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Fish Market: From eyesore to 'I do' 

For anyone who has wondered lately what might become of the Fish Market, that notorious blot overlooking Bijou Street on the near west side, just take a drive northeast of the city. There, tucked into the trees off Black Forest Road, sits The Pinery at Black Forest, a full-service and all-inclusive wedding and events center.

The Pinery has indoor and outdoor chapels and a ballroom that can fit 350 revelers. A swimming pool, fountains, a bride's room and a groom's room. Three wedding coordinators on staff, four chefs, florists, DJs, a photographer, and on and on. Everything that a bride and groom could want in a wedding venue, boasts Eric Allen, vice president of Pinery Enterprises.

"Most of our weddings are outdoors, but they can be moved indoors within minutes if it rains," he says. "We've put a lot of money into this project, and we've learned a lot, too."

Allen says his company has owned the Fish Market building for the past two years and is preparing to open its second wedding and special events center there. He says that his partners, including Colorado Springs real-estate developer Mitchell Yellen, plan to raise and spend $8.2 million on what they are calling The Pinery at The Hill.

"We bought that Fish Market downtown two years ago in May [for $1.8 million], anticipating starting another Pinery," says Allen. "Overlooking the city, there is nothing else like it. The heartbeat of this whole region is downtown. And that's where we need to be, overlooking the city."

The Pinery at The Hill will be not only a wedding and special events center, but also a private business club for 200 members. They were ready to build in January 2009, but with the market in such turmoil, potential investors got nervous. The money dried up.

And the Fish Market continued being a headache for the neighborhood. It has sat empty for more than eight years, attracting squatters and vandals. Every time the city would have the building boarded up, someone would kick the boards out. Graffiti was sprayed on the inside walls, and trash scattered across the property.

Recently, Allen had the windows and doors sealed with heavy-duty, reinforced plywood covering. The grounds are cleared of weeds, and there is little visible trash.

The property is much better tended to now, says Ken Lewis, head of Colorado Springs' Code Enforcement Unit. The city checks it every two weeks, and Lewis characterizes it as "one big old shell," with nothing left to steal.

"It looks much better than it did before, and nobody has gotten into it since they [put up the plywood]," he says. "All the broken glass is covered up."

The eastern hill remains a thicket of dry, spindly bushes that collect neighborhood litter, but if anybody complains about trash, Lewis will call the owners to clean it up. "They've been doing what we've asked them to."

Allen says that if all goes as planned, his company could break ground in March. He estimates that the work will last eight months.

"It'll be great for the city, because it adds a lot to that neighborhood," he says. "Within six months, everybody is gonna know what that place is."

chet@csindy.com

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