ralph-routon-HeadshotIf you read the Business Journal last week, you saw detailed reporting from Cameron Moix on the latest strong signal that positive changes are in the air for downtown Colorado Springs.

The story covered local entrepreneur Kevin O’Neil’s latest aggressive venture — buying the Homburg Center complex of buildings, also known as the restored Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad depot on the east boundary of downtown, at the intersection that I’ve always playfully referred to as “the corner of Pikes Peak and Pikes Peak.”

With the three large office buildings, 6.5 acres and plenty of parking, O’Neil and his partners in the O’Neil Group Company are creating what they call the Catalyst Campus, which O’Neil calls the centerpiece for “a decades-long plan that is intended to shape the direction of the city for a very long time to come.”

Please feel free to go back and read that sentence again, especially the quote at the end. Slowly, word by word.

It’s arguably the best news tied to the future of Colorado Springs in a decade or more. O’Neil plans to utilize that campus as a “group home” for various companies that he’s in the process of identifying and purchasing around the country, with the specific intention of assembling all of them with their headquarters here.

How big is that news? One prominent member of the local business community, a neutral observer who has no direct tie to O’Neil, described it this way in a recent conversation:

- Advertisement -

“This will probably be a lot bigger, and will have much more of a lasting impact, than City for Champions.”

We’re talking about an array of coming acquisitions from the aerospace industry and defense contractors, all bringing top-level people here in good-paying jobs, all the way up to executives.

As a result, that title, Catalyst Campus, could have a double meaning. It very well could turn into the single catalyst for the hoped-for downtown renaissance that so many have been dreaming of and craving for years.

[pullquote]The difference would be dramatic: not just a few dozen more residential units, but potentially hundreds more[/pullquote]Those acquisitions and relocating companies will mean a new influx of people and families moving to Colorado Springs. And many of them, especially those in the Millennial generation, will hope to find residential possibilities convenient to their work, downtown and other amenities.

This influx won’t happen overnight, but as anyone who knows Kevin O’Neil would agree, it won’t take long.

And perhaps that could provide the impetus for something else in downtown’s future. We’ve obviously been observing as a handful of small residential projects have taken shape (with more in the works) in and around the central business district.

But none of that would match what might happen now.

We’re talking about The Whopper — either a single high-rise downtown building or a cluster of smaller structures. Or both.

The difference, though, would be dramatic: not just a few dozen more residential units, but potentially hundreds more.

The last major multi-use downtown concept(s) fell victim to the economic downturn and recession that struck in 2008. Until then, plans had been progressing for two neighboring projects, both in the area just north of Pikes Peak and east of Nevada avenues.

Cooper Tower was proposed as a 24-story edifice at Nevada and Kiowa, as the Business Journal reported in 2006, with “two floors of retail, a spa and common meeting areas, seven floors of hotel rooms, four floors of office condominiums and 12 floors of residential condominiums, including two penthouse levels.” The upscale hotel portion was expected to wear the Westin, Marriott or Embassy Suites brand.

About the same time, Nor’wood Development Group was making big plans for its own Pikes Peak Place, multiple buildings with considerable office, retail and residential space at Pikes Peak and Nevada.

Somehow, in the midst of all that, attorney/developer Perry Sanders pulled off a huge accomplishment across the same intersection, turning the old Mining Exchange into a thriving first-class hotel that is well-positioned to benefit more as the Catalyst Campus evolves.

But despite several ambitious rumors in recent years, no other “Whopper” with a residential focus has moved off the drawing boards. We’ve heard, more than once, that when residential development progresses far enough, we’ll see fresh commercial and retail — such as a supermarket as well as a Whole Foods-type alternative, restaurants and bars, retail stores and more.

All of that had been stuck in limbo for downtown since Pikes Peak Place and the Cooper Tower went off the tracks.

Now, thanks to the Catalyst Campus, there’s ample reason to expect more banner headlines in 2015. That’s because, for downtown Colorado Springs, anything seems possible again.

That’s right, anything.