(Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series on the reconstruction of the South Nevada Avenue corridor.)
Along with Sam and Kathy Guadagnoli and Danny Mientka, local businessman Walt Harder has invested millions of dollars to restore the blighted area that serves as one of the main arteries to The Broadmoor hotel and downtown Colorado Springs.
With an approved urban renewal plan, the developers created their own goals and teams for the 96-acre project on South Nevada Avenue.
Harder’s company owns the smallest parcel — 3.6 acres south of Navajo Street and north of Ramona Avenue — but he’s planning new quick-serve restaurants and a Natural Grocers to occupy the retail buildings that his company hopes to build by next January.
“I plan to turn a lot of nothing into something,” he said. “This is a beautiful part of town, so why shouldn’t the strip be attractive too?
“Unless an unforeseen disaster strikes the economy, you’re going to see 30 to 45 new jobs created and the neighborhood in much better shape over the next five to 10 years.”
Out with the old
Harder said when he returned to his hometown of Colorado Springs two years ago from Salida [where some of his business interests remain] he was surprised to see that the South Nevada Avenue area still was just as decrepit as he remembers it from the ’70s and ’80s.
“Growing up here, it was always a laughingstock part of town and known for prostitution, drugs and crime,” Harder said. “Being a gateway to main attractions, it should be cleaner, safer and nicer.”
“I plan to turn a lot of nothing into something. This is a beautiful part of town so why shouldn’t the strip be attractive too?”
– Walt Harder
Harder’s company, Harder-Diesslin Development Group LLC, has developed sites for O’Reilly Auto, Sherwin-Williams and FedEx Ground Transit.
Harder said he plans to tear down old businesses, including the rundown Cheyenne and Chief motels, to make way for two retail spaces — 15,000- and 9,800-square feet each — that will house a Natural Grocers and other businesses along the west side of South Nevada.
Tenants in the Chief Motel have been notified of his plans and Gray’s Tire & Auto will relocate, according to Harder.
“We’d like to talk to a liquor store about relocating in the strip center,” he said. “We’re looking for some high-sales-type businesses to generate some tax revenue.”
While Guadagnoli plans to introduce high-end dining, such as a steak and seafood restaurant at 1605 S. Tejon St., Harder said he hopes to expand casual dining options in the area by adding two local and two chain restaurants.
“We tried to incorporate local as best as we could because this project is a keeper,” he said. “We’re not just building to flip it; we’re going to own the property and keep it.”
Plans moving forward
Harder began working on the project last spring and has already invested $2 million in the $12-15 million plan. He said he hopes to start construction in June and have businesses up and running early next year.
Just before the new year, the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority and City Council approved the project’s urban renewal plan, allowing coverage on city infrastructure upgrades through tax increment financing.
“Now we’re going through our own separate development plans,” Harder said. “All the developers know roughly what each is doing because it was a part of the approval process for the TIF.”
Getting the different parcels under contract for planning and development purposes is like herding cats, Harder said.
“The most challenging part is that even though most everyone is willing to sell, it’s the question of price,” he said.
“That’s why the TIF exists. It’s not to enhance the income of the developer, rather to pay the premium to the sellers. If there was no TIF, this area would remain just as ugly as it is for the rest of time.”
Bill Kenline, owner and manager of the Rodeway Inn located on South Nevada, across the street from Harder’s property, said he thinks the redevelopment is a step in the right direction.
The hotel was built in 1957 as the Western Hills Inn. In 2003, Kenline purchased it as an Econo Lodge and changed it to a Rodeway Inn.
He’s signed an agreement with Danny Mientka to buy the property, and said he’s not sure if his business will remain open past August.
“If we stay here, it’ll be the fourth time new plans have fallen through,” Kenline said, admitting that he isn’t taking anything for granted at this point, despite the positive indications.
“Since there is still some unknown, we’re continuing to renew our Yellow Pages ads, take reservations for the summer and train new staff.”
Lots of obstacles
But if the deal goes through, Kenline said he’s setting aside severance packages for his motel employees when the business closes its doors.
“Having a business on South Nevada has presented unique challenges — very different from any other hotel I’ve operated,” he said.
“We have an interesting dichotomy to deal with.”
After years of paying for flood insurance, dealing with barefoot stragglers under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and locals checking into the motel for odd reasons — Kenline said it’s time for change.
“It’s made things stressful and I’ve had to provide protection for out-of-town customers,” he said.
David Alejandre, assistant manager at the Dollar Tree store next to Harder’s property, agreed that redevelopment can only help the area.
“I think the new look will attract more businesses,” he said.
“It’s worth the city investing in, and [it] will be better all around for businesses and the community.”