The YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region announced an ambitious plan Wednesday to redevelop nearly an entire city block in downtown Colorado Springs, a project that officials of the nonprofit and community leaders predict will become a catalyst for additional development in downtown's core.
Under the plan, the YMCA's 47-year-old downtown facility at Nevada Avenue and Bijou Street would be torn down and replaced with a state-of-the-art recreation and wellness center on the northwest corner of the same block; the center would be topped by a multistory apartment building.
Future phases of the block's makeover call for two commercial buildings of at least 82,000 square feet and 37,000 square feet, whose uses might include stores, restaurants, offices, medical facilities and even a grocery store.
The project's total cost could approach $150 million.
"This may not have quite the magnitude of an Olympic Museum," YMCA board chairman Brian Risley said of that venue, which opens next year in southwest downtown. "But I think the YMCA by itself is an incredible anchor ... and I think a new state-of-the-art YMCA with a housing component will continue to be a very momentous anchor for this part of downtown."
The redevelopment plan — still preliminary and with unanswered questions, such as the apartment building's height — was outlined during a news conference Wednesday by YMCA officials, city leaders and executives of White Lotus Group, an Omaha, Neb., developer that will partner with the YMCA on the project.
It follows the YMCA's announcement in early 2016 that it would seek to remodel and redevelop the downtown facility, on the southwest portion on a block bounded by Nevada and Platte avenues and Bijou and Weber streets. The YMCA owns or co-owns most of the block.
But after they studied converting their aging facility, which opened in 1972, YMCA officials decided a remodeling would be too costly, said Risley, president of a Springs architectural firm.
"The reality is, when you've got a building that's almost 50 years old, the amount of money that it would take to bring this up to current standards just, unfortunately, just doesn’t seem to be making economic sense," Risley said in an interview before Wednesday's news conference.
Instead, YMCA officials have opted for a plan they say will create a venue that can adapt to a growing city with a focus on healthy living while continuing programs that assist schools, seniors and other community members. Combined with retail, medical and other uses, the block could become a "health campus," Boyd Williams, the YMCA's president and CEO, said in an interview.
"We don’t want to just have a bunch of stand-alone, separate entities here," he said. "We think that there's a tie, whether it's health care, whether it's a healthy grocery store. Housing fits very well with the YMCA."
The project's initial phase calls for the demolition of a boarded-up former Texaco service station, which sits on the block's northwest corner and served as a backdrop to Wednesday's news conference.
In its place: a 75,000-square-foot YMCA building of two to three stories, which could grow to four stories if the YMCA moves its corporate offices there from its home at 316 N. Tejon St., Risley said.
On top of the new YMCA would be an apartment building with 100 to 200 units. A rendering Wednesday showed a building of at least eight stories, but YMCA and White Lotus officials said the building’s height hasn’t been determined.
White Lotus has done several mixed-use, multifamily, hotel and other projects around the country involving renovations and new construction, said CEO Arun Agarwal.
He chairs Omaha's YMCA board and learned via his YMCA staff of plans for a new facility in downtown Colorado Springs, which led to the company being tabbed as a developer by the local YMCA, Williams and Risley said.
As planned, the YMCA would donate the northwest portion of the block to White Lotus. In turn, the YMCA would become a long-term tenant in the new facility, which White Lotus would finance along with the apartment component.
The new YMCA would be smaller than the more than 100,000-square-foot existing facility, which has underutilized space, Risley and Williams said.
Members' needs also have changed, they said. Thirty years ago, for example, many people played racquetball at the downtown YMCA; today, not so much.
A centerpiece of today's YMCAs is a healthy living center, where cardio workouts and strength training are staples.
The healthy living center at the YMCA's new First & Main facility on the Springs' east side is 12,000 to 13,000 square feet, Risley said. At the downtown YMCA, it's about 4,000 square feet and "buried" in the building's basement without a majestic view of the Front Range that other facilities enjoy, he said.
"Currently in this building, we have a very limited number of spaces where we can offer group exercise and personal training and high performance training and those kinds of things," he said. "In a new facility, all of those would be highlighted."
The apartment portion of the new building, meanwhile, would include what Risley and Williams called "workforce housing" for Colorado Springs employees — lower-rent units for restaurant workers, teachers, firefighters, police officers and others earning more middle-income wages.
Williams said the city has a shortage of such apartments, especially in downtown. It's tough for young people and families to live downtown "in an affordable manner," he said. Downtown apartments that have opened the last few years command rents from roughly $1,500 a month to more than $2,000, their websites show.
White Lotus' Agarwal said the project will be designed to serve a mix of employee income levels, though some units would fetch market-rate rents.
It hasn’t been determined how many apartments would be set aside as so-called workforce housing or what rents would be.
"What we are aiming to do is to earmark specific sets of units for different tiers of income levels to make sure that our teachers, our nurses, our service industries can afford the units and live in the same community in which they work," Agarwal said.
The YMCA and White Lotus plan to seek city regulatory approvals over the next year for the first phase, Williams said. Groundbreaking could come in the fourth quarter of 2020, with an opening of the new YMCA and apartments in mid-2022.
Once the new YMCA is open, the old one would be torn down. White Lotus then would develop its 82,000-square-foot mixed-use building — possibly topped with a restaurant — on the old YMCA site. The 37,000-square-foot building would go up on the block's northeast corner, just east of Borriello Brothers pizza.
The YMCA doesn't own the Borriello Brothers site, but has been in "healthy conversations" for nearly two years with the owners and those talks continue, Williams said. Borriello Brothers' owners couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.
The YMCA co-owns a parking garage on the block with First Presbyterian Church. The structure was designed so that it could be increased by two levels, although Williams said its future hasn't been determined.
Another major question will be the height of the apartment tower.
Ryan Tefertiller, urban planning manager for the city’s Planning and Development Department, said the maximum height in that part of downtown is six stories.
But the city’s form-based zoning code that regulates downtown could allow up to 10 stories for structures that add housing, use sustainable building practices or have structured parking, among other components, Tefertiller said.
YMCA and White Lotus officials say they're mindful of designing a building that takes into account neighboring land uses, including Acacia Park and First Presbyterian.
"We certainly don't want to design this kind of looming tower that's going to hang over Acacia Park," Risley said. "So, we don't know right now how many stories in total we're talking, but that’s to be determined."