COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Springs is one step closer to deciding the fate of the Westside Community Center. The center has been a major resource for residents living in Old Colorado City for decades.
The deadline for potential operators to submit proposals closed last Friday, and some neighbors continue to push for control of it.
"We don't want to see an outside entity manage the Westside Community Center," said Irene Lucas, Save The Westside Community Center.
She is among a handful of neighbors who aren't happy with the way Woodmen Valley Chapel has operated the center.
"Some programs have been depleted, a few things are missing, and we do not have a lot of young adult or after-school programs. It needs to be brought back as a community for all, it's open from 9-5 and unless you rent space in the evenings it is closed. They do have some special events now, maybe once a month during the summer," said Kathy Perry.
Both women say they weren't too thrilled to hear that the Center for Strategic Ministry, a division of Woodmen Valley Chapel, submitted a proposal to continue operating the center for 15 years.
"In their presentation, they said they would have the community center here but with more of their services. However, we don't have an answer about what they would look like," said Perry.
"We don't know how much space Woodmen Valley Chapel would be using, we don't know the traffic is going to be if they move their Sunday services twice on Sunday to the Westside Community Center. It's going to impact us greatly, and we have a lot of unanswered questions," said Lucas. What is going to happen to the Westside Community Center if an outside entity takes up office space, if an outside entity decides who rents space without identifying their criteria and identifying who is in there and who is not? We want to see transparency, we want to see clarity, and we want to see a close partnership if Woodmen Valley Chapel is successful in their RFP and they become the managers."
The original arrangement with the city stated Woodmen Valley Chapel would operate the Westside Community Center for three years at a time. It had appeared the faith-based organization wouldn't be pursuing another contract to operate it, but it's not the case.
"We really felt like that arrangement tied our hands and limited our ability to do anything long-term and had sustainability to it. That's when we notified the city that we did not want to move forward with a continued three-year arrangement. When the opportunity arose for us to consider a long-term arrangement, that is a completely different set of perimeters and that allowed us to be more creative, thoughtful, and innovative. Think about some long-term investments that we could make to the community center that is different than that three-year arrangement," said Stu Davis, Director of the Westside Community Center.
Davis says they want to continue the legacy of the Westside Community Center, but they also want to expand and make it more.
"We want it to be something for those who don't know it's a community center to feel welcome to stop by, even if they aren't participating in a program. We are thinking of some opportunities whether it's some for-profit business partners or social enterprise type partnerships that could allow folks who want to be, hang out, even if they're not participating in a program to feel welcome here as well," said Davis.
He says there are a small number of neighbors who don't approve of his organization operating the center and discredits their investment by saying they are a church.
"While we are a faith-based organization, for the last twelve years and a lot of neighbors who agree with us, would say we've made sure anybody and everybody who's wanted to access the community center, run a program, service, regardless of their walk or values, has a place to be. I think it is an unfounded and unfair criticism that we are trying to make this a religious enterprise," said Davis.
He says the idea that they aren't open on weekends and not open late isn't true.
"I think when they walk by and they don't see a ton of cars in the parking lot, they believe it's empty but the majority of people who come here, walk here. The fact of the manner is we've had a theater company who's had two runs of different performances over the course of eight weeks that's brought in an additional thousand people each time to the community center beyond the neighborhood. We have all types of programs and services that run both at-risk populations, AA groups, and recovery groups, and I've tried to show the data to these folks many times so I think that criticism that we have limited operations just isn't true," said Davis. "I would also like to say we have never turned anyone away to use our space, with the exception of people who've been destructive of our property. Whether it is a religious or nonreligious group, regardless of their value system or what they're trying to do, we haven't turned anyone away. Except a shortlist of four or five organizations that haven't upheld our safety policies on campus."
Davis says a big part of their plan is to hold church services on Sunday morning, and it is a way to continue their financial model to make operating the center a reality.
"We've had three different churches who have met here for Sunday service over the course of twelve years, including one who held services here just two weeks ago. There was no one protesting that church when they were meeting here, and they met here pre-COVID every single Sunday. Again, I just think they are trying to make targets out of an unfair set of criticisms. Almost every city-owned facility owned by another entity has a church that meets in it throughout the year. That is very standard practice. The parking issue, we have plenty of parking. The services that would be here would be 75-100 people, about 40 to 50 cars. There is plenty of parking both on campus and on the perimeter of campus, it would not cause the kind of congestion that people are concerned about it. It's not an invalid concern, but we're not talking about thousands of cars, we aren't talking about hundreds of cars."
The request from many of the neighbors for transparency, Davis says has been answered.
"I think we've been transparent as much as we can be. I think I've responded to just about every phone call or email from neighbors who've expressed concerns," said Davis.
A handful of neighbors have formed their own nonprofit and submitted their own proposal to operate the center.
"The proposal is really how can we serve the Westside Community Center by the Westside Community. Not by an outside entity," said Lucas.
The city is evaluating all of the proposals submitted and plan to make a decision by the end of the year.