A look back in Colorado Springs, from a big birthday to a persistent pandemic

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2021 was a year of celebration as Colorado Springs marked the city’s sesquicentennial with a series of events.

It was a year of triumph as Team USA topped the medal count at the Summer Olympics, with 14 athletes from Colorado coming home with medals.

It was a year of recovery for the local economy in the wake of COVID-related restrictions as city sales tax revenue boomed and the real estate market sizzled.

But it was also a year of tears and bloodshed, as a mass shooting in May ended in seven deaths in Colorado Springs, while the state was shaken by a shooter’s rampage in Boulder that killed 10.

And through it all, the COVID-19 pandemic cast a shadow for a second year, with vaccines offering hope but with variants of the virus complicating the road to recover; ultimately, the virus took more lives than it did in 2020. 

Here’s a look back at the year:

JANUARY

• “Capitol under siege” read the front-page headline in the Jan. 7 Gazette. The day before, Americans watched TV screens in disbelief as supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, forcing lawmakers into hiding and delaying Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote putting Joe Biden into the presidency. More than 600 people from 40 states have been charged with participating in the violence, including about a dozen from Colorado. Among those: Olympic gold medal swimmer Klete Keller.

• City and state leaders were stunned by the White House’s decision to move U.S. Space Command from Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Ala. Several Pentagon insiders and lawmakers told The Gazette that the decision bypassed the military’s top pick of Colorado Springs because of political considerations; Donald Trump would declare later that he “single-handedly” picked Alabama to land Space Command. Questions continue to swirl and the decision continues to  be challenged; an earlier Air Force decision will keep the command in Colorado Springs until at least 2026 while the decision to move it plays out.

• Colorado pulled ahead of most other states in the race to vaccinate health care workers for the coronavirus. It was the first phase of a long vaccine rollout that prioritized the most at-risk groups. 

• A long-sought brand arrived in Colorado Springs on Jan. 4 when electric vehicle giant Tesla opened a showroom and service facility in the Motor City area.

• Colorado Springs software developer Quantum Metric became the area’s first technology “unicorn” — meaning a startup that has grown to be worth $1 billion. It hit that milestone after landing $200 million in venture capital, the largest such investment ever for a Springs startup.

• TwoCor — a 16-year-old nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs that used an innovative approach to help traumatized teens right their lives and become productive citizens — closed, citing the coronavirus pandemic. 

FEBRUARY

• An engine failure aboard a commercial flight departing Denver International Airport for Honolulu rained debris on a Broomfield neighborhood before the plane and its 231 passengers and 10 crew members safely landed back at the airport. United for a time subsequently grounded its Boeing 777-200 planes with Pratt & Whitney engines.

• A four-day deep freeze in Colorado Springs and much of the nation sent natural gas prices soaring. Colorado Springs Utilities customers will be paying off the bill until April 2022.

• The first food pantry owned and operated by Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado opened in Fountain, introducing a different model of operation intended to remove apprehension from the process. Instead of handing recipients a packed box or sack of groceries, Sunny Side Market/Food For All at 501 E. Iowa Ave. offers a familiar shopping trip, with carts for shoppers, stocked shelves and selection.

MARCH

• In a longtime dream come true for Colorado Springs city and airport officials, Southwest Airlines began service from the Springs. The Dallas-based, low-fare giant launched service in Colorado Springs on March 11 with 13 daily nonstop flights to Midway International Airport in Chicago, Dallas Love Field, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix. It instantly became the airport’s largest carrier.

• A gunman killed 10 people, including a police officer, at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, plunging the university town into what local authorities called “a tragedy and a nightmare.” The man accused of the shootings, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, has been found incompetent to stand trial and is at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo for treatment.

• Utah-based information security company Ivanti bought Colorado Springs-based Cherwell, one of the city’s most successful startups; Cherwell employed more than 500 people when the deal was completed. Ivanti’s CEO said Colorado Springs would be the company’s “center of gravity” for information technology service management and enterprise service management software.

APRIL

• Colorado Springs residents elected three new City Council members and three incumbents, keeping the balance of politics on the board largely unchanged with five more conservative voices and four more moderate ones. Councilman Dave Geislinger lost his bid for re-election to political newcomer Randy Helms in the most unexpected win of the races.

• The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suspended Dr. Moma Health and Wellness Clinic inside the Satellite Hotel in southeast Colorado Springs from administering COVID-19 vaccines after health officials discovered “irregularities” in how the clinic stored and handled the vaccines. Regulators terminated the clinic as a COVID-19 vaccine provider in October, six months after its storage practices were placed under investigation.

• Weidner Field, a $47 million multipurpose outdoor stadium and one of four City for Champions projects designed to promote state and local tourism, opened in downtown Colorado Springs. Weidner Field serves as the  home of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC soccer team.

• In marking its 25th anniversary, Springs Rescue Mission completed an $18 million multiyear expansion, extending for more than six blocks its campus that serves homeless people. The centerpiece of the final $3.26 million upgrade was converting the original dining hall and kitchen, at 5 W. Las Vegas St. into a 3,000-square-foot welcome center and fencing the entire property.

• Colorado College received a $33.5 million bequest from an anonymous living donor, making it the largest single contribution from an individual in the liberal arts school’s 147-year history, officials said. Half of the unrestricted funds will be applied toward future needs of the college, and the other half will benefit the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

MAY

• A gunman killed six members of an extended family at a birthday party at a mobile home park in Colorado Springs before shooting himself. The shooting was the deadliest mass murder in the city’s history (along with an incident from 1911) and the fourth deadliest in the state.

• Gov. Jared Polis ended the statewide mask order, enacted to slow the spread of the coronavirus, in nearly all settings. Meanwhile, Colorado identified the first case of the delta variant of the coronavirus in Mesa County. It would go on to become the predominant strain in the state.

• On May 1, Cripple Creek casinos lifted bet limits in place for nearly 30 years, six months after Colorado voters approved Amendment 77. Casinos also began offering additional table games at casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. The approval prompted Full House Resorts, owner of Bronco Billy’s Casino, to expand and accelerate plans to build its upscale Chamonix Casino and Hotel adjacent to Bronco Billy’s.

• The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, equipped with new rails, steel ties and train cars, reopened after a 3½-year, $100 million makeover. The future of the historic railway was in doubt for a time after its owner, The Broadmoor, suspended rail operations in late 2017 due to concerns over aging infrastructure and equipment. A tax incentive deal with the city of Manitou Springs helped fund reconstruction.

• After a 2½-year process to develop it, El Paso County approved a new master plan that will guide local development over the coming decades as the county’s population, including Colorado Springs, could hit more than 1 million people by 2045, data from the Colorado Demography Office show. The document will help planners evaluate future development proposals, establish a regulatory framework and coordinate regional and local initiatives, county planners said. 

• Centura Health broke ground on its third major Colorado Springs campus, the 72-bed St. Clare Hospital; it is scheduled to open in March 2023, southeast of Interstate 25 and InterQuest Parkway, to serve the growing neighborhoods of northern Colorado Springs and northern El Paso County. The $160 million hospital will specialize in orthopedic and spine care and will employ about 400 people.

• Children’s Hospital Colorado officials declared “a pediatric mental health state of emergency,” saying their entire system was taxed and experiencing an unprecedented overload of children as young as 8 needing immediate treatment, largely for suicidal thoughts and attempts.

JUNE

• Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora became the first Colorado military installation to change its name in honor of the newest service branch — U.S. Space Force. Colorado would come to have the largest contingent of military installations named for the new space service branch after Peterson Space Force Base, Schriever Space Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Space Force Station were later also renamed. 

• A gunman ambushed and killed an Arvada police officer before being shot and killed by “good Samaritan” Johnny Hurley, who in a tragic twist was then killed by a responding officer who mistook him for the original gunman.

• The new $65 million Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center opened atop “America’s Mountain.” 

• Owners of the Wildwood Casino opened the 101-room Wildwood Hotel, the first of three major projects that will more than double the number of hotel rooms in Cripple Creek.

• Silver Key Senior Services announced it will build new affordable apartment complex for seniors adjacent to its headquarters at 1605 S. Murray Blvd. in southeast Colorado Springs.

• Colorado Springs police swarmed a summertime weekly pickup kickball game in an Old North End neighborhood, saying it was in violation of city code and continuation would lead to charges against parents. Two parents were ticketed for organizing the event, which had been a tradition for years. The game has since resumed after neighbors ponied up more than $300 and obtained a block party permit from the city.

• The Rev. James Golka of Grand Island, Neb., was ordained on June 29 as the third bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, which was formed in 1984 and serves nearly 190,000 Catholics.

• An evangelical Christian megachurch out of Oklahoma, Life.Church, opened a new $10.4 million church building in northeast Colorado Springs.

• Colorado College dismantled Honnen Ice Arena, built in 1963, and bearing the name of its benefactor, Edward Honnen, a 1921 graduate of the school who became a community philanthropist. Honnen’s contributions are recognized in the campus’ new Ed Robson Arena, a multisport venue that opened in October.

JULY

• Online sales giant Amazon opened a nearly 4 million-square-foot fulfillment center near the Colorado Springs Airport. Amazon also opened a sorting center nearby where merchandise from the fulfillment center is prepared for out-of-town delivery.

• Mark Redwine was found guilty by a La Plata County jury of second-degree murder, more than eight years after the death of his 13-year-old son, Dylan. (In October, a judge sentenced Redwine to 48 years in prison; he was given more than four years of credit for jail time served while awaiting trial.)

• A group of local investors bought the Union Printers Home near Memorial Park for $18.5 million with plans to turn it into a hub of activity. The campus includes 26 acres and four buildings that most recently housed a nursing home and an assisted-living facility. 

• Ascending to Health — Colorado Springs’ only respite care facility for homeless people who’d been discharged from hospital stays but were too medically fragile to convalesce on the streets or in a shelter — suspended services, citing budget issues emanating from the pandemic. 

AUGUST

• The U.S. military pulled out of Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of occupation and war. The Afghanistan War claimed the lives of more than 2,300 American troops, including about 100 from Fort Carson. As American forces moved out, Taliban insurgents moved in and quickly took control of the country. “I kind of feel like this pullout is a slap in the face to friends I’ve lost,” said Dustin Gray, a Fort Carson and Afghanistan veteran. 

• The Bureau of Reclamation declared the first-ever shortage on the Colorado River basin, limiting water supplies for Arizona, Nevada and California beginning in January. To maintain levels in Lake Powell, a critical power source, the bureau also authorized emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County, Navajo Reservoir on the Colorado-New Mexico border and Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah and Wyoming. 

• The Space Symposium returned after 2½ years to The Broadmoor with a mix of in-person and online participants and offered its biggest menu of exhibits in Bartolin Hall, a new exhibition center the resort built to host the symposium and other large conventions. The 2020 symposium was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that also prompted the Space Foundation to delay the 2021 symposium until late August.

• The downtown Colorado Springs power plant ceased burning coal after about a century. Martin Drake Power Plant was planned to burn coal through 2035; however the transition to natural gas and renewable energy allowed the closure to happen early. The plant will be eventually be decommissioned and the site reclaimed.

• Colorado Springs day care owner Carla Faith was found guilty of 26 counts of misdemeanor child abuse, a felony count of attempting to influence a public servant and another misdemeanor of running a child care facility without a license. She was sentenced in October to six years in prison for the felony attempt to influence a public servant charge, and 10 months for each count of child abuse, which she was ordered to serve concurrently with the felony sentence.

• Colorado Springs grew by about 15% in the past 10 years, census data showed. El Paso County grew faster, with a 17.4% population increase, making it the eighth fastest growing county in Colorado in the past decade and keeping it in the No. 1 spot on the county population list. El Paso County is home to 730,000 residents compared to 716,000 in Denver, according to the data.

• Woodmen Valley Chapel’s community outreach program, The Center for Strategic Ministry, donated 1 acre to Greccio Housing, which plans to build an apartment complex for seniors ages 62 years and above.

• An estimated 75% of El Paso County’s 437 state licensed child care centers and homes reported shortages of teacher-qualified staff, constituting “a workforce crisis for the early childhood sector,” said Kelly Hurtado, early childhood program director for Joint Initiatives for Youth and Families.

SEPTEMBER

• Three Aurora police officers and two paramedics were indicted in connection with the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.  McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was not suspected of any crime, died several days after police forcefully detained him as he walked home from a convenience store and put him in a control hold. Paramedics called to the scene injected McClain with the sedative ketamine. The dose was too large for McClain to handle.

• A 6-year-old Colorado Springs girl, Wongel Estifanos, died on an amusement park ride in Glenwood Springs after she fell more than 100 feet in the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park Haunted Mine Drop. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Division of Oil and Public Safety found that workers overrode a safety device on the ride that warned one of the seat belts was not properly fastened.  The girl’s family filed a lawsuit against the ride’s operators.

• After a failed bid to represent herself in her case, and after being ruled competent to stand trial, a judge ruled Sept. 23 that Letecia Stauch would go to trial for the murder of her 11-year-old stepson, Gannon, in 2020. She pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in November.

• Colorado Springs spoken-word poet Ashley Cornelius was named Pikes Peak Library District’s poet laureate, the first since 2017. She’ll work to develop an appreciation of written and performance poetry in the community, including creating programs to engage and educate the public.

• El Paso County marked the loss of 1,000 people to the coronavirus, a milestone that few anticipated the community would see after the release of vaccines. 

• California-based DPR Construction acquired GE Johnson Construction Co., a longtime Colorado Springs general contractor that has built some of the city’s highest profile buildings, including the Pikes Peak Summit Visitors Center, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Weidner Field, all completed this year. The deal came four months after 100-year-old Berwick Electric of Colorado Springs merged into Guarantee Electrical of St. Louis.

• Problems came to light at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, including up to 350 criminal defendants waiting in jails for a bed, violating a federal consent decree order amounting to more than $17 million in fines. 

• Springs Recovery Connection announced plans to buy an old church on the west side and turn it into an addiction and recovery services center to meet the demand as substance abuse increased during the pandemic.

OCTOBER

•Colorado Springs became the first of the state’s seven metro areas to recover the jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic, when a stay-at-home order resulted in the loss more than 30,000 jobs. A record 305,100 area residents held payroll jobs in October, and another 1,000 were added to area payrolls in November. 

• State and Pikes Peak region officials celebrated completion of the first phase of a long-awaited two-part project that will one day directly connect Interstate 25 to Powers Boulevard on Colorado Springs’ far north side. After 20 months, crews completed work on one of the largest interchanges in the region, a $63 million project that included construction of a four-lane divided highway between I-25 and Voyager Parkway, south of North Gate Boulevard. 

• The Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved a $4.2 million purchase of 343 acres called Fisher Canyon in the Springs’ southwest foothills, which parks officials see as a future “game-changer” for the region’s outdoor recreation profile. The land is against the Broadmoor Bluffs neighborhood and bordered by Cheyenne Mountain State Park to the south and Pike National Forest to the west. The idea is for Fisher Canyon to serve as a key connection to the long-envisioned, 26-mile Chamberlain Trail, running from Blodgett Peak to Cheyenne Mountain.

• Musician and arts advocate David Siegel was named as the new executive director for Ent Center for the Arts at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The former chief executive officer of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation starts his new job in January, and will work with the Visual Performing Arts Department (VAPA), Theatreworks, the Galleries of Contemporary Art, and community arts organizations and partners that use the venue for performances and events.

• Arts Vision 2030, the Pikes Peak region’s new 10-year cultural plan, was unveiled by Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR), Bee Vradenburg Foundation and a steering committee of two dozen local creative leaders. It features eight declarations for the future of El Paso and Teller counties, including a desire for equity, diversity and inclusion; arts education for all; and connecting and nurturing creative talent.

• Safe Passage created a Children’s Advocacy Center, with police detectives, forensic nurses, psychotherapists, case workers and empowerment teachers working in one building, all helping children who have been sexually abused.

• UCHealth terminated 119 employees for failing to follow its vaccine mandate or receive a medical or religious exemption. 

• Colorado Springs gun shop owner Christof Kreb, his wife and two of their children, ages 9 and 13, were found dead in what the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office called an apparent murder-suicide at their home in the Gleneagle area.

NOVEMBER

• Voters in El Paso and Teller counties decided on a spate of mayoral, council and school board races — as well as a flurry of ballot questions from Taxpayers Bill of Rights revenue retention and property tax increases to initiatives aimed at rebuilding or renovating old schools, pay raises for teachers, and upgrading playgrounds and other school facilities. El Paso County voters rejected a ballot question that would have allowed the county to use $15 million in excess government revenues to pay for road infrastructure and deferred parks maintenance projects. Colorado Springs voters approved a measure to keep $20 million in taxes to mitigate fire danger in and around the city but downed a measure that would’ve increased money for conservation and recreation projects and extend the life of the Trails, Open Space and Parks program.  

• Downtown business owner Richard Skorman announced he would resign from the Colorado Springs City Council after winning re-election in April. He said he did not expect the economic pressure from the coronavirus to continue as it did and needed to step back from city politics to focus on his restaurant, cafe, bookstore and toy store. 

One of Colorado Springs’ most beloved outdoor hubs added a new trail network for hikers and mountain bikers. In total, about 6½ miles of trail were built in North Cheyenne Canon, including a new Daniels Pass Trail that rises to a scenic ridge. From there, visitors can drop down to Sweetwater Canyon loops or up on the foot-only path to Mount Muscoco, the city park system’s highest point.

• Pikes Peak area drivers celebrated the early opening of the $419 million I-25 South Gap project in late November, when two of three lanes in either direction of the roughly 18-mile stretch of highway between Monument and Castle Rock opened to commuters a year ahead of schedule. About three weeks later, in early December, a pair of express lanes on either side of I-25 opened to commuters during a testing phase. The express lanes will be toll-free through much of 2022, before a state board is supposed to set the toll rates — which could be the lowest in the state and among the cheapest in the country.

• Family Promise of Colorado Springs permanently closed its Interfaith Hospitality Network’s Day House for homeless families, citing a $150,000 decrease in donations over last year

DECEMBER

• The state of Colorado marked the loss of 10,000 people to the coronavirus, including 2,000 deaths in a little more than two months. The highly contagious omicron variant was discovered in the state and within three weeks accounted for half of all cases. 

The nearly 100 people who died homeless in El Paso County in the past year were remembered at the annual Longest Night candlelight service on Dec. 21, the winter solstice.

The Place, El Paso County’s sole shelter for homeless teens, opened a permanent drop-in day center.

For the second consecutive year, Colorado Gives Day drew record contributions, bringing in $54.4 million in a 24-hour period for more than 3,000 charities statewide, topping the $50 million raised in 2020.

• 2021 became Colorado Springs’ deadliest year on record, reaching 40 (and counting) homicides in the city

• A windstorm pounded Colorado Springs with gusts exceeding 90 miles per hour. The storm knocked down numerous trees and power lines, causing outages all over the city. Colorado Springs Utilities said 47,000 people were left without power during the height of the outages.