The task to stop an aircraft carrier in its tracks is not easy. These behemoths weigh in at nearly 100,000 tons and can reach unclassified speeds of thirty knots. And while that might not seem fast, it still takes about a mile to bring it to rest. Restarting a city, while not exactly the same, is also a challenge to stop and restart.
“We’re working through the details,” said Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar. Like the rest of Colorado and the nation, COVID-19 forced shelter-in-place shutdowns of government offices, public schools and colleges, bars, restaurants, gyms, and all large public gatherings. Pueblo followed the lead of Governor Jared Polis and shut down in early spring.
When shelter-in-place mandates were put in effect, Gradisar cut staffs in city offices to minimums and allowed employees to work from home. But now that there is a better understanding of the virus and certainly more care and attention being paid to it, Gradisar said Pueblo is moving toward reopening. Still, while the city is pragmatically reopening, masks are mandatory when conducting business in city buildings.
“We’ve done pretty well in handling the pandemic,” said Pueblo’s chief executive. The city’s approach has been “pretty conservative,” said Gradisar, a Pueblo native and the city’s first ever mayor. Because the pandemic created an immediate reduction in city revenues, he said, “We froze any hiring,” and held off adding any temporary positions for summer programs. Luckily, Pueblo did not have to lay off any workers or ask employees to take pay cuts, said the Mayor. In March, sales tax revenues were down 11 percent. But May figures indicate an upward trend.
One thing that Gradisar did as city revenues slowed was hold meetings with two of Pueblo’s largest public employees groups. “I did go to the police union and fire union,” he said. “I told them ‘We don’t know what our income is going to be,’ and asked them to “work next year at the same rate.” Both unions agreed. The deal saved “about a million dollars.”
As is the case across most of Colorado, there is nothing to report on when Pueblo schools will reopen, said Mayor Gradisar. They’ve been shuttered since the virus hit in the spring and students have been in on-line mode. Like so many other functions, decisions will be made with an eye on the coronavirus.
While things are getting back on track, Gradisar expects the city’s convention business to slowly turn around. “We’re reopening for some smaller meetings,” he said. Convention business and hotel business are intertwined. “People aren’t traveling yet,” said Gradisar. “Our head tax is down thirty percent or more.”
Convention business has also slowed. But with things looking up, he said, gatherings of “up to a hundred in each room,” will be allowed. “We want to be cautious, conservative; we don’t want to go backward.” The Street Rodders, an event that comes to Pueblo each summer, was one victim of the virus. It was cancelled. But the State Fair---Pueblo’s biggest summertime event---is still on.
The city still has a month and a half before it hits town. But it, too, had to be ‘reimagined’ in light of the virus. Admission is free and concerts, the biggest draw of the Fair, have been cancelled. “The Fair is going forward but the parade has been cancelled.”
Pueblo’s big fall event, ‘The Chile & Frijoles Festival’ will be a game-time decision. “They’re still working out details,” said the Mayor. If there’s another Covid-19 spike, the Festival may take on a different flavor and format. Or it could be postponed. Last year the Festival attracted nearly a hundred thousand visitors.
Last month the city announced that summer programs for kids and adults would be resuming. Parks, recreation centers and swimming pools slowly reopened without any snags or problems.
Pueblo, said Gradisar, is open for business. Anyone looking for a quick and fun getaway is welcome to visit.