Downtown isn’t slowing down.
The amount being spent to develop residences, hotels, sports venues and other projects in downtown Colorado Springs totals $863.9 million over the last five years — a 30 percent jump in just the last year, according to the Downtown Partnership advocacy group’s 2019 report on the state of the area.
The latest figure reflects projects that are completed, under construction or on the drawing board, and received a boost by last year’s announcement of Weidner Field, the multipurpose stadium planned for downtown’s southwest side, and Robson Arena, to be built farther north at Colorado College.
“What’s great to see in that pipeline is that we have a lot of completed projects,” said Susan Edmondson, the Downtown Partnership’s president and CEO. “In the past, things started as announcements. But we’re really showing that we’re delivering. But, frankly we want that pace on that pipeline to keep up. We know we still have a ways to go.”
The 2019 report, released during a Thursday reception at The Pinery at the Hill,is the partnership’s fourth annual showcase of downtown trends and accomplishments. The report’s factoids, statistics and analysis are meant to help investors, developers, real estate brokers, retailers, civic leaders and property owners in the area make smart decisions.
Edmondson said the addition of 241 new apartments, lofts and other residences in 2018 was downtown’s largest single-year output and one of the area’s biggest achievements.
For decades, downtown advocates have cited a desperate need for more housing to help transform the area into a live-work-play environment, which in turn would trigger a need for more stores, restaurants and services.
Now, projects recently completed include the 172-unit, 333 ECO apartments at Colorado and Wahsatch avenues; the 46-unit, 22 Spruce apartments southwest of Bijou and Spruce streets; and the 20-unit Park Manor East west of Monument Street and Mesa Road.
The 184-unit Cascade Apartments at Cascade Avenue and Rio Grande Street and the 27-unit Casa Muni Lofts, southwest of Tejon and Costilla streets, are among projects under construction or planned that total another 276 units.
“That’s really starting to change the face of downtown,” Edmondson said. “When we have more people living, walking around, experiencing our shops and restaurants, that’s what we’ve said for years. And it’s actually coming to fruition.”
Other highlights of the Downtown Partnership’s report include:
• 29 land-use permits and approvals were issued for 20 projects in 2018. The number of permits was similar to the previous year, but nevertheless included several large developments.
• 577 building permits were issued in downtown’s 80903 ZIP code last year with a total estimated value of $119 million. The permit total was down 19 percent from 2017, but the value of the permits rose 6 percent on a year-over-year basis, an indicator that big-ticket projects are in the offing for downtown.
• It’s easier to find an apartment downtown than elsewhere around town, but the downtown market is getting tighter. Apartment vacancy rates rose to nearly 22 percent in downtown after the opening of the 333 ECO apartments, but dropped to 11 percent at the start of 2019 as more units were absorbed. Citywide, the apartment vacancy rate was 6 percent through the third quarter of last year.
• The remodeled Trolley Building in the 500 block of South Tejon Street was among the high-profile retail and restaurant projects completed last year in downtown. The Atomic Cowboy bar, Denver Biscuit Co., Fat Sully’s Pizza, Dos Santos Tacos, Frozen Gold Ice Cream and Cork & Cash, a whiskey and wine bar, opened in the building, which had housed Southside Johnny’s tavern.
• Other downtown stores, service providers and restaurants and bars that opened in 2018 included The Bench, Brass Brewing, Carriage House Designs, Colorado Craft, Community Banks of Colorado, the Men’s Exchange, MX Market, the Rustic Roost, Streetcar520 and Zenith Chiropractic.
• Retail space in downtown remains tough to find and is getting pricier. Downtown’s retail vacancy rate ended the year at 4.1 percent, higher than in past years but still historically low. Rents averaged $17.65 per square foot, nearly $2 higher than in 2017.
• The supply of downtown offices also is tight; 94.1 percent of office space was occupied last year, the highest rate in a decade. Despite the demand for space, downtown office rents haven’t risen high enough to justify new construction on the part of office developers, Edmondson said.
• The 167-room Hilton Garden Inn will open in 2019 at Bijou and Cascade, while three more hotels are moving forward: a 255-unit, dual-branded Marriott hotel on South Tejon; a 120-room Hyatt Place a Kiowa Street and Nevada Avenue; and the 80-space Kinship Landing on South Nevada.
• The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum’s attendance of 112,383 jumped 24 percent from the previous year while the Cottonwood Center for the Arts saw a 40 percent growth to nearly 60,000 visitors.
• Attendance at downtown events, visitors centers and other cultural activities totaled more than 840,000 in 2018, up slightly on a year-over-year basis. Construction continued last year on the U.S. Olympic Museum, which is expected to open to the public in 2020 and become a tourism draw for the area.
• The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs established a greater downtown presence with the opening of a street-level space, southwest of Tejon Street and Colorado Avenue, for classes, meetings and other gatherings.