The Colorado Springs developer who recently built downtown’s first new apartment building since 1960 has announced plans to create a similar development just a block to the west.
Darsey Nicklasson, well known for her role in developing Blue Dot Place at 412 S. Nevada Ave. — a four-story, 33-unit urban apartment building that now also houses Loyal Coffee on its ground floor — has announced plans to build a four-story, 27-unit complex at 418-422 S. Tejon St (see rendering above).
The 36,000-square-foot future apartment building is being called “Casa Mundi” (Spanish for “world house”) and is being designed as “a stylish urban haven with Latin and Mediterranean flair,” Nicklasson said.
The building will be constructed at the site of what is now a parking lot on property owned by Sam Cameron and Kevin Butcher, principals at commercial real estate firm CameronButcher Company.
The partners purchased the 19,000-square-foot lot for $2.5 million in 2005 as part of a larger transaction that also included their office building across Tejon Street. Cameron and Butcher, who have had few dealings in the residential development world, said their initial plan for the parcels was to eventually tear down their existing office building to make way for a new commercial structure and to leave the parking lot as is.
“That’s just not the way it worked out,” Cameron said. “Things change.”
The property owners said they began talks with Nicklasson about the possibility of developing the lot about two years ago, when she was working to develop the Blue Dot property in partnership with Colorado Springs businesswoman and philanthropist Kathy Loo.
“[Nicklasson] was a great neighbor, and we built a good relationship with her,” Butcher said. “This just seemed like a good idea.”
Cameron and Butcher said the conversations with Nicklasson became more serious in recent months as Nicklasson worked to conceptualize and begin the planning process for Casa Mundi.
“It’s going fast,” Cameron said.
Both Cameron and Butcher attribute their decision to partner with Nicklasson to her success with Blue Dot, which has maintained 100 percent occupancy since opening its doors to tenants in January 2016 in a part of town that had previously struggled to gain momentum.
“We feel like she has proven this model … and we feel it makes good sense to go into a joint venture with someone like her, who can bring that experience to the table,” Cameron said. “We love downtown and we think people will continue to move downtown.”
Since the two parties agreed to develop Casa Mundi, Nicklasson said she has undergone a thorough “visioning” process in which she worked with Colorado Springs-based architecture and planning firm HB&A to bring to life her concept for the space.
“I think Blue Dot turned out wonderfully, but there are some things I think I would do differently,” Nicklasson said.
Preliminary designs for the building’s exterior include east-facing balconies, colorful decorative tiles, landscaping and three 13-foot-deep verandas that will serve as a common space among west-facing units.
The eastern portion of the building’s ground floor will include space for two to three retail spaces that Nicklasson said will likely include at least one restaurant.
The design for the western portion of the building includes indoor bike parking and storage lockers for tenants, as well as carport-covered surface parking behind the building.
“We tried to design the building with more places where people have to casually run into each other,” she said. “If we create those places for people to collide, the idea is that we’re creating a sense of community. … That’s what has driven the whole design of Casa Mundi. … People want to live in unique places, and people want to feel connected — people want to belong.”
Because the building abuts the property line to the north and south, those two sides of the building will be essentially windowless in order to meet fire code. The layout was therefore designed to utilize light entering each unit from the east and west. Nicklasson said the building will offer studios, as well as one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments with built-in shelving and cabinetry, 10-foot ceilings in living spaces and open floor plans.
The project hasn’t been without its challenges, Nicklasson said. Most recently, the developer worked with the city and with Old Town Bike Shop owner John Crandall to ensure that the new structure won’t negatively impact his historic building.
Nicklasson said she plans to break ground this fall and anticipates buildout to take 14 months, putting the project’s completion date near the end of 2018.
Follow the Dot
The announcement of Casa Mundi is only the most recent in a stream of planned downtown multi-family developments that began flowing in after Blue Dot’s opening last January.
“Many people have called it a ‘proving ground,’” Nicklasson said.
The Colorado Springs Downtown Development Authority agreed, stating in a 2016 update to its master plan that Blue Dot “has served as a catalyst, as it has been able to demonstrate the marketability of new, urban-style rental product.”
“[Blue Dot Place] truly was a catalyst for downtown residential development,” said Sarah Humbargar, director of business development and economic vitality for the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership.
“There had been a number of developers interested in downtown residential … but they struggled to get financing because there was no comparable product. So [Nicklasson] took a huge risk, but now it’s something that all the other developers can point to.”
According to Humbargar, there are currently 15 multi-family developments that have either been announced, are under construction or have been recently completed in or around downtown Colorado Springs. Those projects account for 669 new units, 429 of which are within the DDA’s boundaries and therefore received 100-percent tax increment financing through the agency’s Urban Living Initiative program (including Blue Dot and Casa Mundi).
The DDA board voted to implement the grant program last June in order to “accelerate progress toward a near-term Master Plan goal of 2,000 new-construction residential units” by 2025, according to official meeting minutes. For downtown projects of 10-plus units, the program will grant 100-percent TIF through the end of 2019 or until the DDA reaches its 600-unit, short-term goal. After the goal is reached, the DDA will provide applicable projects with 75-90 percent TIF.
“It’s a pretty aggressive program because we do have that goal and we’re really trying hard to achieve it in a relatively short period of time,” Humbargar said.
Among the developments that have qualified for the Urban Living Initiative are also two large apartment buildings planned by Colorado Springs-based Nor’wood Development Group: the 169-unit 333 Eco apartments, located at the northeast corner of Colorado Avenue and South Wahsatch Avenue; and The Cascade, a 183-unit apartment building planned for the northeast corner of South Cascade Avenue and East Rio Grande Street.