Folks in Ivywild don’t much like the idea that their neighborhood south of downtown has been declared “blighted” and qualifies as an urban renewal zone.
They recognize the area has problems. And they are no longer willing to wait for developers with big dreams and little cash to clean things up.
In 2007, a few developers became the neighborhood’s major landowners, buying up large swaths of Ivywild and making plans to chase out the area’s drug dealers, prostitutes and homeless and transform the tired old motels, crack houses and vacant lots into an upscale urban environment like Cherry Creek in Denver.
But the economy collapsed and all the big plans were shelved. Today, many of the properties remain run down rentals and vacant lots where homeless people flop.
A small group of business owners, including Martin Harper, a certified public accountant, has tried to get help from the developer/owners, especially a company called “On the Ivy” created by Mark Morley, Sam Guadagnoli and Robert Aertker. On the Ivy owns about two dozen properties covering about 12 acres in Ivywild.
But they have been mostly absentee landlords, non-responsive to requests from the city and neighbors to police their property. Aertker, identified by the city as primary contact, did not respond to my calls, either.
Harper said his group of neighborhood business owners are especially concerned about a chronic homeless camp at South Cascade and St. Elmo avenues along Cheyenne Creek. Homeless have built shelters on the lot, started fires and dragged couches, beds, mattresses, shopping carts and trash to the site.
(See photos on my blog at gazette.com/blogs/sidestreets)
So Harper and his fellow business owners are taking matters into their own hands.
“We’ve decided if we can get permission, we’ll rent a Dumpster and spend a Saturday clearing the brush and cleaning it up,” Harper said. “We’ll just go clean it up and solve this problem.”
The neighborhood has a key ally at City Hall. Ken Lewis, the Colorado Springs code enforcement administrator, toured the area Tuesday.
His team has been working on the homeless camp since Feb. 28 with little help from the owners.
“We’ve had problems with On the Ivy in the past,” he said. “They ignore us.”
Now, he’s decided to dedicate two of his officers to Ivywild to clean up homeless camps, cut down weeds and brush and attack dilapidated houses in the area.
“I recently received some federal block grant money and I’m going to have officers work that area pretty heavily,” Lewis said Tuesday.
But, Lewis said he’ll need cooperation of On the Ivy. He’s hopeful the owners will get more actively involved.
Harper is glad Lewis is joining the fight to reclaim Ivywild.
“That’s good news,” Harper said. “This is a good neighborhood. We believed in it. That’s why we moved here. It just gets frustrating sometimes.”