Updated: December 26, 2012 at 12:00 am
There are nearly 350 Colorado Springs-area shopping centers, and many are identified by their mix of big-box anchors and smaller retailers.
But the tiny, aging Polo Center along Academy Boulevard, north of Palmer Park Boulevard on the Springs’ east side, has one characteristic that sets it apart.
“We’re the one in the middle,” says Kevin Gunty, owner of Ramsels’ Watch & Jewelry Repair, a longtime tenant.
The Polo Center, which El Paso County land records say was completed in 1970, sits smack dab in the middle of busy Academy Boulevard, which is one of the city’s principal retail corridors. The nearly 40,000-square-foot center is a retail island of sorts, sandwiched between Academy’s north lanes on its east side and the corridor’s south lanes on its west side.
“It’s highly irregular,” said Carl Schueler, a Springs city planner who spearheaded a study two years ago of conditions along a six-mile stretch of Central and South Academy.
The center’s history is sketchy. The city had annexed the Polo Center site and surrounding property in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and an easement for an overhead transmission line might have been designated before Academy became the highway it is today, Schueler said. As a result, a developer might have built the Polo Center on land that wasn’t in the easement’s path — between the two legs of Academy, he speculated.
Nevertheless, its odd location can be an asset. Being in the middle of Academy means the Polo Center is perhaps the only retail center with traffic access from both sides of the highway. Its location also gives it great visibility; an average of about 44,000 vehicles pass by daily, according to a city traffic estimate from a few years ago.
“It’s the only place on Academy I can pull in from the left side or the right side without going to a light half a mile beyond, turning back, doing a U-turn and wiggling through a parking lot,” Gunty said.
He should know. Original owners Elden and Ellen Ramsel opened the watch and jewelry repair business in the Polo Center in 1975, Gunty said. An employee since 1983, he bought the business four years later and has kept the Polo Center as its home.
Despite its age and competition from newer and larger centers on far North Academy and on Powers Boulevard to the east, the Polo Center has survived — but hasn’t always prospered.
It’s nearly two-thirds vacant at the moment, based on an online listing of its tenant line-up. A Hollywood Video, a flower shop and a passport photo business are among retailers who’ve left in recent years.
The property fell into foreclosure two years ago and was purchased in February. Its new owner is listed in county land records as a limited liability company apparently controlled by Dikeou Realty of Denver.
A Dikeou representative didn’t return several calls. But signs on the property, which list Dikeou’s telephone number, say a “retail renovation” is coming soon. A few weeks ago, a digital sign was erected on the Polo Center’s northwest corner, which advertises tenants to passing motorists.
“They are working on improvements here,” Gunty said of the new owners. “They’ve cleaned up a lot of the old empty spots that people left and the debris left behind.”
Still, because the center is boxed in between the two segments of Academy, there’s only so much the new owners can do, said Jay Carlson, a broker with Front Range Commercial in Colorado Springs who has marketed many Academy properties over the years.
“Other than tearing down a part of the building and creating more parking or something pretty drastic, there’s not much you can do but put a new face on it of some sort,” Carlson said. He acknowledged the center’s location can be an asset because of the vehicles passing by, but added the lack of a mini-anchor means there’s not much of a reason for shoppers to come.
Gunty agreed the Polo Center is more of a destination location; for the most part, he said, shoppers and consumers come for a specific service, such as having watches and jewelry repaired at his shop. An insurance agent, a barber shop, a hookah bar and a consignment shop for plus-size women’s clothing are among the Polo Center’s other current tenants.
But even with its odd location, and without a grocery store or anchors that draw large crowds, Gunty has been happy with the Polo Center.
“We are still a very easy destination to get to,” he said. “People recognize it, too. If they’re up on North Academy, and they say, ‘where are you,’ I say, ‘the shopping center in the middle.’ It clicks. That’s how I describe it all the time.”
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