It's not just the traffic that goes back and forth along Central and South Academy Boulevard in Colorado Springs.
Revitalization efforts along those stretches of Academy also seem to be in constant motion - one step forward, another step back.
When it was developed decades ago on the Springs' east side, Academy became a major north-south thoroughfare and prime shopping area. But after years of deteriorating conditions, a 6-mile portion of Academy, between Maizeland and Drennan roads was identified in a 2011 city study as needing pedestrian, bike, transit, utility and landscaping improvements.
Even before that study, city officials had watched for years as empty storefronts became as common as potholes along Central and South Academy. Some retailers closed because of poor sales or a bad economy, while others bolted to Powers Boulevard and other fast-growing areas to the north, northeast and southwest - chasing higher household incomes than those found on the city's south and southeast sides.
"All of a sudden, the demographics didn't support those national tenants being on Central and South Academy," said Jay Carlson of Springs brokerage Front Range Commercial. "Now, you've got a bunch of vacant space, and it takes time for the market to come around and fill them."
The need to fill shopping center vacancies, improve road conditions and aesthetics and attract employers to Central and South Academy underscores the importance of the work recently undertaken by a new city committee that's looking for ways to pump life into the corridor.
Springs Mayor Steve Bach has identified downtown, North Nevada Avenue and southeast Colorado Springs - including Academy - as so-called economic opportunity zones, with the goal of determining the highest and best land uses in those areas while coming up with strategies to bring jobs to them.
As part of that effort, a task force that Bach created is examining North Nevada and South Academy, and two committees made up of business and community leaders are looking at each roadway.
Such efforts have been tried, but Springs developer Fred Veitch, whom Bach tabbed to head the task force, said supporters of the latest initiative are determined to do more than just recycle old ideas.
"This group is really trying to come up with an action plan, neighborhood by neighborhood, and list specifics," Veitch said. "We're going to put together an action plan, not just a study plan."
Also, the committee membership includes a cross section of the community - neighborhood and minority representatives, not just city officials and business people, he said.
South Academy committee co-chair Tiffany Colvert, a broker with NAI Highland Commercial Group and a Springs native, said she remembers when Academy was the place to go for shopping. Now, keeping shopping centers and retail buildings full along Central and South Academy is one of the biggest challenges along the corridor.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, big names that have left the area include Circuit City, Hobby Lobby, T.J. Maxx, Albertsons, Sports Authority and Best Buy. The Target store next to Circuit City closed in February of this year, while Bally Total Fitness shuttered this summer.
The loss of such stores has had a ripple effect; in January, the owner of Laser Quest will close its location in Rustic Hills North, at Academy and Palmer Park boulevards, because of a lack of anchors at the shopping center.
But as an indication of what Colvert and others say is progress they've seen along the corridor, retailers have filled some of those empty spaces or even constructed new stores.
Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse built a store - with the help of $250,000 in city incentives - that opened in 2011 at the Citadel Crossing shopping center. Wal-Mart constructed one its four local Neighborhood Market stores at South Academy and Chelton Road.
Last month, Texas-based home decor retailer Garden Ridge took over the old Target space. The empty Sports Authority space in the Rustic Hills shopping center, across the street from Rustic Hills North, is being remodeled into a Gold's Gym; the Rustic Hills center, after falling into foreclosure, was purchased by a Texas group that's working to upgrade the center.
Still, the supply of available retail space outstrips demand, Carlson said. As a result, property owners and commercial brokers have to make creative deals and attract tenants into Central and South Academy.
Likewise, Colvert said, the area doesn't have enough primary employers - businesses whose jobs help pump money into the local economy and draw investment into the community.
That's why committee members say they're intent on coming up with fresh ideas for the corridor.
"If we just keep doing the same old thing, that's probably not going to work," said City Councilman Merv Bennett, the other co-chair for the South Academy committee. "It hasn't worked over the last 15 years in that area."
One idea: Seeking alternative uses for existing buildings and properties, or "repurposing" them, as Bennett and others say. In the past, some large retail buildings in town have been turned into churches or split up to accommodate multiple users.
But as a part of repurposing buildings along Central and South Academy, city officials and community leaders need to look at surrounding neighborhoods and what serves their needs, Bennett said.
For example, Rustic Hills North is a virtual ghost town; a handful of tenants remain, but it's lost anchors Albertsons and Longs Drugs. The center, in an older part of town and close to established Springs neighborhoods, could be considered as a possible site for senior housing and medical services for that demographic, he said.
Such a project might include a city partnership with Memorial or Penrose Hospitals, he said.
Other ideas the city might consider to spur redevelopment or lure employers could include designating Central and South Academy as urban renewal areas, Colvert said. Or, the city could consider removing or reducing fees - such as tap fees charged by Colorado Springs Utilities - as incentives for businesses to locate along the corridor, Bennett said.
"We need to remove every impediment for private business to survive," he said. "If we're creating the impediment, we need to remove it."
Road improvements along Central and South Academy also would help boost the area, and some of those are in various stages of planning, said Carl Schueler, a senior comprehensive planner for the city who spearheaded the Academy study released in 2011.
A first-phase design for a makeover of the Academy and Hancock Expressway intersection - such as removing outdated ramps, improving access and burying utility lines - is scheduled for early 2014, Schueler said. Also, more than $20 million in Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority funds are earmarked to rebuild - not just resurface - Central and South Academy from 2015 to 2024, he said.
The South Academy committee hopes to present a list of recommendations to Bach and the City Council by February, Colvert said.
Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228