A year ago, the redevelopment area southwest of downtown Colorado Springs buzzed with the energy of competing visions.
Cottonwood Artists' School, three years into leasing a city building east of America the Beautiful Park, was digging the downtown vibe and was hopeful that an old vision of an extended Depot Arts District would still come to be. It wanted to stay put.
Developers, meanwhile, were eager to see the school fold up its easels and to put a new Embassy Suites Hotel in its place. They envisioned the hotel triggering a chain reaction that would eventually see warehouses and empty lots replaced with condos, shops and restaurants in an area to be known as Palmer Village.
Well, one vision for the area has apparently given way, with Cottonwood Artists' School announcing plans to move to a new home blocks away at 427 E. Colorado Ave. And in its wake, the school will leave a region where the old buzz has gone quiet. Chuck Miller, a consultant with the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, struggles to find a starting point as he talks about twists in the path of a project he has tried to shepherd.
"I get the chronology so screwed up," Miller says, "because the project is so screwed up."
Let's start with the coal tar buried at the site of the city's old gas administration building, a facility that had been vacant before Cottonwood leased it. The sludge was left over from an old coal gasification plant.
As redevelopment plans moved forward last year, tests showed the sludge was more toxic than originally thought, increasing cleanup costs.
Last year, Miller feared those costs would exceed $500,000. Now, he estimates the total cleanup at $1.5 million.
The second factor derailing the project was a bid to find the U.S. Olympic Committee a new home. Classic Homes and Nor'wood Development Group, partners in the Palmer Village project, pitched the redevelopment area for the USOC headquarters.
Miller says planning for the hotel, a complex of artists' lofts and retail space to the north, and other portions of Palmer Village were put on hold while the USOC deliberated among proposals.
Palmer Village wasn't chosen. In April, City Council approved an incentive package that will essentially give the USOC 90,000 square feet of office space in a new building at 27 S. Tejon St., at the corner of Colorado Avenue.
The plan will also see the old city gas operations building, across from the current home of Cottonwood Artists' School in the similarly named gas administration building, become the new home for many individual sports' national offices.
"Our contracts lapsed" because of the delays, Miller says. "We had to start over."
A proposal to put a revised redevelopment plan back on the front burner is before City Council. It would have Urban Renewal use tax increment money from new development in the area to pay for about half the coal tar cleanup, with the city paying the rest. The city would then donate the cleaned-up land to the hotel developer, John Q. Hammons Hotels.
Representatives at Hammons did not return repeated calls for comment about their current plans.
Miller says the next step awaits city leaders making up their minds.
"The city is slow," he says. "You can quote me on that."
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