Interview With City Councilman Tim Leigh – Faces of Downtown

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Q: What first brought you to the Downtown Colorado Springs area? When was that?

A: I was stationed here at Fort Carson in 1975, and at the same time was a Club Professional Racquetball Player. I moved back to North Dakota for a few years to go to College and came back to stay in 1983.

Q: How have things changed since you first came here?

A: Oh man, tons has changed. But there’s a lot that hasn’t changed—my fellow “doggies” [Army Soldiers], and I used to go cruising around downtown on Nevada Avenue in a gigantic 1976 Dodge Charger when I was 18, and we’d go to bars doing tequila shots and finishing them with a beer chaser. That’s still very much the same. There are still a lot of bars and a lot of soldiers here.

The physical state has changed dramatically with the all the new buildings and new construction, but the idea of downtown being a focal point of the city has not changed. What’s funny is the corner of Bijou and Tejon used to be the epicenter of downtown, but today it’s all about Pikes Peak and Tejon. I can remember when the community was talking about making Pikes Peak Avenue a “vibrant east-west street” and people would say “What? Why? Pikes Peak is so far from the center of town,” so I’ve watched the evolution of the center of downtown moving from one corner to another. What hasn’t changed is that Tejon Street has always been main street downtown, where all the action is. But it’s been interesting to watch it migrate further and further North and South. Tejon was one-way as long as I can remember until just recently when a bunch of people got together and decided to change with the theory of bringing more people downtown. I’m not sure yet whether that’s worked out or not.

Q: What’s your favorite part about being downtown?

A: The energy, without question. I love all the people out doing stuff all the time.

Q: What is downtown Colorado Springs’s best-kept secret?

A: Right now that’s the grand opening of the brand-new Mining Exchange Wyndham Hotel. Plus, the guy who owns it is going to be opening a new Burger Bar—it’s going to a big, wooden Western-style bar where all they serve is burgers. It’s going to be awesome. When it opens, it will be right next door to La Baguette.

One of the other best-kept secrets downtown is the possibility of opening the Pikes Peak Walkway, which is a movement that’s been underway for years but is now just getting some steam. The plan is to create a big walkway from the Mining Exchange Hotel all the way to the Antlers Hotel. It would make Pikes Peak Avenue the “100% Street,” and we would expand the sidewalk and make it an attractive walkway and a place to hang out.

Q: Where do you like to go for lunch?

A: Springs Orleans. They used to have a burger on the menu there called “The Tim Leigh Burger” until they got too many complaints about it being political after I was elected to City Council.

Q: What is your biggest concern for the Downtown area?

A: My biggest concern is the economic revitalization of the downtown area, and I’m concerned about how we can’t figure out how to get retail downtown. Without retail stores, I think everything else becomes less interesting. We need to have shops down there. Also, a challenge for downtown is to see how we can increase the population and financial density because until you have those, you can’t bring in anything else. So we’re stalled downtown, and growing both our business and our residential population has been a big issue.

Q: If there were one thing you would change about downtown, what would you change and how?

A: I would create more housing. That’s what we need. I’d create small shops and housing on the periphery, and I would pack more density right in the heart of Downtown by building onto the existing buildings. Whether it’s lofts, apartments, condos, whatever—we could even get some real small efficiencies for around $500/mo, but we just need to get people downtown to make it more vibrant.

Q: Why is the downtown area such a crucial part of our city?

A: Because studies have shown that cities of significance have a heart and a soul, and that heart and soul comes from downtown; it’s the center of the community. I’d tell all the people in Colorado Springs who live out East to come downtown and live and stay here. Right now, they have a nice thing going on the Eastside, but they’re commuters. The Eastside is not the core of the city. Briargate is not the core of the city. Downtown is the core of the city. It’s de facto.

Q: What is the weirdest thing you have ever seen downtown?

A: I’ve seen transvestites, which is entertaining. Also, I once saw a guy dressed up like Daniel Boone playing the flute, which was pretty cool. True story: I once saw two guys swordfighting—they were dressed in capes and using real swords and everything. I hope they didn’t poke each other. You can see some weird stuff downtown; there’s no doubt.

Q: Can you name one thing in downtown Colorado Springs that you’ll never see any other city?

A: Compared with the cities I’ve been to and like, I’d have to say that our streets are extremely dirty. We have enormously filthy sidewalks. If you go to other cities like Salt Lake City, Scottsdale, and even New York City, they clean their sidewalks. The problem here is that we’re limited because you can’t just go out there with a power washer and wash the sidewalks because the dirty water would go into our city water system, but other cities don’t care about that. In New York City, you’ll see people power washing the sidewalks. If you go to Scottsdale, you’ll see that you could eat off the sidewalks. In Salt Lake City, you can eat off the floor in the bathrooms in the center of downtown—they’re that clean. There are guys who have a full-time job going around with rags and a spritzer bottle, cleaning up the floors

Actually, on the flip side, something you’ll see in a lot of other cities that you won’t ever see here is janitors policing the downtown area to clean up the streets. That’s a budgetary concern—we’ve just chosen not to spend any money on that.

Q: Your turn. What is one question about downtown that you can’t figure out and would like the answer to?

A: Here’s one: why can’t we muster the community spirit to revitalize Acacia Park? There is a revitalization plan for Acacia Park that is just mind-blowing.

Also, I can’t understand why there are some big, beautiful buildings that are amazing that could be turned into very cool lofts and apartments for young people to live here, but currently these buildings are just sitting there totally underutilized.

Q: What is one thing about downtown Colorado Springs that outsiders don’t know about us, but should?

A: That downtown is actually very safe. Unless you’re walking around at 2:00 in the morning, and even then it’s still basically safe. And there are plans to make it even safer. For example, we’re talking about making the playground at Acacia Park safer for kids by bringing it up to ground level, so there’s no room for loitering down there late at night. So I think the perception is that downtown is not very safe, and that’s just not true. If you go to any city on earth and compare it to Colorado Springs, we’re very pedestrian. Even the panhandlers, for example—we know almost all of them by name. The recent idea of having video cameras installed downtown is a little overkill, but they’ll be there to let people know that we’ve got an eye on them. I’m so sure that downtown is safe, if anybody really wants to go downtown and doesn’t feel safe, they can contact me, and I’ll show them around and show them how safe it is.

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Originally posted in “Faces of Downtown,” Ron’s interview project that showcases the folks who live in, work in, play in, and run downtown Colorado Springs.


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