Panel recommends steps to revitalize downtown

WAYNE HEILMAN Updated: October 10, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: October 10, 2012

The time has come for a “downtown renaissance” in Colorado Springs, an advisory panel says.

The America the Beautiful Park should be renamed “Olympic Park” and include a “Wall of Honor” for U.S. Olympic athletes and a pedestrian bridge to the downtown area, and a baseball stadium should be built in southwest downtown, according to recommendations from the panel.

The Urban Land Institute panel, headed by former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, also recommended that developers build between 100 and 150 housing units, including some for college students, and a 200-room full-service hotel and convention center in the downtown area. The eight-member group also urged the city to connect an “emerald necklace” of existing parks, trails and open space with bicycle trails, allow downtown visitors to park longer at metered spaces but charge higher rates and clean up and renovate Acacia Park.

“Colorado Springs needs to try to trade off the Olympic presence here to generate tourism, which is a very fundamental driver of the economy of downtown. The need to identify Colorado Springs as the town where the Olympic headquarters is located is of critical importance,” Hudnut said Wednesday while discussing the panel’s recommendations with reporters. “The next step is to look for immediate victories, such as getting some downtown housing going. I think there is tremendous energy and commitment to downtown here.”

Other recommendations include convincing local colleges, including the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, to move some offices, classes and research downtown, create a “bus rapid transit” system to link downtown with the UCCS campus, improve the lighting and safety of downtown parking garages and create gateway monuments or arches on major roads entering downtown. The panel did not address whether the Martin Drake power plant should be shut down or offer recommendations on how to pay for the projects it suggests.

The panel visited Colorado Springs during the final week of June and interviewed more than 100 area residents and community leaders; it was the same week that the Waldo Canyon fire roared into the city, killing two and destroying 345 homes in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

“It was a testament to the spirit and tenacity of the city stakeholders and civic leaders that they were able to participate in the panel and deal with the effects of the fire at the same time,” the panel's final report states.

The institute, a nonprofit education and research organization, has conducted more than 600 such panels around the nation and in other countries since 1947, including one used to develop plans for the Briargate area, to provide advice on land use and development issues.

Many of the panel’s recommendations are not new — The Imagine Downtown study in 2007 and several previous studies have advocated for more downtown housing, moving the Colorado Springs Sky Sox downtown from Security Service Field off Powers Boulevard has been discussed for more than a decade and building a convention center downtown has been proposed several times in recent decades. To ensure its recommendations turn into reality, the panel said all of the organizations promoting downtown should appoint someone full-time to champion them.

“Overall I think it validates a lot of what we are doing and gives us direction to work harder on some things. It gives us a springboard to get people work together,” said Ron Butlin, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, a group of downtown business owners and boosters. “The time is right to take downtown to the next level and this report gives us the credibility to do that. I can’t wait for downtown to have some housing. I am confident that something like 100 to150 units would be successful and prove there is demand for downtown housing.”

Chris Jenkins, president of local real estate developer Nor’wood Development Group, said he hopes that his company or another developer would begin construction within a year on an apartment complex on the fringes of downtown, perhaps on land his company owns southwest of Colorado and Wahsatch avenues. He also said that building the recommended pedestrian bridge between America the Beautiful park and downtown would be an important step to encourage redevelopment in the southwest downtown urban renewal area where Nor’wood owns much of the land.

“The park is an island. There is no real pedestrian-friendly way to get there right now,” Jenkins said. “It is essential to connect it better to downtown. From a residential perspective, the park then becomes your yard and small- to large-scale residential development is then viable.”

Copies of the panel’s report and recommendations are available on the Downtown Partnership’s website, www.downtown80903.com.

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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