able to get out all of the many projects that I support.”

The event began at 6:00 p.m. with a short introduction from Professor Johnson. Next, each panelist outlined his or her background and goals for the discussion. Then, the panelists fielded questions from the audience. Finally, at around 7:15 p.m., everyone participated in small-group discussions facilitated by Food for Thought.

According to Gaebler, a sense of adventure and community-oriented rhetoric are crucial for downtown to thrive.

“I think we made the point that we need to be positive, we need to take risks, to celebrate and collaborate in order to accomplish some of the things that we came here for,” she said.

Lisa Tessarowicz, a co-founder of Epicentral Coworking, a collaborative community located on Tejon Street, was also a panelist at the event.

Her words of encouragement and hope rallied the audience and drew excitement from a half-full Armstrong Theater.

Tessarowicz stressed that the discussion was intended to focus on making downtown Colorado Springs more attractive to young professionals.

“I really wanted to speak to those with an entrepreneurial spirit,” she said.

Tessarowicz felt that she achieved her goal, but not without some qualification.

“I think I wanted to give a voice to the younger people, and I feel that I was able to do that to some degree,” Tessarowicz said. “I hope that I spoke well enough today that I’ll be invited to other things in the future.”

Throughout the event, panelists and discussion participants expressed gratitude to Colorado College, both for hosting the event and for its general contributions to Colorado Springs.

However, CC’s role in improving the downtown area was not expressly discussed.

According to Tessarowicz, CC has had a positive influence on the downtown area.

“I think that Colorado College is such a great asset to downtown,” Tessarowicz said.

She did add that CC’s interaction with downtown left something to be desired. “I wish there were more ways to include CC students, faculty, and staff,” Tessarowicz said.

Tessarowicz suggested that professional ties help to improve relations between CC and the greater downtown community.

“I know that your current president, Jill Tiefenthaler, has instituted a new internship program with Colorado Springs businesses, and I think that will make [the relationship] better, Tessarowicz said.

Gaebler echoed Tessarowicz’s desire for a stronger bond between CC and the greater community.

“Colorado College really adds a lot to our community, but I would like to find ways to get you guys downtown, “ she said. “I want you guys to be at the table and tell us the things that would make you want to come downtown more.”

Johnson also believes that CC students could be more vocal on city-coordination issues.

“CC students should be there not only to listen, but to speak as well,” Johnson said. “It’s tough because we do expect a lot of students in their classes.”

Eliza Carter

Staff Writer

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