Urban renewal! It’s what we all want, isn’t it? Imagine new structures replacing blighted areas of southwest downtown, a gleaming new city arising from the abandoned buildings, potholed streets, cracked sidewalks and decaying warehouses of downtown’s forgotten zone.

Aren’t you glad that the city, the state, the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority and downtown property owners are working together to make this happen?

In August 2001, the CSURA created the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area, including approximately 100 acres bounded by Colorado Avenue, Cascade Avenue and Cimarron Street, extending west to the railroad tracks.

The plan was ambitious, even grandiose. As presented, it would:

• Promote the downtown’s 24-hour, 7-day, live/work/play environment;

• Eliminate blight and prevent environmental deficiencies;

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• Improve the relationship between this area and downtown core;

• Improve property values;

• Make an attractive entry to downtown;

• Provide a mix of land uses supportive of and complimentary to planned improvements in the Urban Renewal Area, as well as the existing downtown core;

• Provide densities and intensities of land uses appropriate to an urban neighborhood;

• Create urban housing opportunities currently lacking in the market;

• Provide ease of vehicular and pedestrian circulation;

• Provide well-designed parking sufficient to meet the needs generated by the projects;

• Provide improvements linking America the Beautiful Park to the downtown core;

• Encourage the continued presence of businesses … consistent with a traditional urban neighborhood; and

• Encourage development of affordable housing equivalent to at least 10 percent of all housing units in the URA.

Sounds wonderful, but that’s not what happened. Thirteen years later, the area is still an urban wasteland.

To examine a 2002 plan for what was called “Palmer Village” is to take a walk down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Developers planned an 18-story hotel, a 19-story hotel, a convention center, six 10-story office buildings, dozens of multistory residential buildings, a big-box grocery store and — how did you guess? — a new Sky Sox Stadium.

In 2004, CSURA designated the auditorium block as an urban renewal area, and followed up in 2007 by creating CityGate on 16 acres adjacent to the southwest downtown URA. Other than tearing down a few buildings, nothing has happened in any of the three designated URAs.

After so much futility, maybe we should stop dreaming about Shanghai in the Rockies. Developing southwest downtown may require direct and indirect public subsidies and massive private investment — and that’s not an easy combination to put together. Building the U.S. Olympic Museum is one thing — but creating a city is something else entirely.


Building the U.S. Olympic Museum is one thing — but creating a city is something else entirely.

[/pullquote]Cities aren’t developments. Rather, they’re inherently chaotic arenas where many small players make investment decisions. There’s room for failure, for innovation, for dreams and for fun.

Meanwhile, as downtown urban renewal areas languish, individual entrepreneurs are busy revitalizing the northern and southern fringes of downtown.

North of Platte Avenue, Eel Anderson has moved the much-beloved Tony’s across the street, doubling in size and business. The reborn Tony’s joins other newcomers on North Tejon, including the Wild Goose Meeting House, Coquette Bistro and Epicentral Coworking.

South of the Pioneers Museum, another new neighborhood is being born. A once-seedy strip across the street from SouthSide Johnny’s includes the newly-opened Fieldhouse Brewing Co. at 521 S. Tejon. A couple of blocks away, a 30-unit apartment building is under construction. 

“It’s self-defining,” said Downtown Partnership chief Susan Edmondson of development in the two neighborhoods. “It’s happening organically in both areas.”

In 1988, John Hickenlooper opened the Wynkoop Brewing Company in what was then a semi-derelict Denver neighborhood of 19th century warehouses, many empty. The bar’s success helped create Denver’s now fully gentrified LoDo.

Urban neighborhoods are rooted in gathering places — in bars, coffee shops, bookstores, small retailers and coworking spaces. There are no such spaces on the seven blocks of Cascade Avenue between Pikes Peak and Moreno. It’s a pedestrian-unfriendly urban desert until you reach Shuga’s at 702 S. Cascade.

But Tejon? Now you’re talking! Wild Goose, Rico’s, Tony’s, Jose Muldoon’s, The Famous, the Guadagnoli empire, Ritz Grill, Sonterra, Downtown Perk, Nosh, MacKenzie’s, Oscar’s, Old Town Bike Shop, McCabe’s, Sparrow Hawk, Coffee Exchange, SouthSide Johnny’s … and that’s just a sampling.

All locally owned, all particular and unique, and part of a grand, disorganized motif.

A vibrant city street — not careful, not constrained, and definitely not a development! nCSBJ