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Kum & Go went, so what's next for OCC? 

Between the Lines

You probably won't ever hear Sallie Clark singing the long-ago John Lennon song, "Power to the People," though many Old Colorado City residents likely did last week. But the county commissioner certainly was feeling nostalgic emotions after Kum & Go's parent company backed away from plans to build one of its super-sized gasoline and convenience stores in the historic neighborhood.

For many hundreds of OCC residents and small-business owners, it was a huge victory. Their opposition, well-organized and raucous yet eloquent and diplomatic, convinced the Iowa-based chain of 420-plus outlets to rethink its blueprint, even though Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and OCC icon Dave Hughes had been on Kum & Go's side.

Kum & Go didn't need the zoning battle and negative publicity, given its 10 existing locations around the metro area with others to come. Old Colorado City wasn't crucial to a larger strategy, yet the controversy could have hurt the company's image and its bottom line.

Instead, now the story isn't about Kum & Go anymore. It's about what happens next for Discover Goodwill's 2.3-acre parcel on West Colorado Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets. And it's about building on that OCC community spirit. Clark ignited her own political career by tapping into that unity back in 1997, when she galvanized residents and stopped the city from plans to close that area's Fire Station 3.

But the challenge this time is different.

"The neighborhood came together to look for solutions," Clark says. "A lot of people want to help now. It's a big piece of property with a lot of potential."

Clark confirms what others have said, that potential developers had been deterred by the misconception that the entire property on both sides of Colorado Avenue had to be sold as one parcel. After Junior Achievement announced it was buying the north side, that changed the playing field. Now, Clark says, the south side of Colorado appeals to multiple players.

One of those is Joe Rexroad, a local architect and planner involved with a group hoping to purchase and redevelop the site. He's also among the organizers of the Colorado Springs Public Market project, and says that group might start "Phase 1" as a tenant in repurposing the Goodwill property.

"We have a design that would blow open the walls on the west end and create a large entryway. It would be a great space," Rexroad says, with the hope of such a project opening by early 2015. "But this would also be part of a whole revitalization of Old Colorado City, from 23rd to 27th streets."

The key term you'll hear more in days ahead is "mixed-use" development, combining residential (condos and/or apartments) with commercial for the Goodwill property. Rexroad already has done renderings and met with several City Council members to build support. Clark says a couple of nearby restaurants also would like to expand into the revamped area.

"This matches up perfectly with what we're seeing that younger adults want," Clark says. "They like the idea of living, working, shopping and eating, all within your own neighborhood. Young people like to be able to walk or ride a bike to do those things. That's what Old Colorado City is all about."

This is exactly the tone that OCC needs right now. Positive, upbeat, not dwelling on the recent conflict, but working with Goodwill to, as Clark puts it, "put together a partnership that spurs opportunities for economic development."

Clark thinks Old Colorado City also could learn more lessons from its "quirky" neighbor to the west.

"Manitou has done such a great job pulling together for events," Clark says. "I just don't see that same synergy with events in Old Colorado City. Manitou doesn't shut down its town for anything, including a bad flood or the day after the flood."

First, though, the people who care about Old Colorado City — Clark, her husband Welling Clark as head of the Organization of Westside Neighbors, business owners, potential developers such as Rexroad and, of course, residents — have to help Goodwill find buyers with fresh ideas, plans and dreams for the property.

When that's done, bringing new energy to Old Colorado City, then everyone can really celebrate. But not until then.

routon@csindy.com

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