What could eastern Manitou Springs look like if it were redeveloped, perhaps even continuing into the unincorporated area known as No Man’s Land?
That’s what Manitou city leaders are asking residents, with early plans to be shared at an open house Thursday, Feb. 20, at Manitou’s City Hall.
The idea behind the gathering is to solicit community input and put together a city plan that will give developers confidence. The plan is to convince developers they could speed their plans through to reality with little resistance — and even receive some financial assistance from the Manitou Urban Renewal Authority.
Manitou’s URA is prepared to offer tax increment financing for the district between the Manitou Springs arch at the entrance to the city on West Colorado/Manitou avenue, continuing west about a half-mile to the U.S. Highway 24 interchange.
“The hope is that through this process, we’ll be able to attract the attention of some developers,” said Anne Nichols, board chair of the Manitou URA. “Given the market environment, we think right now is the time.”
There are several reasons the timing is right, Nichols said.
For one, the economy is improving and developers are starting to think about getting back to work again. But the even bigger motivation could be $12 million in funding promised for a road project scheduled to start in the late summer of 2015.
The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA) is providing $8.6 million in funding for a major project that will transform West Colorado and Manitou avenues from a scraggly four-lane road with few and crowded sidewalks into a pedestrian- and bike-friendly, three-lane road. The improvements would include buried power lines, wide sidewalks and a central turn lane running from 31st Street to Crystal Park Road, several blocks beyond where Manitou Avenue runs under U.S. 24.
“The hope is that the road and infrastructure improvements will be a catalyst for economic development along that corridor,” said Steve Murray, an engineer with Fellsburg Holt & Ullevig, who led the road study and community input sessions that resulted in the three-lane road recommendation.
“If we’re going to be in the tourism business — and we most certainly are in the tourism business — we have to put ourselves in a position to compete,” said Marcy Morrison, former Manitou Springs mayor and current URA board member.
When Manitou Springs first emerged as a tourist destination, it didn’t have to compete with ski towns like Breckenridge or other mountain villages, Morrison said.
But the time for complacency has passed, and Manitou needs to make sure it’s inviting to visitors.
“The entry to Manitou should get people excited, and I just don’t feel like what’s there now does that,” Morrison said. She would love to see the entire corridor west of 31st Street redevelop because so many people travel from historic Old Colorado City along Colorado and Manitou avenues to enter Manitou Springs.
“Of course, we can only tackle our little portion here in Manitou,” she said.
There is no URA for what has long been known as No Man’s Land, Murray said. For the most part, the land on the south side of Colorado Avenue is in El Paso County while the north side is in Colorado Springs. And until the road project starts in 2015, the road belongs to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Jurisdictional issues have made that part of Colorado Avenue difficult to develop, said Michael Crepeau, who bought the Hotel San Ayre, at 3320 W. Colorado Ave., in 2006. He worked in economic development and urban planning in Florida before poking around in Colorado for new opportunities. He decided on west Colorado Springs because it’s an area with a lot of opportunity.
“Traveling all over the country for economic development work, I’d never seen an area like this before,” Crepeau said.
The blighted stretch of land is perfectly sandwiched between two historic districts — Old Colorado City and Manitou — and two natural attractions, Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Canyon.
“And it had sat here forgotten for 85 years,” he said. “I just felt like there was no way the city would continue to let it sit like that.”
The area is a gateway, Crepeau said. More than 2 million people visit the Garden of the Gods each year.
“More than 90 percent of the attractions tourists want to see are here — west of I-25,” he said.
If the city practices “common sense economic development,” he added, it will not leave No Man’s Land alone.
Crepeau, president of the new Avenue Merchants Association, said he and others are trying to rebrand No Man’s Land as The Avenue.
The road project will make a difference, he said.
“I don’t even know if you would have to create a TIF to spur development,” Crepeau said. “You’re in the bull’s-eye here. I like to call it the hole in the doughnut.”
The only obstacle after the roadwork and a public endorsement of development would be jurisdictional issues. And the best way to solve those is to annex the south side of Colorado Avenue, Crepeau said.
Ryan Tefertiller, a Colorado Springs city planner, said there have been discussions about annexing the section, but they are still in the very early stages.
Why now and why it might work
Morrison planned to tackle eastern Manitou after its downtown was revitalized, starting during her tenure as mayor. But that project took longer than expected and eastern Manitou sat on the back burner. It stayed there after the economy collapsed in 2008.
Manitou’s City Council decided to reinvigorate the conversation in 2012, hiring N.E.S. to do a professional study on the area and provide ideas about how eastern Manitou could be redeveloped, Nichols said.
There’s a lot of opportunity now, said John Maynard, principal at N.E.S., adding, “About 30 to 40 percent of the properties in that corridor are for sale.”
Several commercial parcels are on the market and an enterprising developer might be able to buy and combine parcels to create space for a bigger project.
Popular Adam’s Mountain Café, which has been in the heart of downtown, has purchased the Manitou Steak & Pancake House at 26 Manitou Ave., near the Beckers Lane intersection. The restaurant’s owners have begun renovations and plan to move into the new location in April.
The road project is strikingly similar to the configuration Manitou Springs created in its downtown historic district, hoping to spur economic development. Buried power lines made it more aesthetically pleasing and the three lanes of traffic slowed drivers and focused attention on the businesses that lined the streets. Wider sidewalks made the corridor a good place for businesses that wanted to attract pedestrian traffic.
“I think once the first building comes out of the ground, it will be an example to others,” Morrison said of the Urban Renewal Authority’s next phase.
She’d like to see eastern Manitou redeveloped as a thriving place with housing for young people, retail, commercial and lodging businesses.
“I’ve been living with this idea now for 15 years,” Morrison said. “If there is a time to do anything, I really think it’s now.”