August 19, 2013 Updated: August 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm
The creation of a downtown arts district takes a step forward.
The city's Parking Enterprise Department has provided $200,000 to enhance pedestrian safety in the targeted alley, which runs parallel to Tejon Street, between Bijou Street and Platte Avenue. Improvements will include lighting, dumpster relocation and pavement resurfacing.
It comes after years of efforts by Brett and Lauren Andrus, co-owners of two hot spot art galleries in that alley, The Modbo and S.P.Q.R. The venues, Brett Andrus said, can draw upwards of 2,000 visitors a month to art exhibits and other events in what he came to call the Arts Alley District.
Still, some complained that they didn't feel comfortable there at night. So, the Arts Alley Project was born. The goal is to make any downtown alleys that see a lot of foot traffic more enticing.
"I was trying to find a way that people can use it (the alley) as a walkway, and make people feel safe walking down it," he said. "I want to fight that misconception of downtown being full of criminals."
About four years ago, he started a conversation with some of his downtown business neighbors, including Sam Eppley, who owns Sparrow Hawk Gourmet Cookware on Tejon Street, about beautifying the alleys downtown.
"It's never easy to make changes and change perspective," Andrus said about the long process. "It's about inertia and getting things moving. But once it does start moving, it's hard to stop it. We're excited for the city to do something cool."
With the early support of the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs, Andrus said, the idea eventually made its way to city officials, including Greg Warnke, Colorado Springs City Parking administrator. He manages the parking garage at Bijou Street and Cascade Avenue, across the alley from the galleries, and has wanted to make the garage more appealing as well.
"Customers' concerns are walking out of the back of the garage to get on Bijou (Street) and to eventually get on Tejon (Street)," Warnke said. "There are the dumpsters, the lighting is poor, and there are a number of things they didn't care for."
The Arts Alley Project lacked funding, though, Warnke said, so it was scaled back into a safety project. The upcoming work is technically not part of the Arts Alley Project, Warnke said, but it does help further the mission of the project.
No tax dollars are being spent, Warnke added. He anticipates work will begin by the end of September or beginning of October, after a construction bid is selected.
"We're trying to provide a foundation for the private sector to build on," Warnke said. "If they can see what goes on at The Modbo, if we can promote some of that. We can turn alleys into more interesting pedestrian areas, instead of ratty areas for trucks and dumpsters. We can only do so much, and then we hope the private sector can find value and build on top of that."
Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.