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A mixed-use bag 

click to enlarge Plans for a brand-new downtown arts district re- - imagine the Smokebrush building as a arts - center/restaurant/pub, with a big outdoor deck. - Affordable and upscale housing are available for artists - and art lovers. - FENNELL GROUP
  • Fennell Group
  • Plans for a brand-new downtown arts district re- imagine the Smokebrush building as a arts center/restaurant/pub, with a big outdoor deck. Affordable and upscale housing are available for artists and art lovers.

Four downtown areas have qualified for urban-renewal designation. (Thanks, "slum and blight"!) The quasi-governmental Urban Renewal Authority manages these areas, and has the power to condemn properties to facilitate development. It can also offer 25-year tax-increment financing deals the Downtown Development Authority's biggest gift to developers.

As of today, plans in all four of these areas call for heavy reliance on mixed-use development, which brings back the possibility of living, working, playing and grabbing a cup of joe in the same neighborhood.

"[Mixed-use building] is a huge benefit to the city," adds Mike DeGrant, director of development for Lowell Development Partners, LLC.

Some of these ideas, though, are a long way from fruition.

City Auditorium block: The 22-story Cooper Tower, approved by City Council last month, would include residential space, retail and a hotel, and could be built as soon as 2010, says developer Ray O'Sullivan, of Cooper Holdings LLC. But it ain't over yet. O'Sullivan says some residential units will have to be pre-sold, and financing will have to be finalized before groundbreaking.

"Getting things properly financed has not been tougher in 15 years," he says.

Is it a risk? You bet. O'Sullivan claims that at least initially, Cooper Holdings LLC would be lucky to break even.

The mixed-use Pikes Peak Place, also 20 or more stories high, is planned to go next to Cooper. This Nor'wood Development Group project has been in the works for a while. Word on the street is that Nor'wood still plans to build it when it's financially feasible.

Both buildings will border the old City Auditorium, which could benefit from tax-increment financing money and gifts from developers. City Councilman Randy Purvis is part of a committee looking at where to find the millions of dollars needed for renovation.

click to enlarge The remodeled historic Lowell school - BRIENNE BOORTZ

"It's a historic structure," he says, "and if you look around our community, there's not a lot of historic structures."

Lowell neighborhood (South Nevada Avenue): More condos and apartments are on the way, but a walk through the area today reveals the remodeled historic Lowell school; the traditional-looking Poet Lofts Condominiums, with large, upscale lofts upstairs and huge office/retail space below; condos galore (some of them with ground-level retail), and the Wyndam apartments for low-income seniors.

Pedestrian paths link the neighborhood together, and parks open up the space.

To get this far took about two decades. After one developer failed to follow through on plans and promises, Lowell Development took over 1999. DeGrant says some of the townhomes have sold well, though Poet Lofts have not gone nearly as fast as anyone hoped.

Southwest downtown (bordering America the Beautiful Park): Nor'wood and Classic Homes' long-delayed Palmer Village, which will wrap America the Beautiful Park and then expand, is by far the largest project planned. It was once targeted as a home for a convention center and a ballpark.

A lot rides on whether developer John Q. Hammons builds the Embassy Suites hotel planned for the area. The site of the hotel which contains the soon-to-be-moving Cottonwood Artists' School in its footprint has turned out to be contaminated with coal tar from a gasification plant.

With an environmental assessment now complete, the city, developer, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Urban Renewal Authority will begin to figure out what will need to be cleaned up, how much it will cost, and who will pay for it. They expect to hammer out details over the next couple months.

Meanwhile, just to the north, across Colorado Avenue, Chuck Murphy of Murphy Constructors aims to create a new downtown arts district where the old Depot Arts District now sits. Murphy owns all but one property in the area and says he feels relatively secure about his financing options.

click to enlarge Inside a Poet Lofts condominium. - BRIENNE BOORTZ

His ambitious plan includes a kinetic sculpture garden, low-cost artists' housing called The Sketch Pads, an outdoor art market (for weekends and festivals), higher-priced lofts, studios and a large space (hopefully to be taken by Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts) with a second-floor pub and a huge bar on the roof.

Murphy, who's much-respected for his work rehabbing downtown's Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. building and also the Spa Building in Manitou Springs, says the project isn't a guaranteed profit-generator.

"We're sticking our neck out a country mile," he says. "I think that I'm a big believer in 'Build it and they will come.'"

CityGate (southeast of America the Beautiful): Griffis-Blessing of Colorado Springs and Charter Holdings of Dallas plan to replace this old warehouse district with mixed-use development. CityGate was made an urban renewal area in 2007, and detailed plans aren't yet available.

"I would anticipate we'll see some planning on that very soon," says the Urban Renewal Authority's Jim Rees.

Terry Sullivan, president of Experience Colorado Springs, says his organization plans to have a new home in CityGate, possibly as early as 2010. Tentative plans put Experience Colorado Springs in a building with the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and possibly an arts and culture organization.

The idea, Sullivan says, would be to greet people as they enter the city.

"It will serve as an information center for people coming into the gateway of Colorado Springs," he says.

J. Adrian Stanley

  • Four downtown areas have qualified for urban-renewal designation.

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