My drive to work each day brings me down West Colorado Avenue, through Old Colorado City and into downtown.
Every morning I notice the Goodwill property that hopefully now will become a candidate for revitalization with mixed-use development. Look at it, imagine the possibilities and you can’t help but wish you had the money to help make it happen.
I also notice the multiple empty storefronts in the Red Rock Canyon shopping center, west of 31st Street and Colorado. One doesn’t have to be knowledgeable about urban development to see how a large chunk of that property could become new residential apartments and/or condos.
Then you drive up and down Academy Boulevard, and pick out other candidates for what’s known as infill development. Arguably the best option would be the Citadel Mall, where replacing some parking with residential units could create a major rejuvenation.
Downtown, we continue to hear of several potential sites being considered seriously for multi-unit residential projects. Not low-income housing, but alternatives that might appeal to the rising number of young professionals with a new outlook on living that doesn’t resemble that of previous generations.
We’re talking about Generation Y, also known as the Millennials. We’ve written about them in the Business Journal, how they will have a stunning impact on their world because of their different priorities. Many of them don’t care about buying a home in the suburbs, or going into debt for a snazzy car.
Yet they love to shop, they love to eat out and they’re into art and live entertainment. They also like to ride bikes whenever they can, and if they can live close to hiking or biking trails (hello, Red Rock Canyon), all the better. They have no qualms about using public transit, either.
It’s all about convenience for them. In fact, they would rather walk or ride the bus to work than have to take a car.
The unofficial boundaries of Gen Y encompass about 80 million young Americans born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Today, that roughly spans the age bracket of early teenagers to those in their early 30s.
In other words, they could dominate for decades.
“It’s not just a trend,” said Susan Edmondson, CEO and president of the Downtown Partnership. “It’s a permanent lifestyle shift. And this kind of residential lifestyle is the same thing that retiring Baby Boomers want. They want to be able to walk to restaurants and culture and shops.”
If Colorado Springs wants to have a chance at thriving in decades to come, it would be a sensible strategy to start appealing to Gen Y — as soon as possible. Other cities, and national groups such as the Urban Land Institute, already are in full gear. But planning and executing the level of re-development that could make a difference would likely take five years or more. If such a concerted effort doesn’t start taking shape soon, it’ll be the 2020s before anything becomes reality.
[pullquote]It’s not just a trend. It’s a permanent lifestyle shift.”[/pullquote]
Already, we’re seeing how higher education, in particular UCCS and Pikes Peak Community College but also including for-profit schools, is cultivating specific programs to address targeted needs — or, to be precise, shortages — in the local workforce. That’s a good start, essential to any long-range plan.
What we can’t count on, from research done on Gen Y, is for tomorrow’s upwardly mobile young adults to buy every available luxury home in Flying Horse, Broadmoor Bluffs, Kings Deer, Briargate and Peregrine, among many other areas. Many Millennials, and the number should grow steadily as years pass, would prefer a nice condo complex. They won’t need the status-symbol addresses or 5,000 square feet, even if they could afford suburban mansions.
They’d rather have a fun lifestyle, restaurants to choose from, other conveniences close by and quick access to transit. If Colorado Springs can provide that, along with our scenery and recreational opportunities, we achieve much more than keeping young people here.
“If we’re offering them that lifestyle, we will be among the cities that attract young people in large numbers,” Edmondson said. “And our downtown is particularly poised for that kind of development because of adopting form-based code a few years ago, which encourages that kind of development.”
It also includes planning residential projects to surround existing ameneties: Old Colorado City, downtown, the Citadel, Chapel Hills, First & Main Town Center and even University Village. Don’t forget places like Red Rock Canyon, either.
All these opportunities. All these areas where a quick turnaround could produce real transformations.
It’s happening in other cities, not just major-metros like Denver but Wichita and Boise, also Lexington, Ky.
And it can happen here.