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Ted Rayburn: Experience Downtown addressing Colorado Springs' challenges, but consider these goals

October 9, 2016 Updated: October 11, 2016 at 11:15 am
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A rainbow hangs over downtown Colorado Springs during a recent evening rainshower Friday, June 19, 2015. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

The recent Downtown Partnership Annual Breakfast was such an upbeat, almost bubbly event that I worried (to myself) whether the optimism exhibited about Colorado Springs' inner core was well-grounded.

I have seen too many downtowns fail. But I felt much better just the day after the breakfast, when the partnership's Experience Downtown Plan of Development and Master Plan had a favorable reception by the Downtown Review Board. The Parks Board and Planning Commission will review the plans this week and next. The City Council votes Nov. 8.

I am heartened by how the plans have evolved from Imagine Downtown into tangible actions to revitalize the city's center.

As partnership President and CEO Susan Edmondson noted, the development and master plans are "market-based, about meaningful activity we know is important for downtown." Peer-city reviews, focus groups and online surveys went into the plans. So the specific goals seem absolutely organic and appropriate for our city.

They range from making downtown the cultural and economic heart of the entire region; making downtown diverse and inclusive; connecting with the area's rich outdoor recreational opportunities; being pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly; and ensuring that downtown is a signature destination.

That last goal is in some ways the most attainable because there is already such a move underway to build a new Olympic museum, expected to attract 300,000 visitors a year. So I am more focused on getting to a diverse and safely walkable downtown. Those are the everyday features that I believe will matter most to local people.

You can always count on tourists to visit downtown - what I hope to see more of are "visitors" from the suburbs of Colorado Springs and El Paso County. And most of all, encourage folks to live downtown.

The perception that hurts downtown areas is that they are not safe to live in because of crime or traffic. I suspect these are downtown Colorado Springs' biggest challenges.

Yes, homeless people tend to congregate downtown, but the city and some nonprofit organizations are making great strides to provide an expanded Springs Rescue Mission campus for homeless and affordable housing that will help get them off the streets.

Creating more downtown living spaces is, of course, crucial to the plans. Recent and planned apartment construction downtown may be the biggest game-changer of all because it is likely to bring with it the grocery stores, drugstores and gas stations.

As for traffic, the Downtown Partnership has some ideas to slow and thin out the street congestion; for example, making Bijou and Kiowa into streets with two-way traffic instead of the one-way speedways they now are. More greenways and bicycle lanes would shift the emphasis away from car traffic.

Suburban areas flourish with ease because they are pushing out into underdeveloped areas. Downtowns, by contrast, must rebuild, rethink and redevelop to survive. It's harder, but the rewards far greater, because downtowns embody a city's past greatness.

Our downtown is simply irreplaceable, and we should nurture it and restore that greatness.

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Send Gazette Business Editor Ted Rayburn your ideas on the local economy at 636-0194 or ted.rayburn@gazette.com.

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