The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority will start a major road project in 2016 on a stretch of highway that has been neglected, deemed blighted and been nicknamed No Man's Land.
The authority will spend $12 million on sidewalks, gutters, a center turn lane, bicycle lanes and drainage on Colorado Avenue from 31st Street to the city limits of Manitou Springs. The Colorado Department of Transportation will put $3.1 million toward the project.
But it won't be enough to revitalize No Man's Land, said Mike Crepeau, owner of Hotel San Ayre, 3320 W. Colorado Ave.
With millions in roadwork slated to be invested on the avenue, now is the time for the city of Colorado Springs to get serious and annex the area, Crepeau said. It's the only way to attract new businesses and revitalize the area.
"When the road comes through and everything is brand new, then developers are going to say is this area supported by the local government," he said.
There has been a lot of talk, studies and worry about the No Man's Land area for years. Along 1.5 miles between Colorado Springs and Manitou, properties belong to different jurisdictions: 23 properties are in Colorado Springs while others are in Manitou Springs or in unincorporated El Paso County.
The avenue, which is the business route of U.S. 24, falls under CDOT's jurisdiction.
It's a multi-jurisdictional mess, Crepeau said.
For example, Taco Bell and McDonald's are next to each other on the south side of Colorado Avenue, but one is in unincorporated El Paso County and the other is in Colorado Springs. And so goes the rest of the area.
"No one in their right mind will want to come in and build a hotel or work on some other project when there are three jurisdictions," Crepeau said.
The Colorado Springs City Council has agreed to look at annexation. But if property owners want in, they will have to come voluntarily. The council has said, informally, that it would not be interested in forcing property owners to annex into the city.
Instead, the council asked city planners to draw up a plan that offers an incentive: waiving the annexation application fees that add up to nearly $6,000 for each property owner. The city could offer a group discount, for example, if property owners band together and join the city. Or a fee waiver might be offered for a limited time to encourage annexation before the PPRTA road project begins.
But nothing is set.
Council member Joel Miller said any plan for annexation has to be fair to the entire city.
"We have too many special incentives," he said.
Council member Jan Martin said she would be willing to consider the incentive program. The cities and county have had a difficult time tackling issues in No Man's Land because of the patchwork of jurisdictions. As a result, there is no master plan for the area, which links two historic and tourist districts that attract millions of visitors each year.
"This is one of the tourism gateways to the community," she said. "It's a shame that it's taken us this long to come up with a plan, but it is complicated."
There are thriving businesses within No Man's Land - motels, fast-food restaurants, liquor stores, the Red Rocks Shopping Center and a Safeway.
Council member Merv Bennett, who is leading the council's effort to study a city annexation and fee-waiver program, said the multiple jurisdictions cause confusion for fire and police responders, result in different tax levels for businesses and make long-term planning for the area impossible.
One of the main concerns about annexation has been the cost of building sidewalks, gutters and drains. Many of those concerns will be addressed with the road project, he said.
"The significance of this is we have 2 million visitors who come to Colorado Springs who travel up to Pikes Peak Cog Railway - they drive up that avenue," he said.
City planners will reach out to the 23 property owners to gauge interest in annexing into the city. That coordination won't be easy, city planner Carl Schueler said. Some property owners may not be interested in annexing into the city because there is no advantage for them because they already receive city sewer and water services.
Some of the property owners have signed "pre-annexation agreements" in exchange for sewer and water services. The agreements say that if the city wants those properties annexed in, the property owner must agree to cover the annexation application fees.
"If the council felt it was appropriate, council could force the issue, but that goes against how the city has done business," he said.
Crepeau said the area should be viewed as an economic vitality zone, similar to downtown and North Nevada Avenue. And that might include, he said, forcing the annexation issue for the sake of economic development.
"I would like to see the City Council, Mayor (Steve) Bach and the city's economic vitality team be a little more aggressive," he said. "If annexation doesn't happen this time, and it is not made a priority, we will have wasted a lot of taxpayer money on the PPRTA program."