South Academy Boulevard and North Nevada Avenue in Colorado Springs are separated by a distance of roughly five miles as the crow flies, but are inextricably linked because of community concerns over the future of the corridors.
South and Central Academy - once prime shopping districts - have seen several retail losses over the years as stores and restaurants bolted to newer parts of town. In 2011, a city study concluded that hulking power lines should be buried along a six-mile stretch south of Maizeland Road, and recommended pedestrian and bicycle pathways, landscaping and many other improvements.
Nevada, north of Garden of the Gods Road, was declared an urban renewal site in 2004, and much of its west side was transformed from a cluster of dingy motels and cluttered businesses into the University Village Colorado shopping center. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs also is making improvements along Nevada's east side - such as the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences now under construction - and envisions others.
Now, city officials and community leaders are again gearing up to study the two corridors with the goal of producing substantive plans to revitalize South and Central Academy, while adding to the progress on Nevada and leveraging the growth plans of UCCS.
The goal: "Create more viable parts of the community," said Springs developer Fred Veitch. "In both cases, they (South Academy and North Nevada) have, until recently, been in decline. Both need to be addressed, and proactively."
Like other city and civic leaders before him, Springs Mayor Steve Bach has targeted three areas - downtown, North Nevada and South Academy - as so-called economic opportunity zones. The idea is to determine their highest and best land uses, while identifying jobs-generating strategies for the areas, among other goals.
Veitch said Bach asked him several weeks ago to head a task force to study the areas. Since downtown already has the Downtown Partnership and other advocacy groups, Veitch said the task force is focusing on South Academy and North Nevada.
Two committees composed of volunteers from the business community and civic organizations, city planners and Colorado Springs Utilities, among others, have been created to focus on each corridor. The panels held their first meetings this week and will meet regularly, Veitch said.
The Nevada committee is being chaired by City Councilman Don Knight and Rob Oldach, chief operating officer at Colorado Springs-based CSI Construction. The South Academy panel is being chaired by Councilman Merv Bennett and Tiffany Colvert, a broker associate with NAI Highland Commercial Group.
One of their first tasks: Establish boundaries for the areas along Academy and Nevada that will be studied. From there, the committees will begin identifying issues central to each corridor.
While Nevada already has been designated as an urban renewal site, the committee's work is intended as a broader initiative to create a long-term vision for the area that creates synergy with UCCS' plans, Veitch said.
South Academy will be a bigger challenge, he conceded. The area lacks an anchor, and caters to a diverse mix of neighborhoods. In order to be successful, the committee must reach out to ethnic groups and other residents along the corridor to gain their input, Veitch said.
Each committee will develop a strategic action plan with specific recommendations to improve each area, Veitch said.
He said he hopes that projects will be identified and work started by 2015. Costs associated with any improvements - and how they'd be funded - are unknowns at this time, he added.
Any recommendations must be sharply focused "and not just a white paper that says 'this is an opportunity'," Veitch said.
"He's (Bach) talked about jobs and job creation and economic vitality," Veitch said. "I think this is an attempt to reach out and say 'what does that mean?' And here are areas of town that I think are opportunities to do something and create something that actually does it and not just put a pretty plan together.
"What can we create that the community wants to see, that the community supports and leverages our assets to make this a better place to live and work?"
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