City must focus on revitalizing downtown

By: The Gazette editorial
June 4, 2013 Updated: June 4, 2013 at 8:35 am
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These are exciting times for downtown Colorado Springs. As illustrated in a story by Gazette reporter Rich Laden, planets have aligned. As a community, we must seize opportunity.

We have a new form of government that gives our city executive leadership, which it has never had, in the form of a mayor who answers to voters. The first executive mayor, Steve Bach, campaigned on and has delivered strong support for revitalization of downtown. He has worked toward enhancing public safety with surveillance cameras that monitor public activities on public property. He and his wife, Suzi, want to reduce downtown begging with proposals that could help the homeless. The mayor wants a professional baseball stadium downtown.

Laden illustrated a confluence that could result in a metamorphosis if community leaders act wisely: "Combine Bach's clout with an Urban Land Institute study from last year that spelled out several downtown improvement projects, area supporters say. Add in a recently completed market research study by Blakely + Company of Colorado Springs that showed ongoing community interest in downtown. Mix all of that together with an improving economy and a growing willingness on the part of civic leaders and real estate developers to move projects off the drawing board.

"Suddenly, downtown supporters say, there's momentum building for another major revitalization effort for the area.

Susan Edmondson, new president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, explained why the time is ripe.

"What's different now is we have a combination of public will and the economy turning around," Edmondson said.

The prospect of downtown baseball sounds great, and the community should get behind Bach's goal. And, yes, parking limitations, beggars and unfounded perceptions about high crime serve as obstacles - minor barriers that will fade with revitalization.

But two other factors should top the list in our quest to make downtown a crown jewel of the Front Range: 1. Residents; and 2. Groceries.

As a community, we talk incessantly about attracting consumers to downtown. We envision a day in which more suburbanites will leave their neighborhoods, drive past high-end strip malls and traverse a freeway to visit downtown for latte, apparel and dining.

It's an OK goal, but a better one involves provisions for people to live downtown, take an elevator to the ground floor and walk to shops and restaurants. We need more high-end downtown condos and lofts that attract the kind of young, upwardly mobile consumers who attract great employers. We need downtown residential real estate that attracts the new and growing class of professionals who can live where they choose while working remotely. We need the kind of professionals who would choose urban life at the base of America's most famous and majestic mountain if given appropriate housing options.

Along with housing, downtown needs a supermarket and drug store and we should start by attracting Trader Joe's, Whole Foods or another grocer experienced with downtown properties. Walgreens has pioneered the modern- day urban drug store in New York City and San Francisco.

City government cannot make this occur. But it can clear the way. Reduce red tape and sell developers and investors on the merits of becoming early players in the country's most exciting downtown revitalization phenomenon.

Few other places, including Denver, offer urban living in mountainous terrain within walking distance of famous trails, caves, waterfalls and countless other natural attractions. This community must stop acting like it's just any old place. To become a world-class destination of culture and trade - a lifestyle choice for people from around the globe - we need only focus on making a good downtown great.

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