Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

NOREEN: A salute to urban renewal done right

BARRY NOREEN Updated: October 11, 2012 at 12:00 am

Torrid construction activity resounded throughout the old Ivywild Elementary School Wednesday as the best local urban renewal project since the re-development of Colorado City continued to take shape.

Officially, says Colorado Springs brewery owner Mike Bristol, the renovation job will be complete by February. Unofficially, and from a more creative standpoint, Bristol said “we’re never going to be finished. It’s going to continue to evolve.”

An expanded Bristol Brewery, a bakery, coffee bar, beer-tasting room, architectural studio, community room with a stage and perhaps an artist-in-residence program — it’s the combined vision of Bristol and restaurateur Joe Coleman, a pair of proven local entrepreneurs who already do business in the Ivywild neighborhood. They paid $1.2 million to Colorado Springs School District 11 for Ivywild, which had been closed.

It was money the district badly needed, it was new life for an empty building, which the neighborhood needed, too. The city’s assistance is to allow sales and property taxes from the project to help pay off bonds, but Bristol and Coleman have a lot of skin in the game, including the $2.5 million renovation cost.

“Generally, everyone is happy about it,” said Ivywild Neighborhood Association leader Martin Harper. “We put together the Neighborhood Association again and I think the project had a lot to do with that.”

The city has a spotty record on urban renewal. Bonds have been refinanced for the North Nevada Avenue project. The City Council was too willing to declare open land as “blighted” for the Copper Ridge project.

By comparison, the Ivywild deal is tiny. Another important difference is that unlike those other projects, the Ivywild idea obtained crucial buy-in from the neighborhood before it went forward. It wasn’t a City Hall, from-the-top-down approach.

By having businesses nearby, Bristol and Coleman were known quantities to their neighbors.

“There’s a higher level of trust,” Bristol said. “It’s pretty clear to people we’re committed and we’re not going anywhere.”

Trust: Not a word to be casually tossed around, City Council. People aren’t going to trust you when you declare open prairie land to be blighted.

Bristol and Coleman are trying to preserve wall art and other aspects of the old school because, Bristol said, “we think it’s all part of the history. It’s cool stuff.”

Economic development, building a city’s economy, giving new life to a neighborhood — these things are difficult. As City Hall ponders future urban renewal deals it should remember the from-the-ground-up Ivywild example.

Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at 719-636-0363 or barry.noreen@gazette.com

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