When Jeff Finn predicts the future of downtown’s Eastside, the project design manager for Nor’wood Development Group sees a transformed Pikes Peak Avenue — the outdated St. Francis Hospital campus renovated to include hundreds of residential units, commercial boutiques and maybe a brewpub. He sees townhomes on the site of the old Gazette campus with access to a revitalized Shooks Run, and commercial development that allows access to dining, shopping and entertainment.
Perhaps most importantly, he sees this transformation beginning as soon as early 2018.
But when David Chadwell looks at the Eastside of downtown, he sees his business’s new home — a gritty warehouse space and large bay doors that, when combined with the rest of the usable campus, has created a haven for a handful of the community’s creatives.
An artist and metalworker, Chadwell owns Tao of Metal, where he subleases his space to other artists, including Bryan Derewitz of Cedar Box Design and Douglas Rouse of Rouse 66. Across the alley is Pikes Peak Makerspace’s new second location, which just hosted an open house and plans a grand opening in November. Sandwiched between is Julian Flores’ GetOutfitted, which rents and sells outdoor sports gear.
The Eastside has witnessed a growing community of artists, creatives and startups seeking an industrial feel and affordable rent. But with plans to rejuvenate much of the neighborhood around East Pikes Peak Avenue, that community’s vision has grown blurry at best.
Primped and polished
Inside what might as well be another empty warehouse on the former Gazette property’s western end lies tens of thousands of dollars in high tech equipment, and all of it is available to those who pay for a makerspace membership.
The nonprofit recently received a $15,000 grant from the Downtown Partnership to purchase new equipment, including a Squink, a desktop circuit board “factory.” Pikes Peak Makerspace co-creator Chris Vestal said the Makerspace offers opportunities for fledgling businesses that can’t be found in any other similar space in the state — maybe the country.
Operating out of the location are three for-profit companies, including Vestal’s MotoMinded, which manufactures equipment for dirt bikes; as well as startup Food Maven, which connects retailers with restaurateurs to reduce food waste; and Exact Assembly, an engineering and consultation company. The makerspace is also creating Traction Tractor, a for-profit umbrella company that will launch, market and manufacture for both makerspace-grown companies and those belonging to other creatives on campus.
Vestal said he knew Nor’wood’s long-term goals when the makerspace opened on the Eastside, adding he’s hesitant to invest anything into the business that can’t be transported if necessary.
“[Nor’wood] made it clear we’re not here much more than two years,” Vestal said. “Maybe we can grow and change that plan. I don’t know about that, but we would love to stay here.”
Vestal said he would like to grow the makerspace so it is large enough to occupy a portion of the campus’ most spacious building, and open that space to other startups and creatives.
Exact Assembly owner Ted Vaida said, while the makerspace has its following, it’s not the sort of amenity developers build around.
“If there were restaurants, though, people using the makerspace would probably go to those restaurants,” Vaida said. “This could be an integral part of the neighborhood.”
Chadwell had been leasing a Nor’wood property off Sierra Madre Street, but was offered a deal at his current location because he needed to make way for another development, the planned U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame.
“I was immediately attracted to this spot, realizing there could be a cooperative group of makers and artists, and knowing the potential at the [St. Francis Hospital campus] across the street,” Chadwell said. “Here, the Gazette building could house 30 small businesses. It has a huge warehouse and loading dock and office space.
“All those things are super-awesome to someone like me.”
With some tweaks and cleanup, Chadwell said, the campus could essentially be used as is.
“I like the grit,” he said. “I don’t think everything needs to be [primped] and polished, and then you can’t afford the damn rent.”
Filling the campus wouldn’t be a problem, he added.
“I’ve had person after person after person ask me if there is space available here,” he said. “I could have filled the big Gazette building by now.”
Since moving from his previous location, Chadwell said he is running out of options.
“This space, for what it can house and accommodate, and being this close to downtown, is our last resort,” he said. “Where else is there?”
Vestal already is looking for an alternate location if the makerspace has to move in the next few years, but the expansion to this second location was costly and time-consuming, he said.
“And we did it on a shoestring to get in here,” he added. “This was 90 percent move-in-ready. But finding a shell like this with all this power is rare.”
Losing the growing community on the campus, though, is what really concerns Vestal.
“I’ve looked on the south end of town, but there’s no collaboration there,” he said. “We’d be on an island by ourselves.”
Make a case
Nor’wood owns about 17 acres between the St. Francis Hospital and Gazette campuses, as well as some smaller lots, according to Finn. The properties combined include nearly a half-million square feet of built space.
Nor’wood’s first-phase goal, Finn said, is to convert several St. Francis buildings into apartments. The two newer buildings, circa the 1960s and ’70s, will be the first renovated, while structural studies are underway on the oldest building, built in the 1920s. Finn said the boiler building could be converted into a brewery.
A contractor has not been announced, but OZ Architecture in Colorado Springs is already in the design phase.
The St. Francis project will take place over multiple phases, Finn said, adding that rehabbing existing buildings will be Nor’wood’s first priority. Following the creation of residential units, Nor’wood will likely construct mixed-use developments, to include ground-level commercial, Finn said.
“We’re not focused on those until we get beyond Phase I,” he said, adding, collectively, there will be about 710 residential units master-planned and designed.
“We see this property as a legacy property for the city,” he said. “One reason we purchased it was … because it needed to be something that had life and was an asset to the city, instead of an empty building.”
Regarding the Gazette property, Finn said any development will be more than two years out.
“We like to call the Gazette building the city’s most introverted building,” Finn said. “There aren’t many windows or doors. … But there are some cool spaces inside.” He said the areas surrounding the old press would likely be demolished and rebuilt, while the space where the press operated would be repurposed.
The concept, he said, would likely include a medium-sized anchor, like a grocery, with smaller adjacent retail spaces.
“The really important thing for that site is to anchor to Shooks Run and tie into it really well,” Finn said of creekside trail development. “Nor’wood has been paying attention and are supporters of the Legacy Loop Trail and its completion. This is where the loop disintegrates. The north is pretty established, but down south it falls apart. We want to tie into that trail system and put an anchor on the loop. That’s important for development, residents and users of the trail.”
While there may be some residential at the Gazette campus, “the primary purpose is not living,” Finn said.
As for a creative community, Finn said Nor’wood has, in many ways, allowed the community to define the Gazette campus, but at some point financial interests take precedence over fun projects.
“Our goal is not to drive anybody out who creates value,” Finn said. “We’ve let the community there take over and make it theirs. That’s really different from how [developers] normally do things, and it’s been a lot of fun. And we don’t want to lose the flavor and authenticity and grit. We want to move it forward.
“If [Vestal] can make a business case to keep the Gazette campus like it is,” Finn said, ”we’re open.”