Downtown Colorado Springs likely to evolve as City for Champions' venues take shape

By Rich Laden Updated: December 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm • Published: December 22, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

There's no blueprint for how downtown Colorado Springs would evolve if a sports and events center and an Olympic museum are built on the area's southwest side.

But now that City for Champions supporters secured $120.5 million in state funding for their proposed sports and events center, museum and two other projects elsewhere in the Springs, downtown advocates, community leaders and local business people can start to muse a little about what the area might look like should the venues be built.

Could portions of downtown - particularly its southwest side - morph into an area like the one surrounding the Colorado Springs World Arena on the city's south side? Several hotels, restaurants and a movie theater complex were built on nearby swaths of undeveloped land in the years just before and after the arena opened in 1998.

Or, could downtown's southwest side take on an urban look, with taller, more densely packed buildings, similar to the area that surrounds Coors Field in Denver's LoDo?

A mix of both scenarios is possible, but it's too soon to know how downtown might develop - and what kinds of stores, restaurants or other uses might follow the sports and events center and museum, some civic and business leaders say.

"There's not a formula that says one museum equals 'x' (amount of) retail, restaurant and residential," said Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs, the area's lead advocacy group. "We know it will stimulate a lot of that."

But perhaps just as important as spurring development activity, the new venues would demonstrate there's a goal for what downtown advocates want the area to become, which could lead to more overall investment, she said.

"Businesses wanted to come downtown, but they didn't know the vision, they didn't know the plan," Edmondson said. "Now they know there's a direction."

A lot of work to do yet

City for Champions, the effort to develop four tourism-related projects in the Springs, was awarded $120.5 million by the Colorado Economic Development Commission on Monday. That money is a portion of state sales tax revenue expected to be generated over 30 years by new, out-of-state visitors who come to town to see the projects.

As proposed, City for Champions includes a 10,000-seat stadium and 3,000-seat indoor sports center; a museum that would display Olympic exhibits and serve as a link to the Springs-based U.S. Olympic Committee; a new Air Force Academy visitors center; and a sports medicine and performance center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

The projects' combined cost, along with a downtown parking garage and other public improvements in the area, would total $250 million.

But City for Champions isn't a done deal; supporters still must find other sources of financing to complement state funds. And money awarded by the state comes with some strings attached: Among them, the projects must be started within five years and completed within a decade.

City for Champions supporters envision the sports and events center for downtown's southwest side, southwest of Colorado and Cascade avenues. While the City for Champions proposal showed possible sites for the two downtown venues to the south of Colorado and west of Sahwatch Street, supporters have said none are final and land acquisition remains another major next step.

Still, southwest downtown has the potential for the biggest makeover if the venues are built. A light industrial area that was declared an urban renewal site by the Colorado Springs City Council in 2001, little redevelopment has taken place, other than construction of America the Beautiful Park.

If a sports venue and museum are built, restaurants, bars and entertainment are the obvious businesses that likely would set up shop in southwest downtown. A hotel would be possible, too, said Mark Useman, a retail specialist with Sierra Commercial Real Estate in Colorado Springs. Those types of uses typically follow large sports facilities, as Denver's LoDo area experienced after Coors Field opened in 1995.

"You've got to look to other cities that had these kinds of things happen and what it has attracted," Useman said. "We can point to Denver and look at what the Colorado Rockies did for LoDo."

Sam Eppley, owner of Sparrow Hawk Gourmet Cookware and past board chairman of the Downtown Partnership, said he expects apparel stores and souvenir businesses to locate near the museum and sports facility, which he said have the potential to be catalysts for change. Such retailers would serve tourists, who are the venues' prime target, he said.

Residential and office development also could follow if the sports facility and museum are built, Useman said.

If a retail district of restaurants and other uses is established, some businesses - such as attorneys or other professionals - might want to have an office nearby, he said.

But don't expect such development to be built in sprawling, suburban fashion; Useman said such construction in an urban area would include taller buildings - though not necessarily high rises - where residences and offices would be on upper floors and retail would occupy the first and possibly second floors. Only so much land is available to build on, and developers need to maximize their profit potential by packing as many uses into a building footprint as possible, which means multi-story structures, Useman said.

Wait-and-see attitude

Meanwhile, some development will take place in anticipation of the construction of the two downtown projects, but other real estate companies and retailers will wait until they see how successful the venues become, said Les Gruen, a former Downtown Partnership board member and head of the Urban Strategies planning firm in the Springs.

In fact, one expert predicted that the sports venue and museum won't drive new development.

Residential and commercial development that takes place independently of the new venues ultimately will make downtown successful and attract the stores, restaurants and services that the area's supporters want to see, said Greg Stoffel, an Irvine, Calif.-based retail consultant who's done research on downtown Colorado Springs.

Visitors to the venues will contribute relatively little to the demand for restaurants and other new uses; such businesses rely on year-round traffic from daytime workers and residents who make their homes there, Stoffel said.

He said that if he had retail clients thinking of investing downtown strictly because of the new venues, he'd advise them to reconsider.

"I would look at the inherit sales potential of the location without the possible sports complex and museum," Stoffel said. "It would have to work without that. Any sales that I would get from those venues would be a plus, over and above what the base resident support and employment support provide."

Any retailer wanting to be near the venues should consider other factors, such as how much business they'll do. Restaurants that hope to attract sports center and museum visitors, for example, need to keep in mind that the two venues will have their own concessions and food and beverage service, Stoffel said.

"It's not like people are leaving these things starving," he said.

'You have to have a plan'

Edmondson acknowledged that a "build it and they will come" approach is naive. Any business would need to do its due diligence to determine if locating near the venues would make economic sense, she said.

But if such development ramps up in southwest downtown, the area could become a center of activity.

"The focus of downtown and the extent to which that focus changes depends on the success of these new venues and what develops around them," Gruen said. "If they're very successful, the center of downtown will change more toward them or relocate more toward them. If they are not initially so successful, there won't be such a refocus on where the center of downtown is."

Having southwest downtown as a hub won't take away from the strength of the rest of the overall area, Edmondson insists.

If the area takes off as a result of the new venues, it will be a plus for all of downtown because it would provide a greater variety of opportunities for people who want to visit or businesses that want to invest, she said.

"Any downtown in a mid-size city or in a larger city can have many different areas," Edmondson said.

But if southwest downtown does take off, downtown leaders must make sure its success doesn't come at the expense of the existing core and Tejon Street corridor, said former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace.

Planning efforts should take into account the potential effects of new development on existing downtown retailers. Too much time and effort have been devoted to improving downtown with amenities such as sidewalk cafes, art displays and other enhancements, she said.

"Would we want to lose Tejon Street?" Makepeace said. "Would we want to happen to Tejon what happened to Academy (Boulevard) when Powers (Boulevard) developed?"

Useman said he expects Tejon and other parts of downtown to remain attractive - especially to businesses, because new construction in southwest downtown will make the area more expensive for retail tenants, office users and the like.

Still, Makepeace said, downtown advocates need to be mindful of what could happen.

"I hope that in the planning process, they take into consideration that change will occur, but you just can't let it be wily nilly," she said. "You have to have a plan. I think preservation of the downtown core is important."


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