Mayor John Suthers grew up in the 1950s and '60s in Colorado Springs and remembers when downtown was the community's "focal point" - the place to shop, eat or see a movie.
Like many cities, the Springs' downtown lost its luster as new and trendy shopping centers, restaurants and entertainment venues took shape in outlying areas.
Today, downtown is on its way back, says Suthers and the Downtown Partnership, which celebrated the area's achievements during the advocacy group's 20th annual breakfast Thursday attended by 700 people at The Antlers hotel.
High-profile projects include the U.S. Olympic Museum, a Hilton Garden Inn hotel and a 169-unit apartment complex - noteworthy for the construction cranes towering over the projects when such equipment was nowhere to be found in downtown a year ago.
Downtown's vacancy rate for street-level retail space is less than 2 percent - several percentage points lower than the rest of the city, the Downtown Partnership says. Nearly two dozen retailers opened last year in the area and another 15 are on their way. Popular Denver-area food and entertainment venues Oskar Blues and Atomic Cowboy are coming soon.
More apartments and at least two more hotels are on the drawing board, while the city is expanding its downtown fire station. And the Creative Vitality Index, a national measure of cultural activities and so-called creative industry employers, assigns a ranking to the Springs' downtown that's six times higher than the national average, the Downtown Partnership says.
"More business is moving down there," Suthers said Thursday after speaking at the breakfast. "More people living there. More entertainment down there. More restaurants bringing people from all over the city. I think the word for it is a renaissance."
Susan Edmondson, the partnership's president CEO, lauded downtown business people and entrepreneurs who are launching new ventures or making significant investments in their properties, such as the owners of the Catalyst Campus office complex and The Antlers and Mining Exchange hotels.
"We're fortunate because there's a lot of great people opening wonderful businesses and doing good things, so it gives us a great story to tell," she said.
And more initiatives are on the way, Edmondson said.
On Thursday, the Downtown Partnership announced the addition of a bicycle-sharing program - to be called PikeCycle - that will allow local residents, tourists and others to pay a small fee to borrow bikes for use in downtown and elsewhere. Bike sharing programs are popular in large metro-areas such as New York and Washington, D.C., college towns and midsize cities.
Downtown Ventures, a nonprofit arm of the Downtown Partnership, is targeting a spring launch for PikeCycle. Kaiser Permanente, the state's largest nonprofit health care provider, will co-sponsor the program, although additional sponsors still are needed to make the project a reality, Edmondson said.
PikeCycle's first phase is expected to serve 46,000 households within three miles of Legacy Loop, the 10-mile trail system that circles downtown. As envisioned, more than 200 bikes and 26 bike stations would be available as part of the program.
Along with area residents and downtown employees, PikeCycle would be available to downtown employees and Colorado College and Pikes Peak Community College students. Tourists increasingly expect to have bike-sharing programs available in cities they visit, Edmondson said.
"We often get calls at the office from out of towners, asking us do you have a bike share program," she said. "We've heard from a lot of people in the community that they've really wanted this for a long time."
The Downtown Partnership also presented its Downtown Star awards at Thursday's breakfast. The recipients were:
- Individual: Developer Dan Robertson, who has led the charge on loft development in downtown through newly constructed buildings or the remodeling of the upper floors of existing properties.
- Civil Servant: El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker and his staff, who respond quickly to information requests and whose redesign of the office's website has helped make data available for the public, business people and investors countywide.
- Business or Organization: Morgan Calderini and Arley-Rose Torsone, founders of Ladyfingers Letterpress, who were recognized for going beyond "simply selling a product or making a product to fully embracing and enhancing their place in the community." Calderini and Torsone sell their stationery nationwide, but also have created a store galley, host workshops and classes and serve as a community gathering place.
Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228