PUEBLO — Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar delivered his State of the City address Thursday afternoon.
Mayor Gradisar said in June, it will be 100 years since the flood that destroyed downtown Pueblo.
"We don't celebrate the flood, but we do celebrate and marvel at the resiliency of our ancestors who survived it and who built Pueblo back better," said Mayor Gradisar.
Gradisar went on to say that Pueblo and Pueblo county has lost more lives to COVID-19 than the flood in 1921.
Gradisar said 2020 was a year of economic survival, challenge, controversy, resiliency and acts of kindness in Pueblo and said 2021 will be a year of recovery and rebuilding.
Gradisar addressed Pueblo's economic vibrancy, the community, housing and Pueblo's infrastrucure. He emphasized that developing Pueblo's vacant buildings will be extremely beneficial for Pueblo's growth.
"Although we have taken steps in the city to make it easier to make it easier to use some of our vacant buildings in the downtown and union avenue areas, we've not seen developers step up and begin that development at this point."
One of those buildings is the Watertower Place, just walking distance from the modern riverwalk. What was once a meatpacking plant, will soon hold apartments, businesses, office space, and events.
"The greenest structure is the one that's already standing," said Gregory Howell, who is adamant about utilizing the abundance of forgotten building in the city.
"Most communities would die to have the resources, the infrastructure that we have," said Howell. He went on to discuss the appeal that old buildings have to younger generations.
"If you look at where millennials are or anyone for that matter across that whole spectrum of age and demographic… There's mystery. There's intrigue."
Gradisar gave a call to actions when it comes to revamping Pueblo's abandoned buildings saying, "I want to challenge our city council, the county, realators and even developers to kickoff a decade of growth that starts by investing into Pueblo's downtown once more."
Gradisar said the pandemic was devastating to small businesses, especially those that have indoor dining and bars. Restaurants struggled when indoor dining had to be closed and when it reopened with restrictions. Gradisar said this struggle will continue until the pandemic is controlled.
The city made $5 million from the half cent economic development fund available to small businesses early in the pandemic. In 60 days, $3.4 million in grants and loans were made to 415 small businesses, to help them survive the stay at home order. Then, $3.8 million from the $6.5 million the city received from CARES funds was made available to small businesses. Nearly $400,000 of that went to Pueblo's outdoor patio program.
Gradisar said more than 619 small businesses received assistance.
"Bars and restaurants are some of the biggest generators in sale tax for the City of Pueblo, so investing in these businesses was not only the right thing to do, but it also benefiting the city economically."
Speaking on the community, Gradisar said the city spent $800,000 on rent, mortgage, utility assistance, and hunger relief for individuals and families. Over $400,000 in coronavirus relief funds supported community relief programs. The majority of these funds were spent on locally sourced products.
On Wednesday, the city was informed that the Pueblo Food Project had been awarded a $175,000 grant for its food distribution program.
In 2019, Pueblo funded the Street Repair Utility Enterprise, and in 2020, the work on rebuilding and repairing streets began.
"The condition of our streets has historically been the number one concern of our Pueblo citizens. I expect repairs to start much earlier in 2021. And we intend to rebuild portions of E Northern Ave and mill and overlay eight additional streets around town."
Gradisar said funding for transportation infrastructure continues to be a concern. Due to Pueblo not receiving funding from the state, Gradisar will work with city council this year to prepare a ballot issue to ask voters to enact a sales tax to fund transportation infrastructure.
Gradisar said vaccination efforts will be led by the Health Department, Emergency Operation Center, and local first responders in 2021.
This week, Pueblo launched its first vaccine clinic for Puebloans 70 and older with lines building even hours before it was set to open. The Pueblo County Health Department said that clinics will be dependent on the amount of COVID-19 vaccines the department receives each week from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Gradisar said the city is working on streamlining its licensing and permitting processes. He said they will shortly unveil online sytem that will make the process easier ad convenient to obtain permits and forms necessary for development.
In 2020, Evraz announced they will construct a new long rail mill. Gradisar said this will "guarantee good jobs in Pueblo for years to come" when it is complete.
News5 also learned this week that recently released data shows the city's crime rate decreased from 2019 to 2020, the same downward trend that's been happening every year since 2017. Although the rates between 2019 and 2020 only went down 4%, the total rates have decreased by over 20% since 2017.
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