Mayor Rallies Behind Charis Bible College; Questions Local Tourist Aspirations Rick Langenberg

Times are improving for Woodland Park, but forget the dream of turning “The City Above the Clouds” into another Breckenridge, Salida or a major art/tourist destination.

Economic trends are definitely getting better and we are pursuing some ambitious capital spending projects and we have one heck of a ministries development in our community. However, Woodland Park will always remain a bedroom community to Colorado Springs.

This was the crux of a “State of the City” address, delivered by WP Mayor Neil Levy last week during an annual breakfast, hosted by the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce.

“The state of the city is good,” said Levy, who gave a fairly upbeat talk about the city’s short and long-term future.

Levy cited such positive developments as rising sales tax revenue, a slew of big projects, highlighted by the $15 million aquatic center, and an improving economy.

Moreover, he gave a big pat on the back to the Charis Bible College and the Wommack Ministries. He believes this $175 million development brings a tremendous value to the community and is a huge asset. He said city and community officials recently got a sneak preview of the next phase of the project and were quite amazed with the progress that has occurred, with a school that now hosts 900 students and a spree of amenities.

Jokingly, Levy admitted that both he and Andrew Wommack, the founder of Wommack Ministries, are on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum. “He is right of center, and I am a little left of center. But we are working together on some of the difficult issues,” said Levy.

The mayor was referring to the impacts the school poses on special districts, since Wommack Ministries is a tax-exempt entity and so doesn’t pay any property taxes. Some county and emergency service leaders have urged the city to push for impact fees to be assessed against the ministries development, but WP officials have declined to take such action. They have maintained that this could set a bad precedent. Levy didn’t reveal any answers regarding this funding quagmire, but indicated that more cooperation is occurring.

In fact, “working together” was a familiar punch line by the mayor. He contended that a strong alliance exists between the city and the RE-2 School District. Wearing a baseball team hat to symbolize his support for the school district and his role as its head baseball coach, Levy was optimistic about the new proposed site for the aquatic center, next to the high school. He said this location should be formalized during a council meeting on Dec. 17.

No Big Plans for the Downtown
The one issue Levy took the Fifth on dealt with the future of the downtown core. Levy outlined the Main Street program, but didn’t describe any specific views about his vision for this district.

“We are not Manitou Springs, We are not Breckenridge. We are not Salida,” said Levy.

The mayor was referring to certain aspirations to turn Woodland Park into a tourist destination with much more retail, galleries and shops. “We have to decide who we are and where we are going,” said Levy.

More importantly, and as a local business owner himself, the mayor opposes plans to “make us something we are not.”

He contends the market will drive the future of the Woodland Park downtown. “It is easier to do business in Colorado Springs,” admitted Levy, who owns high caliber restaurants in both Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. “The market will help make a difference.”

As for touchy political issues, the mayor revealed his poker hand slightly by announcing his support for one rather controversial plan: A bid to allow the city to offer government incentives for certain future businesses and development projects, if they provide a valid public benefit or purpose. This is one of possibly seven ballot issues that will appear on the April 2016 ballot, as part of amendments to the city charter. Levy hinted that the chamber should take a future role in lobbying for this issue and in educating people about the benefits of offering incentives for certain business operators who are considering relocating to the area.

“It is something that is important for the community,” said Levy, in discussing the issue of incentives. He described how Colorado Springs has benefitted from such efforts with the relocation of the Olympic Center.

Pro-government incentive packages, though, have been greeted with much skepticism in Woodland Park and have been rejected twice before by local voters. Levy, though, attributed this sentiment to government distrust.

The mayor, however, encouraged people to get involved in the local political arena. Besides the incentives question and other ballot proposition, he told the group that the mayor’s seat and three council positions will be decided on during the spring election.

With more prosperous times, Levy said it’s a good time to be mayor of Woodland Park.