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Music venue planned for old Blue Star space lacks parking, stirs neighborhood’s anxiety 

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click to enlarge The old Blue Star restaurant is large enough to accommodate hundreds — though occupancy figures are disputed. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • The old Blue Star restaurant is large enough to accommodate hundreds — though occupancy figures are disputed.
Back when the Blue Star restaurant and Bristol Brewing Company occupied the old warehouse next door to Edelweiss German Restaurant, a tongue-in-cheek sign in the warehouse parking lot symbolized the bitter rivalry between the trendier restaurant/brewery locale and the longtime culinary powerhouse.

“Blue Star & Bristol Brewing parking only,” the sign read. “Violators will be forced to eat Edelweiss’ food.”

After the Blue Star restaurant closed in fall of 2017 (Bristol had already moved to Ivywild School years before), Edelweiss kept the sign. For Edelweiss, it’s a memento of an old feud — and a stark reminder of what could come if the Blue Star’s owner, Joseph Coleman, succeeds in his plans for a new music venue in the now-vacant building 
without adding more parking.

While some Ivywild neighborhood stakeholders are thrilled with the prospect of a new venue that could potentially bring big-name artists to Colorado Springs, the project, now in the preliminary planning phase, has its share of skeptics — mostly because of a parking shortage that has already cost surrounding businesses dearly.

The Edelweiss’ owners and managers say they’ve invested millions of dollars over the years in parking space for their own customers, and worry they’ll have to pour even more money into protecting it from the concert-goers next door.

“I think it’s just kind of a disgrace to us, and it’s a disgrace to the neighborhood,” says Dieter Schnakenberg, Edelweiss’ current manager and the son of its founders. “And I think the city should force them to put something in there that their parking allows for.”
click to enlarge It’s a sign: Acrimony prevails on parking. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • It’s a sign: Acrimony prevails on parking.
Schnakenberg and his family say that back when Coleman’s Blue Star occupied the space with Bristol Brewing, the building’s 27 parking spots were nowhere near sufficient for its customers. The city had granted Blue Star a variance that allowed it to forgo adding more parking (under city code, Blue Star and Bristol should have had 65 total parking spaces).

Coleman and business partner Marc Benning are trying to get another variance for their planned music venue, the Orion, that will keep them from having to add any more parking, according to Ryan Tefertiller, city urban planning manager.

The exact numbers that Coleman and Benning expect for their new venue are unclear. Though a blueprint presented at a recent neighborhood town hall showed an occupancy of 417 people for the music venue, until recently, a crowd-funding website for the project claimed it could squeeze in 750, and a Gazette article listed the maximum occupancy as 850. Neither Coleman nor Benning responded to multiple interview requests from the Independent.

Tefertiller says he’s only aware of the 417-occupancy number. Between the main music venue, the Orion, a smaller venue inside the building (the Side Door, which has been open for concerts occasionally in recent months), a restaurant/bar space, and whiskey bar Distillery 291 (which has long been open in the building), Tefertiller says the space would require about 123 parking spaces under city code. If the main music venue could really hold 850 people, the building would need about 230 total parking spaces.

Technically, Tefertiller says, the parking variance could be approved administratively — meaning that city staff could allow the project to go through without City Council or the city planning commission’s OK. But any decision by city planners can be appealed, and this project is already extremely contentious.

Of the 50 people who attended the recent Ivywild neighborhood town hall to discuss the project, Tefertiller says about 25 or 30 people spoke. Of those, only “three or four” said they’d support such a venue, he says, “specifically saying that this type of music venue is seriously needed within our community.”

Everyone else who spoke was opposed to the project — mostly because of parking concerns. And as of Jan. 30, Tefertiller had received about two dozen emailed comments, mostly from people worried about parking. So it’s likely that without major changes, City Council and the planning commission will shoulder the responsibility of giving the project a yea or nay.

“In general, we were supportive of the venue, but we could not support a variance on the parking,” says Julie Nedrow, president of the Ivywild Improvement Society. “We can’t afford to have more folks just parking in front of our residents’ homes.”

Nedrow points out that the Ivywild neighborhood is already dealing with growing pains. The parking lot of the Ivywild School, part of Coleman’s Blue Star group, frequently fills up, meaning restaurant- and bar-goers end up parked in the surrounding neighborhood.

The Schnakenbergs, Nedrow says, have been “great stewards of the surrounding community” by investing to make sure they’ve had enough parking for customers — most recently spending close to a million dollars on a new lot with around 35 spaces, despite already meeting the the city’s parking requirements.
click to enlarge Edelweiss’ family owners have spent millions purchasing parking for customers. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Edelweiss’ family owners have spent millions purchasing parking for customers.
“Over the years, Edelweiss has bought four additional lots, destroyed five houses, relocated another house and destroyed a two-car garage all for parking,” says Norman Moss, the previous manager and Schnakenberg’s brother. “Millions of dollars.”

Now, Edelweiss has around 160 parking spots, Schnakenberg says, and they fill up every weekend. When Blue Star was open between 1998 and 2017, it was a constant battle to defend them. The restaurant hired parking attendants and “booted” people who parked at Edelweiss and ate at Blue Star. The sign threatening to force people to eat Edelweiss’ food was placed in Blue Star’s parking lot as retaliation, Schnakenberg and his family say.

A Gazette article from 2001 provides a window into the battle zone. It describes an Edelweiss policy where staff slapped “boots,” a kind of locking device, on the cars of Blue Star and Bristol customers who parked in their lots. In order to get the boots off, they would have to pay $50 cash or get a written check for $20 from the owners of Blue Star and Bristol.

“We made so many enemies off of that,” Schnakenberg says of the policy. “We’re not here to make enemies. We’re in the customer service industry, which means I want to make everybody happy that I can. I don’t want to ruin my reputation.”

Since Blue Star closed and Bristol moved to the Ivywild School, the family hasn’t had to put many resources into policing the parking lot. But they fear with an 850-person venue, they’ll have no choice but to defend their parking once again.

“If we need it ourselves, we can’t let somebody else use it,” says Helga Schnakenberg, Edelweiss’ president and Dieter’s mother. “Our customers are more important than he is to us... We are happy about the development around here. It exposes us more, and we’re really happy. But every business who comes in here needs to take care of their parking needs.”
Jim Jackson, founder and artistic director of the Milibo Art Theatre (MAT), takes a more optimistic view of the planned venue. The theater rents space in a former church owned by Coleman and sometimes shares parking with the businesses in the Ivywild School, except on show nights, when the MAT blocks off its parking and hires attendants.

“I think it’s wonderful, you know,” Jackson says. “Somebody wants to come in and make a new space that’s going to bring in live music and supply an alternative venue for Colorado Springs, that’s a wonderful thing, that’s a huge thing... Saying ‘no’ is a knee-jerk reaction.”

Jackson thinks it will be possible to find a compromise with parking — maybe one that could involve a shuttle or pedicab service.

Another solution floated by Nedrow is a parking garage. But those are expensive ventures, and though Tefertiller says Coleman and nearby restaurant owner Sam Guadagnoli, who’s behind an upcoming South Nevada hotel development, have discussed jointly funding such a project, no concrete plans are in place.

The city’s parking enterprise has not added a new publicly funded parking structure in at least 15 years, says director Scott Lee. While the city may put a structure near the Olympic Museum, that idea is still in preliminary design stages, and there are no plans to add one as far south as the Ivywild neighborhood, Lee says.

In the past, parking structures have gone up in the downtown core because “that’s where the demand has been,” Lee says, “but as new development occurs — north, south, east, west — it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s within the city.”

That said, the parking enterprise will likely have to raise rates to fix the problems with existing structures downtown first, says interim parking manager Paul Madrid.

“People sometimes think, ‘Oh, they’re just trying to gouge us,’ but we really want people to have a pleasant experience when they come downtown and we still want to keep our rates cheap and competitive,” Madrid says. “... I know a lot of people are part of the Keep Colorado Springs Lame idea, but we want to keep it moving forward and get some great things brought to downtown.”

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