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Ditching the depot 

City pulls the plug on long-anticipated downtown arts center

click to enlarge The Gas Operations Building, for years the planned - location of a studio and gallery center that would enliven - downtown, now is touted as future office space for U.S. - Olympic teams. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • The Gas Operations Building, for years the planned location of a studio and gallery center that would enliven downtown, now is touted as future office space for U.S. Olympic teams.

City leaders abandoned long-held plans for a downtown arts center last month in favor of establishing a U.S. Olympic presence in the old train depot area downtown, near the Colorado Avenue Bridge.

The arts center was a key element in a cluster of projects designed to revitalize downtown by converting Colorado Springs Utilities' old Gas Operations Building, at 30 S. Cimino Drive, into galleries, studio space, a restaurant and a high-rise of affordable apartments.

But for more than three years, the Depot Arts District Association (DADA) struggled to raise the city's $3.1 million asking price for the building. Last month, City Council decided not to extend its option to buy.

"The rug was pulled out from under us," says local artist Elaine Bean, who resigned from the DADA board after learning of the city's decision. She said that years of effort and thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded studies would come to nothing.

Bean, who runs Phototroph Gallery, submitted an alternate proposal for the arts center to the city on Saturday and she says she's heartened by the positive feedback. But she declines to mention any specifics about her new plan.

Meanwhile, City Council, in a secret "executive session," has discussed selling or perhaps even giving the gas building to various U.S. Olympic teams for administrative use. The decision comes as the U.S. Olympic Committee reportedly is considering moving its headquarters from Boulder Street downtown to InterQuest Parkway in northern Colorado Springs.

"Unfortunately, DADA wasn't able to perform," says City Manager Lorne Kramer. Keeping Olympic employees in the old city core would provide "tremendous value," he adds. "Bringing 175 employees into the downtown area also would have a significant economic impact."

Kramer last week declined to discuss details of the discussion, such as the building's sale price.

But if the city were to turn around and sell the building at a discount to the USOC, says Bean, it would amount to a "slap in the face."

-- Dan Wilcock

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