There's a room in the City Administration Building — a very large one — where the plans of past decades are stored. It's both a library and a graveyard, but it also can be a source of inspiration.
Take the North Nevada Corridor Improvement Plan, first presented to City Council in 2002. At the time, the west side of North Nevada between Garden of the Gods Road and Interstate 25 was forlorn and blighted. There were few businesses, just a handful of rundown motels and a trailer park. UCCS owned much of the vacant land on the eastern side, but wasn't interested in expanding its campus in that direction. The area's incompatible commercial uses and deteriorated infrastructure discouraged investment of any kind.
The 2002 plan recommended that the city create an urban renewal district to enable and encourage appropriate development. In the stolid bureaucratese of city planning-speak, the plan laid out goals:
"...to reduce, eliminate and prevent the spread of blight and to stimulate the growth and development in the corridor over the near- and long-term. Specifically, the purpose of the Plan is to promote a mix of uses that leverage community and institutional investment in the corridor and create linkages to surrounding natural amenities, neighborhoods and educational institutions."
Council approved the creation of the North Nevada Corridor Urban Renewal Plan in 2004. Three years later, Council OK'd the University Village Colorado retail center, despite opposition from residents who saw it as another cookie-cutter, big-box shopping center. Council bought into developer Kevin Kratt's grandiose plans: Costco, Lowe's, Kohl's and a score of smaller enterprises would rise from an 80-acre site, creating hundreds of new jobs and utterly transforming the derelict trashscape.
Kratt delivered, opening University Village in 2009 during the depths of the recession. It may have been the worst-timed opening in retail history, but the developers hung on, adding tenants as the economy improved. It triggered UCCS' expansion to Nevada: The Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences has opened, and UCCS plans a handful more buildings in the area within the next five years. Trader Joe's will open a store next year.
Does that renaissance of Nevada give us hope for the rest of the corridor?
If you thought North Nevada between Garden of the Gods and I-25 was bad, take a look between Garden of the Gods/Austin Bluffs and Fillmore.
A task force has presented a gloomy summary. Most of the corridor is in "disarray" with "deteriorated businesses." ComCor maintains nine facilities "housing 400-450 daily residents, with about 200 others checking in but not staying overnight." CSU's Birdsall Power Plant "occupies a major footprint," the closed dog track is an issue, crime rates are high, and the "wide and unimproved roadway" as well as "unused railroad [right-of-way] on the east side of Nevada" make redevelopment difficult. Land use regulations "are arguably too permissive in some respects and not permissive enough in others."
In other words, it's a mess.
Is there a clear path forward? Sure. Get rid of inappropriate uses, put in bike paths, use the railroad right-of-way for a trolley line connecting UCCS, Colorado College and downtown. Alter the street's cross-section and create an attractive, walkable streetscape. Retain historic structures and encourage mixed residential/neighborhood commercial uses. Seek to create a vibrant urban corridor with off-campus housing for UCCS, cool bars and restaurants, and a walkable streetscape. It would complement, not compete against, University Village.
It won't be easy. The city, Utilities, Urban Renewal Authority, business and property owners in the corridor and prospective developers will have to create, fund and implement a long-term plan to revitalize the area.
It'll take at least a decade. There will be meetings ... and meetings ... and meetings. Politicians will quarrel, developers will scheme, concerned citizens will object, and Douglas Bruce will oppose it.
And there will be a big, honkin' ambitious plan guiding the process. If we're lucky, the corridor will be reborn.
If not, we'll walk down our boulevard of broken dreams, singing with Tammy Wynette: "I know you're tired of following my elusive dreams and schemes / For they're only fleeting things, my elusive dreams ..."
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