May 16, 2013 Updated: May 16, 2013 at 4:40 pm
A market research study conducted for the Colorado Springs Downtown Business Improvement District has reaffirmed how many local residents and businesses view downtown.
The area gets high marks for its locally owned restaurants, specialty stores, museums and history, but is dogged by concerns about parking, panhandlers, crime and a lack of housing.
But the study, conducted by Blakely+ Company of Colorado Springs, uncovered another finding that's potentially disturbing for the community: Young professionals - a demographic that city and business leaders have sought for years to attract and retain because of their education and earning power - were especially vocal about what they see as downtown's shortcomings.
The area's shopping options are limited and not affordable, young professionals said in the study. Downtown housing is too expensive for their age group. And many young professionals are pessimistic the area will ever change.
"We always knew that keeping young professionals here and making sure there's things for them is an issue," said Kyle Blakely, a longtime local marketing and public relations professional who heads Blakely + Company. "But they were much more vocal about it than I expected."
Results of the study, conducted in January and February, were released Thursday as part of the Downtown Lowdown, a briefing sponsored by the Downtown Partnership advocacy group on events and happenings in the area. About 75 people attended the early morning update, which took place at the Tim Gill Center downtown.
The study attempted to gauge attitudes about downtown from a series of audience groups.
One-on-one interviews took place with nearly three dozen business people and community members; seven focus groups were conducted with community segments such as merchants, residents and young professionals; and 200 man-on-the-street surveys were done with residents and visitors in downtown and at the First & Main Town Center shopping center on the Springs' east side.
The "depth and breadth" of downtown's assets, rather than a single feature, were lauded by survey respondents.
They liked one-of-a-kind, mom-and-pop shops, the area's special events and restaurants that aren't part of national chains. They recognized that downtown is part of the Springs' rich history and that the area is "the epicenter" of the region's arts and culture, the study found.
But barriers to downtown's success identified by survey participants included parking problems, whether real or perceived; homeless people and panhandlers downtown; public safety worries because of panhandlers, nightclub and bar patrons and loiterers at Acacia Park; limited and overly expensive shopping; a lack of housing and not enough price ranges; and no clear direction for the area.
Young professionals, in particular, feel they've been asked their opinions many times but nothing changes, the study said. Blakely's study recommends a pair of "branding campaigns" to promote downtown's assets and to tackle problems identified by survey respondents.
The study took special note of parking issues and suggested several ways to counter perceptions that parking is a problem. They include: Make parking more convenient by having meters that take credit cards; encourage the city to lower parking rates and fines; and ask the city to test two-hour, free parking zones that would have higher fines for violators.
Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, said the study will help the group as it promotes downtown and targets various audiences.
"When you have limited resources, you need this kind of data to make good decisions," she said.
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