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City contracts for pedestrian bridge tying America the Beautiful Park to downtown, but hurdles remain 

Missing link

click to enlarge The pedestrian bridge will connect the Olympic Museum with America the Beautiful Park. - COURTESY DILLE RSCOFIDIO + RENFRO
  • Courtesy Dille rScofidio + Renfro
  • The pedestrian bridge will connect the Olympic Museum with America the Beautiful Park.

City officials recently awarded an $11-million construction contract to build the long-envisioned pedestrian bridge that will link the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame with America the Beautiful Park.

Kiewit Infrastructure, a national firm with a Colorado Springs office, will build the 250-foot span of concrete and steel that will arch over several railroad tracks.

“It’s a regular trail bridge, and it happens to be pretty fancy, tying into the architecture of the museum,” says Colorado Springs Public Works senior engineer Ryan Phipps.

Designed by New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architect for the $75-million museum, the bridge will help set the stage for development of residential, retail and office space around the immediate area.

“This bridge is going to provide a really key pedestrian connection between southwest downtown and the downtown core and America the Beautiful Park,” Phipps says.

But two city councilors harbor concerns over the project: One questions the bridge’s suitability for use by cyclists, while the other alleges the bridge could help the developer commandeer the park for private use.

Plans for a pedestrian bridge connecting the Pikes Peak Greenway with downtown appeared in planning documents as early as the 1980s, but began to gel after the park, then called Confluence Park, was built in 2005.

In 2013, the bridge idea married up with the City for Champions (C4C) tourism venture — a series of venues partially funded by the state — by docking its east end at the museum, a C4C project.

Other C4C components include the proposed Weidner Field, a downtown sports stadium anchored by the Switchbacks soccer team two blocks south of the museum and the proposed indoor Edward J. Robson Arena at Colorado College; the Air Force Academy visitors center; and the Bill J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Only the museum and performance center have begun construction.

The state Economic Development Commission awarded $120.5 million of state sales tax money over 20 years for the projects. The money comes from growth in sales taxes above the 2013 base year. So far, the state reports forwarding $14.3 million to the city from 2014 through 2018. (See “By The Numbers,” below) The C4C agreement with the state allots $19.3 million for the bridge, parking facilities, streetscape improvements and utility upgrades for C4C projects.

The bridge will be built with $7.1 million from the museum’s bond issue, to be repaid in part with state money, and $3.5 million from the city’s cut of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority’s 1 percent sales tax that funds roads and bridges. (First approved by voters for 10 years in 2005, it’s since been renewed for 10 more years, until 2025.)

City officials pledged not to spend local tax money on C4C without a vote of the people, but the PPRTA ballot measures listed specific projects, such as improvements to the Greenway where the bridge will be erected.

Phipps says the bridge’s cost could exceed $11 million as the project unfolds, in which case, the city again would tap PPRTA funds.

A special district created by the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area master developer, Nor’wood Development Group, will construct an elevator and staircase at the bridge’s gateway to the park and contribute cash to the project.

Six “really big” sections of steel will be fabricated in Houston and assembled into a bridge after Kiewit workers build a concrete deck, Phipps says. Construction will begin in late summer. To clear the way for all that, the city has been meeting with Union Pacific and BNSF railroads to coordinate with train traffic during installation, due to the “exceptionally long and rather heavy” bridge components, he says.

Several months ago, the city paid $90,000 for “air space” for the bridge, which will rise 23 to 25 feet above the tracks, Phipps says. City officials expect the bridge to be usable in mid-2020, after the museum’s spring opening.

Meantime, issues involving land abutting the bridge site remain unresolved: a land exchange and an environmental lawsuit.

In April 2017, City Council agreed to trade 5.58 acres on either side of the bridge, at 25 and 125 Cimino Drive, to Nor’wood in exchange for Nor’wood’s 1.12-acre trail connection near the Cimarron Street Interchange.

It’s a good deal for the city, because Nor’wood agreed to clean up the Cimino properties’ contamination left behind by a coal gasification plant, which operated from 1890 to 1931, the last six years under city ownership.

The plant was razed at mid-century and a brick office building erected in its place. The city tore down that building in 2013. But cancer-causing hydrocarbons from coal tar, a byproduct of the gasification process, saturated the soil and underground water and remain there today.

During the 2013 demolition, high winds whipped dirt and debris onto a neighboring property, 219 W. Colorado Ave., known as the Trestle Building, and its owner, Kat Tudor. Alleging chemical and asbestos contamination, and possible health impacts, Tudor, Tudor’s Smokebrush Foundation and her business partner Don Goede sued the city.

After five years of litigation, the case reportedly will be resolved soon, Randall Weiner, an environmental attorney from Boulder representing Smokebrush, tells the Indy.

The city refuses to comment on pending litigation, including this case, and Nor’wood didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. But documents obtained by the Indy via an open records request show Nor’wood doesn’t want to inherit liability from the Smokebrush lawsuit. So an end to the Smokebrush case could open the door for the land swap to be completed, allowing Nor’wood to then launch major development on either side of the pedestrian bridge.

Records show the city and Nor’wood have postponed the land transaction a dozen times, and that Nor’wood might have second thoughts about assuming responsibility for the Cimino property cleanup, which a city contractor, LT Environmental Inc. of Arvada, estimates will cost $4.5 million.

In a Nov. 1, 2018, email to Nor’wood’s attorney, a senior city attorney wrote, “The City’s position is that Council wanted Nor-wood to assume the costs of cleaning the property, no matter what they were. So, at this point, we won’t be agreeable to a change in the agreement that would allow Nor’wood the option to decline assuming responsibility for any required cleanup.”

Records obtained by the Indy don’t show how the dispute was resolved, but Council hasn’t modified the original agreement, City Councilor Andy Pico says. The latest contract amendment cites a closing date no later than June 28.

That the pedestrian bridge soon will become a reality serves to heighten Councilor Jill Gaebler’s concern that the west end, where it meets the park, falls short of being bike-friendly.

Users exiting to the park can choose between an elevator or three flights of stairs, which feature “bicycle gutters” — grooves or troughs that allow cyclists to push their bikes up or down the stairway. Gaebler prefers a ramp.

“My reservation has always been it’s not truly a pedestrian/bike bridge,” says Gaebler, a champion for street bike lanes and cycling in general. “A pedestrian/bike bridge doesn’t end in stairs.”

Councilor Bill Murray, too, holds some skepticism. Besides the bridge absorbing PPRTA money that otherwise would fund street maintenance, Murray worries that America the Beautiful Park will be viewed as private digs.

“All this money spent on the pedestrian bridge — to go where? It’s going into Nor’wood’s property,” he says. “Nor’wood now owns, for all intents and purposes, the park.”

By the Numbers

The state agreed to help fund Colorado Springs’ City for Champions projects back in 2013 to the tune of $120.5 million over 20 years through a form of financing called state sales tax increment revenue. Here’s how much the state has given the city for C4C each year since:
2014: $760,632
2015: $2,167,944
2016: $2,726,156
2017: $3,634,359
2018: $5,036,333
Total: $14,325,424
Source: Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade

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