By some measures, the Downtown Partnership’s progress report last week to the local business community might have come across as lacking in immediate news value.
Granted, there were no blockbuster headlines created by the periodic event known as the “Downtown Lowdown,” happening this time at Centennial Hall and taking full advantage of El Paso County’s facilities where the Board of County Commissioners also meets.
Nobody unveiled anything like a groundbreaking date for the U.S. Olympic Museum (coming soon), new major donors to enhance the City for Champions effort (promising but not ready to announce) or fresh plans for more residential development in the downtown area (definitely in the works).
The leaders of Downtown Partnership didn’t have to do that. All they had to do was provide a look back across the year of 2014, recapping major progress and forward momentum, then setting the table for what lies ahead.
Nobody had to exaggerate. They simply, and very effectively, reminded downtown’s stakeholders of how much legitimate, substantive effort has taken place during the past year.
Want some examples? No problem.
• Big stuff: About 30 new businesses have opened in or relocated to downtown — from Bingo Burger and Odyssey Gastropub to the Machine Shop, Gold Room, Mezzanine, KKTV-Channel 11 and Coquette’s Bistro and Bakery. That doesn’t count another dozen or so who expanded or moved within downtown, such as ANB Bank, Epicentral Coworking, NorthStar Bank and Tony’s Bar. We’re not talking about just a busy year, either, with Downtown Partnership CEO Susan Edmondson saying many more are in the works for both categories.
• Little stuff: This would include details that make a difference, from keeping downtown free of trash and litter seven days a week to planting and tending flowers, putting ice melt on sidewalks and more lighting in trees for nighttime ambience. There’s even a new program for sprucing up traffic-signal cabinets at many street corners, covering them in vinyl wraps with historic photos or artwork. Also, the city will be adding at least 900 more credit-card parking meters, making that process much easier.
• Essential stuff: This area would cover helping developers push along more multi-unit residential projects, large and small. But it’s also about improving signage for downtown visitors, providing useful maps and social-media help for tourists, and partnering with the Convention and Visitors Bureau on the welcome center at Acacia Park. There’s also the constant priority of First Fridays (involving galleries as well as other merchants), achieving the Creative District status and maintaining the Art on the Streets program.
• Special stuff: We’re talking about annual events that bring large crowds downtown, plus efforts such as Pop Up Shops and ice skating in Acacia Park, improving some downtown alleyways and providing support for events such as Go Code Colorado, Craft Week, Pints and Plates, and distributing holiday gift cards and coupon books.
You hear it all, compressed into 30 nonstop minutes, and you understand how much has been going on around us.
But as Edmondson described, the Downtown Partnership also is focused on the next few years, in particular building up to 2018. That’s when the Olympic Museum is scheduled to open, “and the eyes of the national media will be on us, so we have to be ready.”
That means other projects helping take Colorado Springs to a higher level, such as the Interstate 25 interchange at Cimarron Street/U.S. 24, which will accelerate development around the Olympic Museum. For the Downtown Partnership, that also includes smaller-scale ideas such as its goal to add five more prominent pieces of public art to downtown’s permanent collection.
Yet another aspect will be trail enhancements around central Colorado Springs, making more access for walkers, hikers and bikes. And amid all that, Pikes Peak Community College’s large-scale expansion plans for its downtown campus will come clearer in the next few months, potentially adding many hundreds more students into the mix.
Then there’s the aggressive evolution of the new “Eastern Gateway” to downtown, including the O’Neil Group Company’s Catalyst Campus and the Public Market plus emerging plans involving Nor’wood Development Group for the former Gazette-St. Francis Hospital area. And with all that, more residential concepts would follow, accompanied by commercial plans to take advantage of downtown’s growth.
The presentation was done in less than an hour, but it left many in the crowd of about 125 with their heads spinning.
“I had no idea so much was going on,” one downtown business owner said, walking out of the auditorium. “We’ve got a lot to look forward to.”
That might have been the understatement of the year.