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Colorado Springs foundation chugs along in plans for downtown trolley

July 5, 2013 Updated: July 5, 2013 at 6:45 pm

A group pushing for a trolley system is rolling into position to be a player in the revitalization of downtown Colorado Springs.

The Pikes Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation, which holds the franchise for a trolley system in the city, is negotiating to buy a parcel of land downtown and is close to getting five more trolleys.

It's been a long road.

In 1997, Colorado Springs voters gave the foundation the green light on a 25-year streetcar franchise. The foundation has managed to get 15 cars and completed a feasibility study.

But funds have been hard to come by, and, with only a few volunteers, getting the cars into running condition hasn't been easy. Only one is operable.

Getting land downtown would be a big step. The site must be big enough to store and maintain the trolleys, and it could act as a temporary depot.

"We're looking for a space downtown to set up a base of operations," said Dave Lippincott, the foundation's president.

Lippincott declined to identify the location of the land, but noted the foundation should know within a month if a deal can be pieced together.

"We've started initial talks with the owner through his Realtor," he said.

The foundation is also working on pairing up with a group behind the proposed Colorado Springs Public Market Downtown Project, which is also looking for a site. The year-round public market would include open space for gatherings such as music, entertainment, space for outdoor expansion of seasonal farmers markets and a rooftop garden.

"They came to us and said, 'We would love to have a streetcar serve the public market once this gets established,'" Lippincott said. "They are looking for a spot and it could be that we'd be together."

Public market board member Kady Hommel said a downtown trolley would be a good fit.

"We love it for the functional transportation benefits that it offers, and we love it for the historic legacy that it restores and re-creates," she said.

Four sites have risen to the top as candidates for the market, she said. But the process is far from complete, Hommel said.

The projects could get a boost if the state approves a bid from the city to receive $82 million in state sales tax dollars to build four tourism-related projects, including a multi-use stadium and museum for the U.S. Olympics, both of which would be downtown.

"We are over the top with enthusiasm about anything that adds to the charisma and traffic and differentiation of downtown," Hommel said. "It's all good for everybody. There's plenty of room."

The trolley foundation still hasn't overcome its biggest obstacle, however: getting funds.

Indeed, settling on a price for the land is only the first step toward a base for trolley operations.

Lippincott said the foundation plans to acquire the land in an all-cash deal, which means it would have to raise the money to buy it.

"It would take us six months to raise funds to buy the property," he said. "At that point, we could put track on the ground on this property, then talk about expanding into the streets, going to developers and saying: 'If you want us to develop something that would serve your property, we need help.'"

Some developers have recently contacted the foundation, Lippincott said.

A downtown route is not finalized. It could depend, at least in part, on where the funds come from. Initially, Lippincott said the trolley could run north on Tejon Street to Dale Street, then jog one block east to Nevada Avenue and return south to Vermijo Avenue or Costilla Street in a loop back to Tejon.

The south end, he said, "would depend on how far on south Nevada and Tejon people want to go."

Additional streetcars, meantime, are in the works.

One of them is about 90 percent restored and could be in running condition fairly quickly.

"We're in touch with an owner who has restored some cars," Lippincott said. "He's lost his storage space and is willing to donate them for the cost of transporting them out here."

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