From prostitutes to light poles in the middle of a sidewalk, not to mention stormwater damage from recent rainstorms, parts of Colorado Avenue are more than just an eyesore. But a $12 million boost from area taxpayers and another $3 million from the state stands to change all that.
Some people refer to the stretch of concrete and asphalt from 31st Street to Manitou Springs as “No Man’s Land” because of the hodgepodge of government jurisdictions there. All the property is in El Paso County, but some is within city limits of Manitou and some is inside Colorado Springs. There’s also Colorado Department of Transportation oversight.
In the area, McDonald’s is in Colorado Springs, but next door, Taco Bell is in the county, with KFC and Safeway in the city, said Colorado Springs City Councilor Merv Bennett. Bennett serves on the Avenue Task Force, which formed in 2012 with area neighbors, businesses and law enforcement and government from all jurisdictions to find solutions to the area’s myriad problems.
He refers to the area as “The Avenue” because some area residents see “No Man’s Land” as too negative, he said.
“At some point, we hope to have all the land on Colorado Avenue annexed,” Bennett said.
“We’re trying to revitalize that strip of land south of Colorado Avenue and north of Highway 24,” said Welling Clark, ATF president. “We’re trying to make it economically attractive for a developer to come in and develop it so it blends. Right now it has a heavy industrial taste to it. It wouldn’t make a tourist feel comfortable walking down the streets. In some areas, there aren’t sidewalks.
“Ideally, we want to turn that area into a tourism friendly area.”
“Over a year, more than 1 million cars travel that area.”
– Merv Bennett
That would create a zone that looks and feels like Old Colorado City or Manitou Springs with light retail and business offices, he said.
Originally, the ATF’s goal was threefold: law enforcement, infrastructure and government ordinances, Clark said.
ATF: New law will help
The group “had a problem with [the laws for] spas, massage parlors. Some of them are … less than reputable” with prostitution and human trafficking, Clark said. Those service businesses are required to register with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, but local jurisdictions do not require business licenses.
As a result, the group drafted an ordinance that state lawmakers have agreed to carry through the Legislature, he said.
“Massage parlors are operating in neighborhood areas [with] identifiable prostitution activity (one such establishment has been criminally charged with human trafficking as well as prostitution),” according to a draft of the state law. “The local community has observed some of these properties being shut down by law enforcement only to re-open shortly again … They have generally reopened again at the same building location, operated by the same people using a different business name.”
Part of the impetus to pass a new statewide law comes from the state Massage Parlor Code, which expired July 1. This code gave local governments authority to require business licenses for massage parlor operations, Clark said.
The proposed code would again require massage businesses to obtain a license, if the local government requires it. The proposal would also give local governments the authority to pass their own massage therapy ordinances.
There is no Urban Renewal Authority designation now for the area outside Manitou Springs city limits. To be an urban renewal zone, the property must be inside city limits. To qualify, the land is required to connect to central sewer, Bennett said. And many of the properties on The Avenue do not qualify, because they’re connected to septic systems. Also, the area must be formally designated as economically blighted.
In 2012, voters within the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority approved spending $12 million starting this year to upgrade the road and sidewalks, bury electric lines and fix stormwater problems on Colorado Avenue between 31st Street and U.S. Highway 24.
“We feel that to address these issues will have a huge benefit to our economic vitality over there,” Bennett said. “I’ve been told that over a year, more than 1 million cars travel that area.”
The project is being designed now; construction is scheduled for 2016, he said.