For years the streets of downtown Colorado Springs have emptied as businesses closed for the day. With few nearby residential options, consumers and professionals would retire to the surrounding suburbs for the evening.
But downtown residential development is on the rise, and businesses in the city’s core soon will be able to cater to a new demographic.
According to Laurel Prud’homme, director of communications and events for the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs, 20 residential buildings within the Downtown Development Authority’s boundaries are completed or in the planning stage and will be finished by 2020. Plans are for a total of 600 new units, and each building will have at least 10 units.
“We know that we’re behind in residential offerings. We know that it is growing and we want to help that residential growth,” Prud’homme said. “I think we’ll hit [600 residential units] partly because of demand, partly because of these [residential] projects opening up. A year ago we said 500.”
The DDA’s Downtown Living Initiative — part of the Experience Downtown Plan — aims to have at least 2,000 new residential units by 2025.
Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, said that a 2012 panel study from the Urban Land Institute identified the need for a few thousand residential units downtown.
Darsey Nicklasson, developer at DHN Planning & Development, co-developed the Blue Dot Place apartments in 2014 with Kathy Loo. Nicklasson, who also has plans to develop the Casa Mundi apartments on South Tejon Street, chose to develop in the city’s core because she lives there and considers it her neighborhood.
“I wanted to be part of continuing the revitalization of downtown,” said Nicklasson. “I felt that residential was a key component of that. [Loo and I] both had a similar vision. We knew downtown needed residential development. Our focus was always downtown.”
The fact that other businesses were remodeling, such as Northstar Bank on Tejon Street, was one of the key factors in choosing to develop when and where she did.
Nicklasson said momentum builds among investors when they begin to see commitments.
“Smaller businesses doing small remodels in the neighborhood or proposing things, all of that helps,” she said.
The demand for residential housing in downtown Colorado Springs is following a nationwide trend, Prud’homme said.
“People are looking to live in the urban part of the community. It’s not just the hipsters, it’s the retirees who want to give up the maintenance of the suburbs,” she said. “As our residential base grows and business base grows … we’ll have the opportunity for people to live, work, entertain and recreate all within the core of the city.”
Nicklasson said that people who want to live downtown are looking for a specific lifestyle, such as walking or biking everywhere or valuing a sense of community.
“It’s not whether you’re young or old or have a high or low income,” she said. “It’s a lifestyle choice.”
Due to the increase in residential development, it is also important to look at commercial development downtown, Prud’homme said, adding the partnership’s biggest challenge right now is the lack of available space for inquiring businesses.
The vacancy rate for street level walk-in businesses is at 3 percent. Restaurant spaces are in high demand, but the options are larger than businesses need and often lack the proper equipment, Prud’homme said.
According to Brandon Straub, broker associate for Front Range Commercial, there isn’t a lot of inventory downtown.
“On the primary retail strip of Tejon, vacancy is extremely low. There is some new-slated retail coming to the greater downtown, whether it be renovations or new construction. This is greatly needed to allow new concepts that are considering Colorado Springs a chance to come into our market,” Straub said.
And as residential options increase, downtown businesses will have to accommodate those who live within walking distance.
“We are definitely going to need to have the service providers to cater to those residents of downtown on a 24-hour basis. Whether that’s a grocer, restaurants, markets, laundry, spas — all of these things that are going to make downtown livable on a 24/7 basis,” said Straub. He added that in order to provide these services, there will have to be redevelopment or repurposing of existing structures.
“Those restaurants will only be open when offices and businesses are open downtown,” Nicklasson said. “If you want a vibrant community where stuff is open all the time, you need people who live there.”
But Nicklasson said additional residential options have to come first.
“A grocery store will come after we have enough people to shop at it,” she said. “They can support businesses and restaurants and shops, and then businesses are attracted to that because employees want to live there, and now we have businesses looking to be downtown because that’s where their employees want to live.”
Businesses looking to locate downtown, Straub said, will have to take into consideration how close they are to new residential units.
“Any business needs to consider the walkability to the location they’re considering,” he said, adding challenges of increased residential housing downtown could include public transportation infrastructure and making sure that downtown is a livable, walkable city.
Nicklasson hopes that one day downtown will be filled with a variety of housing options, jobs and entertainment venues.
“I see downtown as a neighborhood — its own thriving neighborhood and a place to visit,” she said. “It’s its own sustainable place that has its own feeling and own identity.”