When it comes to helping city and county officials decide how to spend roughly $69 million in American Rescue Plan stimulus dollars, a local group hopes its transformative ideas can boost Pueblo’s economic future.
The City of Pueblo will receive about $37 million and Pueblo County will receive about $32 million from the federal government during the next two years. Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar has formed seven volunteer groups to explore each area of focus where the money can be spent.
The funds can benefit individuals and households; tourism and hospitality; youth; non-profits; small business; infrastructure; and community resilience. The city also is seeking input from the public on it’s website.
Pueblo County has invited the public to weigh in with ideas on its website as well. Decisions on how each pot of money ultimately will be spent will be left up to the Pueblo County Commission and the Pueblo City Council.
One group of local civic, business and community leaders hope the funds will be used to move Southern Colorado toward, “economic transformation, better jobs, health opportunities and inclusive prosperity,” said Kurt Madic, a senior project manager with Peraton, a national security company.
Madic’s group has been coming up with ideas it would like to see the money used for and hopes that ideally the city and county will work together on some of the projects. Together, the governments could leverage matching funds from grants and private citizens to help the funding windfall become a game-changer for Pueblo.
Sara Blackhurst of Action 22 has been involved with the think-tank group. She said American Rescue Plan Act guidelines coming out soon will help give more specific direction on where dollars can be spent.
“There is a lot of money coming from the state and the federal government in addition to this and that will be more for the necessities like infrastructure, homelessness, or Main Street projects. If we rush to spend the money on the perceived necessities and don’t really reimagine what it would be for our communities to prosper, we are going to leave a lot of money on the table,” Blackhurst said.
“It is bigger than a once in a lifetime money – it has never happened before,” said group member Shawn Martinez. “It is an opportunity to do big things that are a driver forward for our region and the community.”
A downtown gondola ride is among ideas
The group’s top-five ideas include a roughly $20 million gondola ride that would start near the Black Hills Power Stations 5 & 6, “bounce back and forth over” the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, “land at the south end of the Riverwalk then go over I-25 and land at the Runyon Sports Complex,” said Ryan McWilliams, another group member.
Other ideas include a $10 million youth and activity expansion at the Runyon Sports Complex; a $6 million downtown housing project; a $2 million transportation fund and a $7 million community improvement fund.
“Our vision is to improve the health and prosperity for the community that we all love. We are advocating for the best use of the recovery funds that allows our community and our citizens to grow financially strong and resilient,” Madic said.
“We believe this gondola project will finally allow the city of Pueblo to realize the goal of completing the Riverwalk and revitalize downtown. That would create an economic driver for tourism, jobs and increase sales tax dollars turning Pueblo into a thriving regional powerhouse.”
“We want to bring up the entire community in the long range and for Action 22 that is particularly important because we see Pueblo as having the potential to be the economic driver for the entire region,” Blackhurst said. “We’ve been so behind the curve for so long we need to think bigger, think impactful — really about a facelift for the community.”
The gondola coupled with an expansion at Runyon to include an indoor events building, a youth health care outreach facility and expanded parking would complement each other and alleviate many of the downtown parking issues. It would allow people to park at Runyon and ride the gondola downtown to patronize restaurants and shops and other entertainment opportunities before or after games at the sports complex.
Downtown housing is another project idea
The downtown housing idea, having 9,000 unused housing units in the upper floors of historic downtown buildings renovated and put to use, and the transportation project — for youth transportation to and from the downtown hub from any primary residence in Pueblo County “all kind of tie together and there would be money left over for community improvement as well,” Madic said, to help with funding for residents and businesses in Pueblo County who have qualifying energy or capital improvement projects.
“Counties and municipalities are going to have to work together like they never have before and really drive this regional approach. Many are looking to Pueblo to step up and be that economic hub that really is so desperately needed in the region,” Blackhurst said.
The gondola likely would be run by a private company in partnership with the city and county. With traffic on Interstate 25, “if you have this cool gondola passing overhead a lot of those people are going to want to stop and get off the highway and that’s going to be a good memory they have of Pueblo,” Madic said.
“It’s a huge chance to change Pueblo’s long-standing economic and social challenges that have prevented our economy from reaching it’s full potential. This gondola, expansion of Runyon and really completing the Riverwalk all have the potential to bring a lot more tourism dollars to the area,” Madic said.
“There are other transportation dollars out there that could go toward this. If we have $70 million and only do $70 million worth of projects, we’ve failed,” McWlliams said.
“We need to double that and not do 100 small sporadic projects. All of these projects are going to be self-sustaining and have a long-term benefit to our community.”
McWilliams, who has worked with International Engineering Technologies and Global Connections on another gondola project, said the group has talked to hundreds of people and have not heard “another idea that anyone has championed that is head and shoulders above these ideas.
“We’ve thrown out the very best ideas and we are 100% open to any ideas and concepts. It there are better ideas we would love to hear them,” he said.
Pueblo County Commission Chair Garrison Ortiz said during a recent county podcast that other ideas have been to expand broadband coverage, beef up transportation opportunities or build new roadways.
“We want to leverage outside dollars and try to be very thoughtful and strategic so these funds are doubled or tripled. We don’t want to squander this opportunity,” Ortiz said.
To find out more about the ideas go to shorturl.at/ayHJ1.