The magazine's editors changed the rules this year, raising the population bar from 14,000 to 50,000- and bouncing last year's No. 5 pick, Louisville, with its population of 19,200, out of consideration.
"Well, damn them," Louisville Mayor Chuck Sisk said with a hearty laugh. "They obviously didn't ask for my input, but I guarantee you we're not going to 50,000 to get it back."
Meanwhile, civic jubilation rang out in Larimer County. "There's a lot of happiness by a lot of people, and I couldn't be more delighted," said Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson.
Kenya Ragsdale, a local 34-year-old mortgage broker, said, "We're the bomb around here."
Money's latest list of best places to live was announced Monday. Fort Collins and other top towns will be profiled in the edition that goes on sale Monday.
Colorado had two other representatives in the rankings - Westminster at No. 24 and Longmont at No. 61. Like Fort Collins, they were nowhere in the rankings a year ago.
Craig Matters, Money's executive editor, said the magazine raised the population requirement this year after 80 of the top 100 towns in 2005 were relatively small places - a lot of them bedroom communities. Matters said a city with 50,000 population is a better benchmark for evaluating livable cities. "That's a spot where you can say it's a city, relatively independent of other communities, for jobs, culture, education and health care," he said.
To compile the list, Money staff analyzed 745 communities, wading through reams of census data, crime figures, real estate reports, educational achievement levels and other data. After the list is pared to about 20 cities, reporters visit each one. It was the on-site visit that vaulted Fort Collins to the top, Matters said. "Strictly by the numbers, Fort Collins wasn't in the top 10," he said.
Money found a postcard setting with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, a college-town atmosphere, a thriving downtown, desirable high-tech and health-care jobs, and "a serious lack of stress," Matters said. The list propels each year's winner into the national spotlight, commanding the attention of companies, retirees and tourists.
In Louisville, tourism has doubled, and a few residents cite the magazine as a reason they chose to move there, Sisk said. Still, the mayor didn't take falling off the Money list too hard. Just three months ago, travel-guide publisher Frommer's picked Louisville No. 1 in its "Best Places to Raise Your Family." Fort Collins was ranked fifth.
In Fort Collins on Monday, 84-year-old Gerry Overstreet wasn't fazed. Overstreet strolls the shop-lined streets of Old Town almost daily, prompting some to call him "Old Town Gerry," he said. Money magazine is wising up by naming Fort Collins the best place to live, Overstreet said, not that it was news to him. "No darn TV show or no darn magazine needed to tell me that."
TOP 10 PLACES TO LIVE
1. Fort Collins
2. Naperville, Ill.,
3. Sugar Land, Texas
4. Columbia/Ellicot City, Md.
5. Cary, N.C.
6. Overland Park, Kan.
7. Scottsdale, Ariz.
8. Boise, Idaho
9. Fairfield, Conn.
10. Eden Prairie, Minn.