On Sept. 4, 2014, Kathy Loo and Darsey Nicklasson hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for Blue Dot Place, a planned 33-unit apartment building at 418 S. Nevada. Friday afternoon at 3:30 they hosted another party — an open house for the newly completed building.
Getting there hasn’t been easy.
While scores, even hundreds, of apartment complexes have been erected in Colorado Springs during the last 60 years, none have been built in the city’s core. The last apartment complexes constructed in the downtown core date from 1956 and 1960. The 51- unit structure that still stands at120 W. Platte was erected in1956,a few years before a similar building went up on Boulder Crescent.
A couple of Tejon Street buildings have been converted to residential lofts, and Dan Robertson erected a small retail/professional/residential condo building a decade ago, but that’s it.
For a variety of reasons, residential development downtown slowed, stopped and disappeared. The city and its sprawling suburbs moved forward. Building codes, city ordinances and consumer preferences combined to create formidable obstacles to new development, as Loo and Nicklasson discovered as they moved forward with the project.
Take park fee ordinances, created decades ago when City Council wanted to insure that suburban developers would help fund neighborhood parks. Such fees don’t make sense for downtown development, since the neighborhood parks already exist.
The two partners asked Council to waive the fees and streamline other processes, to no avail. Instead, Council directed staff to study the whole issue of infill development, and report back at some unspecified time.
Rather than wait a couple of years for sluggish elected officials to change their minds, Loo and Nicklasson forged ahead anyway.
The Blue Dot might surprise, if you think of apartment buildings as dreary, noisy rabbit warrens or sprawling suburban complexes surrounded by parking lots. The ground floor is an enclosed parking garage, with 33 dedicated spaces. The three floors above feature coolly elegant one and two bedroom units, all with balconies, washer/dryers and upscale appliances. Walls and floors are heavily insulated, minimizing external noise. With balcony doors closed, the urban hum disappears.
“We’re dog- and cat-friendly,” Nicklasson said, “so I tell potential tenants that they’re sure to encounter dogs in the halls. We have a fenced dog run in back of the building as well.”
Once a forlorn urban wilderness, the Blue Dot block is in the midst of revival. In an adjacent building that once housed the Rainbow Bread bakery, a new coffee shop is scheduled to open within a few weeks. On the corner, Iron Bird Brewery will soon serve wood-fired pizza along with craft beers.
Rents reflect the building’s quality, ranging from $1,350 to $1,850. That’s on the high end of local rentals, approximately equal to rents in new five-star suburban complexes. As downtown pioneers, Loo and Nicklasson are betting on a market that may or may not materialize.
If the building fills quickly at these price points, that will encourage developers such as Chris Jenkins and Buck Blessing to move forward with even more ambitious plans. If not, development may stall for a while — hopefully not for 60 years!