Look around — great things are happening downtown. In the past few years, we've seen major positive changes.
Perry Sanders transformed the Mining Exchange, a long-neglected downtown landmark, into a four-star boutique hotel. He also opened Springs Orleans next door and turned the former municipal utilities building into the Gold Room, a classy event/performance space. The Downtown Partnership helped bring landscaped medians to Nevada Avenue as well as pedestrian-friendly intersections, public art and flowers everywhere.
With partner John Goede, Sanders tripled his bet on downtown, acquiring the down-at-heels Antlers Hotel as well as the Famous restaurant and the office building that houses it. Renovations of the Antlers are ongoing.
Sanders is downtown's only hotelier, but he'll soon have competition. New Vision Hotels plans a 10-story hotel on the southeast corner of Cascade Avenue and Bijou Street, two blocks from the Antlers.
Darsey Nicklasson and Kathy Loo opened the 33-unit Blue Dot Apartments, joining breweries, bars, restaurants, bookshops, speakeasies, coffee shops and galleries that have sprung up like spring crocuses.
Close-in neighborhoods also benefited. Ivywild School's rebirth brought new life to the near south side, while west-side property values (and rents!) increased substantially. North End homes went from expensive ($475,000 for a Tejon Street Victorian?) to bizarrely expensive ($720,000 for a Tejon Victorian??!!).
And our two downtown parking lot emperors, Chris Jenkins and Buck Blessing, are about to formally launch a beneficial bromance, partnering to build apartment complexes on Wahsatch Street and Cascade.
That's the good news. What about the bad?
Most of us know, or think we know, what the downtown of our dreams should look like. We want residential density, walkable/bikeable "complete streets," small, locally owned businesses that cater to residents, transit options other than private automobiles, abundant job opportunities and lots of meeting places. We emphatically don't want commuter traffic, graceless, dismally Stalinist high-rise buildings and junky tourist attractions.
Here's the bad/good news. In 10 or 20 years, we may look back and wish for those halcyon days of 2016. A new era approaches, one that will bring growth and prosperity as well as crowding, confusion and clamor.
The Olympic Museum will bring a third of a million visitors annually to downtown — nearly all by car. Interstate 25 traffic will soar, but the new Cimarron exit will improve downtown access. Redevelopment in the southwest quadrant will be controlled and guided by Jenkins and Blessing, the Emperors Two. Drake Power Plant will finally close, perhaps to be replaced by University Village South. Costco, Lowe's, Trader Joe's, Stein Mart, Bonefish Grill — tough competition for locally owned establishments. And who knows, maybe we'll have a new baseball stadium.
Such changes will transform downtown, but perhaps not to our liking. Unless we plan now, downtown will be less bike-friendly, less accessible, less interesting and more corporate. Advocates will have to fight for improvements that benefit city dwellers. We need right-sized streets, a streetcar system, land-use regulations that encourage appropriate development — not big developer subsidies. Otherwise, we'll just be part of the visitor industry, a destination like any other, not a quirky, fun place to live.
But we may have some interesting options.
Consider our friend Guinevere, a 30-something woman who grew up here, couldn't find a job after college and moved to Denver. Her credit was good, the market was spotty and she bought an inexpensive near-downtown Denver condo. She subsequently moved back to Colorado Springs, rented out the condo and bought a little place in Old Colorado City.
"I'm selling the condo," she told us Thursday evening over drinks at Bonny & Read. "It's under contract, and I'm doing pretty well."
"Pretty well" means that she made out like a bandit. We were slightly envious, particularly since our crumbling west-side Victorian is barely worth what we paid for it in 2000. But if the city booms, if near-downtown property values skyrocket, we can cash out and move. Pueblo, La Veta, Las Vegas (New Mexico) or maybe Manhattan (Kansas).
And if the city doesn't boom? Fine! We'll just keep hanging out in our friendly little downtown...