The Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership released Thursday its second-annual “State of Downtown” report, which broadly outlined just how good of a year 2016 was for the city’s core.

The 19-page document — billed as “economic snapshot and performance indicators” — opens with a turn of phrase for all those who have long heralded Colorado Springs as a community hiding in plain sight: “The secret is out.”

“Downtown Colorado Springs is capturing notice nationwide as an urban area on the move,” according to the report’s introduction, “attracting new residents and commerce, guided by business and civic leadership aligned in our vision for a world-class city center.”

According to the introduction, the city’s core have experienced an unprecedented $600 million in both public and private investment since 2013, while vacancy rates have continued to fall and apartment buildings are beginning to rise.

“It is intended to be an annual report and it really is designed for us to be able to track our trends — hopefully always progress — over time and analyze that to figure out where we need to pivot next,” said Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership.

Edmondson said the document is geared toward helping people make business decisions, as well as to attract business prospects.

- Advertisement -

In creating the document, Edmondson said the Downtown Partnership focused on two trends: how downtown Colorado Springs has changed over time, and how it compares to the city as a whole.

“It’s not always about what’s good and what’s bad,” she said. “Sometimes it’s more about how we’re looking at the numbers to determine what we need. … But it was a very good year economically, so most of the information and the numbers were very positive.”

Much of this progress has occurred under the jurisdiction of the Downtown Partnership and the Downtown Development Authority, which last year adopted a new “Experience Downtown” development plan — as well as an update to its 2007 master plan (which was subsequently approved by Colorado Springs City Council) — that are designed to work together to help redevelop and beautify downtown Colorado Springs.

“[The DDA has] recommended redesign of nine primary gateways, 23 blockfaces of alleyway improvements, 42 blockfaces of improved streetscapes and 172 blockfaces of cycling facilities, conversion of Bijou and Kiowa streets from one-way to two-way, function relocation of the Downtown Transit Center, improved overall connectivity, and much more,” according to the report.

“Lured by a walkable environment, robust workforce concentration, one-of-a-kind shops, trail connectivity, state designation as a creative district, and the largest concentration of locally owned restaurants in the region, developers and investors are rediscovering the value of Colorado Springs’ city center,” according to the report.

A few highlights of commercial and residential downtown development outlined in the report were completed, such as Blue Dot Place and Catalyst Campus, and there are plans for more. According the report, 2016 saw the approval of 19 land use permits and 662 building permits valued at $188 million including projects such as 333 ECO, Fire Station No. 1, Bijou Lofts, new student housing at Colorado College and the first phase of improvements at the Springs Rescue Mission.

“As the citywide residential market heated up in 2016, so too did Downtown’s, with more than 300 units opened or under construction, and a pipeline of hundreds more units planned,” according to the report.

“We’re not just talking about something that may happen,” Edmondson said. “We’ve got cranes in the sky — we’re seeing actual activity. I think that is important, because in Colorado Springs I feel like we often talk about things and don’t always we them come to fruition.”

The report outlined the DDA’s Downtown Living Initiative grant program, which is designed to spur downtown residential growth by offering applicable projects 100-percent tax increment financing.

The document also touched on the topic of attracting and retaining businesses.

According to the report, there were 811 new business filings in downtown Colorado Springs in 2016, which marked a 40-percent rise in the number of new business filings in 2015. There are 3,225 businesses located in downtown Colorado Springs, representing a workforce of 20,000 employees, according to the report.

“From retail boutiques and restaurants to services and coworking spaces, 23 new street-level businesses opened downtown in 2016, and another 12 businesses announced they would be opening in 2017,” according to the report.

“It was a huge year for retail and restaurants last year,” said Sarah Humbargar, the Downtown Partnership’s director of business development and economic vitality. “Although there were some major closures, there were significantly fewer closures than in recent years … and we had a ton of businesses going into spaces that had been vacant for three or more years.”

According to the report, sales in the Downtown Business Improvement District improved 5.3 percent last year over 2015, reaching their highest level since 2010. As part of those sales numbers, retail sales in the downtown zone increased outpaced that growth and increased 8 percent over 2015, reaching their highest level since 2009.

As a result, total tax collections in the Business Improvement District increased by 20 percent and helped contribute more than $2.5 million in “2C Road Tax” to infrastructure improvements throughout the city.

“The tax rate went up last year and we didn’t see any indication that sales slowed down,” Humbargar said. “That’s a good thing to see.”

Edmondson said that as the economy continues to improve and the downtown commercial real estate market continues to tighten, business tenants in the city’s core could face being priced out of the neighborhood. But for now, she said that is not the reality for downtown retail shops and restaurants.

“We hated to see Old Chicago go,” Edmondson said. “But there wasn’t even a hiccup before [Oskar Blues announced their plans] for something that was maybe a little more urban … a little more modern.”

Humbargar said that although some business have chosen to leave the downtown core, it’s not as dire as it seems. A couple of the more significant moves out of downtown (Southside Johnny’s and Old Chicago) are being considered wise business decisions by owners looking to save on rent and buy their own buildings, while Coquette’s moved from its rented North Tejon Street space to ownership of a larger building on South Tejon Street.

“Here downtown, we’re pretty limited on retail space but we’re extremely limited when it comes to restaurant space,” Humbargar said.

The former Coquette’s space has already been filled with two businesses: IV by Brother Luck and Rooster’s House of Ramen.

“It’s pretty neat that we’ve got a restaurant that has been able to grow by investing in a downtown property … and that by them leaving we’re able to bring in two new chef-driven concepts and really build our culinary scene,” Humbargar said.

Among those that opened in 2016 were:

– Ladyfingers Letterpress

– Sweetest Secret Boutique

– Hooked on Books (second location)

– My Colorado Store

– Thrift Junkie

– Lawrence Dryhurst Gallery

– Cacao Chemistry

– Podiatryst Shoe Store

– Bonny and Read Fresh Seafood and Steaks

– T-Byrd’s Tacos & Tequila

– Loyal Coffee

– Bento Heaven

– Bar-K

– Red Gravy

– Welcome Fellow

– To the Nines Barber Lounge

– Cycology

– Painting with a Twist

Among those that announced plans to open in 2017 were:

– J.C. Bodycare

– Duca’s Pizza

– Toni & Guy Salon

– Carter Payne

– Oskar Blues

– IV by Brother Luck

– Redoux Boutique

– Rooster’s House of Ramen