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Plan devised for North Nevada's redevelopment in Colorado Springs

January 28, 2017 Updated: January 30, 2017 at 12:34 pm
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Traffic moves southbound on Nevada Avenue just south of Austin Bluffs Parkway Wednesday, January 18, 2017. A preliminary plan to revitalize North Nevada Avenue is being discussed. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

A portion of North Nevada Avenue in Colorado Springs that the city has targeted for redevelopment is a 2-mile, nearly straight-as-an-arrow stretch of highway.

But a long and winding road separates its transformation from an aging retail and industrial backwater into a thriving residential and commercial district.

Even with visions of new land uses, several steps must be taken to position the redevelopment effort for long-term success, experts say.

"We can do plans all day long, but unless there's some kind of teeth behind it to make it happen, then sometimes nothing goes there," said John Olson, a former Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority board member and director of urban design and landscape architecture for Altitude Land Consultants.

A draft plan for North Nevada's future, released nearly two weeks ago after six months of city-coordinated community workshops and public input, lays out a goal of new apartments, stores, restaurants, hotels, parks, trails and other corridor improvements.

The redevelopment area, which runs from Garden of the Gods Road/Austin Bluffs Parkway on the north to just past Fillmore Street on the south, is a mishmash of warehouses and other industrial uses, small hotels and older retail buildings. Portions of Nevada don't have curbs or gutters and the draft plan also envisions sidewalk, street, utility and other upgrades.

North Nevada has some pluses going for it - built-in anchors that South Nevada Avenue, South Academy Boulevard and other troubled areas in the Springs don't necessarily have.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, northeast of Nevada and Austin Bluffs, is the fastest-growing campus in the CU system, with new buildings and thousands of additional students compared with a decade ago. Meanwhile, the National Cybersecurity Center, a nonprofit envisioned as a provider of cybersecurity expertise and services, is expected to open in the summer in a former manufacturing plant on North Nevada.

As anchors, UCCS and the Cybersecurity Center are expected to help increase the demand over many years for more places to eat, shop and be entertained, among other new land uses and services.

A preliminary plan to revitalize North Nevada Avenue could include a new uses for various properties including the former greyhound dog racing track. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

And yet, corridor upgrades will take years, if not decades. That's why before redevelopment projects begin to take shape along North Nevada, several building blocks will have to be put in place to help pave the way for bigger-picture changes.

Based on interviews with some city officials, land planners, developers and commercial real estate experts, here are a few of the initial steps that need to be taken before transformational redevelopment efforts are launched along North Nevada:

- Prepare to offer incentives - financial and otherwise: Real estate developers probably will be interested in opportunities along North Nevada. But they'll want help.

In 2004, the City Council declared land along Nevada, between Interstate 25 and Garden of the Gods Road/Austin Bluffs Parkway, as an urban renewal site. That meant property and sales tax revenue from new development in the area could be used to help fund drainage, road, utility and other public improvements - an incentive for developers to invest in the corridor.

The University Village Colorado shopping center - anchored by a Costco Wholesale Club, Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, a Kohl's department store and dozens of restaurants and small retailers - is now the centerpiece of that urban renewal district.

In late 2015, the City Council declared a portion of South Nevada, between I-25 and East Cheyenne Road, as an urban renewal site to provide financial incentives for a trio of developers in that part of town.

Wynne Palermo, chairwoman of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, said the agency hasn't been approached about designating the new stretch of North Nevada as an urban renewal site. Eventually, however, she expects someone to come forward with such a proposal and it will be "strongly considered" by the authority.

"I think it's very feasible," Palermo said of a new urban renewal district along Nevada.

No cost projections for public improvements were included in the North Nevada draft plan. By comparison, however, the Urban Renewal Authority issued about $55 million in bonds to fund road and other upgrades for the portion of Nevada where University Village Colorado was built.

When developers size up their costs to acquire land, demolish buildings and construct apartments, stores and the like, they're going to want financial help, said John Egan, a retail specialist with commercial brokerage NAI Highland in Colorado Springs.

"Initially, you're going to have to 'incentivize' the developer and/or the (land) use to make it economically feasible for them to come in there and sort of spearhead the development," Egan said. "That part of town needs it."

Once one new apartment buildings, retail or other land use arrives, others will follow, he added.

Walt Harder, who heads one of three development groups in the South Nevada redevelopment district, said waiving or lowering water tap fees - for example - also might pique developer interest.

But not every incentive has to be financial.

Olson, of Altitude Land Consultants, said North Nevada needs a better mass transit system. Perhaps more importantly, the concept of Nevada and connecting streets need to be reimagined, he said.

If Nevada only serves as a road for swiftly moving traffic, that's just one function that doesn't help with the corridor's overall economic development, Olson said. But if Nevada had wider sidewalks and was attractive for pedestrians, it could be more akin to downtown's Tejon Street and become someplace that's "comfortable for people to be there," he said.

The city of Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is in a position to rezone property or revisit street standards with the idea of spurring redevelopment, said Michael Leccese, executive director of the Colorado chapter of the Urban Land Institute, known as ULI Colorado.

"Cities and their planning departments and their public works departments and their citizens can show a lot of leadership," Leccese said. "They can express interest in change and make some policy upgrades that can set the table."

- Invest in roads and other infrastructure.

Portions of Nevada are a bit of a no man's land, similar to a stretch of West Colorado Avenue between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, said Jay Carlson, a broker with Front Range Commercial.

"Here's this old industrial area, with no curbs and old rail spurs," Carlson said. "You've got people living on the side of the road in campers, for crying out loud."

Installing curbs, sidewalks, trails - all of which are envisioned in the draft plan - would increase desirability on the part of developers to invest in the area and for more people to live, work and play there, he said.

- Existing property owners must be open-minded on new land uses and willing to sell at fair prices.

Knowing that higher and better uses are envisioned for Nevada, some owners must consider upgrades to their property.

The Kmart-anchored Fillmore Marketplace at Nevada and Fillmore Street is perhaps the highest-profile example. The North Nevada draft plan already suggests the shopping center should become a mixed-use redevelopment that would include retail, office and restaurant uses.

The K Mart store at Nevada Avenue and Fillmore Street Wednesday, January 18, 2017. A preliminary plan to revitalize North Nevada Avenue is being discussed. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Egan, of NAI Highland and who markets the center, said its California-based owners are open to a makeover and purchased the property in 2013 with the idea that Kmart one day might be replaced as the center's anchor. The suburban-Chicago parent company of Kmart and Sears has closed several of its stores around the country in recent years, although Kmart has a very affordable lease at Fillmore Marketplace, Egan said.

If Kmart leaves, other users would be poised to jump in, he said. In the past two years, an out-of-state grocery chain considered the property for one of its first Colorado locations, although that chain has shelved its plans for now, Egan said.

At the same time, the shopping center owners are exploring whether to break up the Kmart space into smaller units for multiple tenants, he said. Free-standing buildings that are part of the center also might be re-leased.

"Right now, Kmart is not enough of a draw to really go through and redevelop that area," Egan said. "It's sort of a standalone development and the owners know that they need to, at some point, they're going to need to replace that Kmart."

Another existing area ripe for redevelopment: the former Rocky Mountain Greyhound Park. The North Nevada draft plan envisions a commercial complex at the race track, which would include retail, restaurants, entertainment and urban plazas.

But property owners have to be realistic and fair-minded about the prices they ask for their property, Harder said. If not, they'll hold up redevelopment.

- Remove undesirable land uses.

For years, ComCor Inc., the nonprofit corrections program, has housed mostly nonviolent offenders in a handful of motels along the corridor. The North Nevada draft plan says that ComCor needs to be relocated, and real estate experts agree.

Carlson, of Front Range Commercial, said the goal for North Nevada is to make it an area where people will want to shop, eat or live. Nobody will want to live next to the ComCor facilities if they remain, he said.

Likewise, developers will think twice about, say, constructing an apartment building next door to an undesirable use, Carlson added. Removing those uses will start the ball rolling for developers, he said.

"Someone's going to have to cooperate with the government to find a new place or the government is going to have to find a new place to put those things," Carlson said. "They put them there because it was a cheap, old, run-down motel they could do some improvements to and put that use in there. Nobody seemed to mind back then because it was an area in decline, anyway."

Steve Gilmore, who just retired as ComCor's executive director, said the group supports North Nevada's redevelopment and is looking to relocate. ComCor has seven properties along Nevada, three of which are motels that house more than 300 offenders.

- Learn to work within the ground rules laid out for North Nevada's redevelopment while leveraging existing land uses.

The North Nevada draft plan put some conditions in place on future redevelopment efforts.

Colorado Springs Utilities' natural gas-powered Birdsall Power Plant, which opened in the early 1950s, will stay put, southeast of Nevada and Nichols Boulevard. Also, improvements must be consistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan - a broad planning blueprint - and the Infill Action Plan. And, condemnation won't be allowed to acquire property.

That last restriction could have the most potential effect. City officials have long resisted the desire to use eminent domain - the power of government to take land - as an economic development tool. When the City Council declared southwest downtown as an urban renewal site in 2001, for example, it set the bar extremely high on the use of condemnation.

But a lack of condemnation won't hold back the corridor's redevelopment, some real estate experts say. As UCCS continues to grow, the Nevada corridor will need more housing for students, hotels for university visitors and stores, restaurants and services to support the school. The Cybersecurity Center, meanwhile, could attract spinoff employers.

"Things would start creeping south on Nevada, playing off of University Village," Carlson said. "It's a natural extension of UCCS housing and what not, to come down Mount View Lane there and start working its way south, if you can get rid of those negative uses.

"Once those kinds of uses get anywhere closer," Carlson said, "then the guys who own the properties are going to say, hey, the highest and best use for this property is not this third-tier industrial stuff I've got going on. Now, maybe I can build a whole new apartment complex here or I could put retail on the street and build apartments behind it. And people will live here."

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Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228

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