A long-sought makeover of downtown’s southwest side received a major boost Tuesday when the Colorado Springs City Council unanimously authorized a special district to issue up to $50 million in bonds to finance public improvements in the area, where the new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum will serve as an anchor.
Among other projects, bond proceeds will help pay some of the costs of a pedestrian bridge that will link America the Beautiful Park to the museum; Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street upgrades near the venue; stormwater improvements; and a portion of a future 910-space parking garage that carries a $36.4 million price tag, according to documents presented to the City Council.
In all, about $260 million in upgrades are envisioned in a multiblock area near the museum, which is expected to attract 350,000 visitors annually when it opens this spring — possibly in May — at Vermijo and Sierra Madre.
The museum and the public improvements, in turn, are part of what city officials, developers and community leaders have estimated will be a $2 billion public-private investment in southwest downtown over several years.
That figure includes a 240-room upscale hotel, 200,000-square-foot office building and 300 apartments, townhomes and condos planned by Nor’wood Development Group of Colorado Springs, which owns much of the land in southwest downtown.
Nor’wood’s projects and the public improvements are expected to turn southwest downtown from a light industrial area of small buildings and warehouses into a thriving residential and commercial hub.
“A lot of this started with City Council members that aren’t even there anymore,” said Jariah Walker, executive director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority. “It’s just been a huge community effort, a lot of vision, a lot of leadership around all of it. They’re all projects we can be proud of, but this one around the Olympic Museum will be a real game-changer for our downtown area. It’s a big deal.”
Southwest downtown was declared an urban renewal site by the City Council in 2001. But the area’s redevelopment never took off, in part because of economic downturns over the next decade.
To get southwest downtown moving, the City Council in September 2017 approved creation of three special taxing districts in the area; one of those districts, the Southwest Downtown Business Improvement District, was given the green light by the council Tuesday to issue the $50 million in bonds.
In 2018, the council revised and shrunk the southwest downtown urban renewal site from an initial 100 acres; the smaller 82-acre area is bordered roughly by Colorado Avenue and Cucharras Street to the north, Cimarron Street to the south, Cascade Avenue and Sahwatch Street to the east and Interstate 25 to the west.
The $50 million in bonds authorized by City Council will help “provide the appropriate streetscape and surroundings for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum,” said Bob Cope, the city’s economic development officer. The museum is one of four City for Champions projects designed to attract tourists to the city and state.
About half of the bonds will be sold in the “immediate future” to a pre-identified investor, Cope said. The rest of the bonds will be sold over one to four years, he said.
Road, utility and other improvements being made around the museum are expected to be done in four phases over 20 years, though “that’s going to totally be market-driven,” Cope said. “It could happen a lot quicker or slower, depending on the market.”
The bonds, meanwhile, will be repaid by a variety of sources, including a property tax levied by the Southwest Downtown Improvement District; property taxes from two Southwest Downtown Metro Districts; and increased sales and property tax revenues generated by new residential and commercial development in the area.
In addition to the bonds, other funding sources for a first phase of the area’s public improvements include the state of Colorado, which pledged sales tax rebates for City for Champions projects; the Downtown Development Authority, a quasi-governmental entity; and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.
The Gazette’s Rich Laden contributed to this story.