Call it natural progression. When a city grows in one direction and newer housing takes root, businesses soon follow. Older neighborhoods often see the departure of businesses that seek greener pastures and higher-income residential areas.
It’s a city’s version of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory often referred to as survival of the fittest. It’s also part of the story of Academy Boulevard in Colorado Springs.
The older sections, central and South Academy, are struggling to bring in new businesses while surrounded by residential areas that are largely populated by lower income groups.
But the northern end of the boulevard has newer housing, higher incomes and a thriving retail market.
“We know retail follows rooftops,” said Bob Cope, economic development director for the city of Colorado Springs. “North Academy is surrounded by newer, more modern housing stock and stronger demographics. It’s not completely that simple, but those things play a big part.”
Manny San Fernando, senior broker with Kratt Commercial Properties, divides the Academy corridor into four sections.
“Academy north of Woodmen [Road] is the gold area,” San Fernando said.
In that area, commercial space doesn’t stay empty long. If one tenant leaves, another moves in quickly.
“South of Woodmen is kind of no man’s land until you get to Union [Boulevard] and that area has done well,” San Fernando said. “The Citadel area has been challenged and then it’s kind of quiet until you get down south to Hancock Expressway. The Hancock Trace (shopping center) is about 96 percent leased with a substantial part of that being national tenants such as Starbucks and King Soopers.”
Peter Wysocki, director of planning and development for Colorado Springs, said the city still makes use of its 2014 South Academy Economic Opportunity Zone Action Plan, which cited Hancock Expressway as one of four potential “catalyst areas” deserving of the city’s attention. The others were Rustic Hills, The Citadel and Fountain Boulevard.
Wysocki even fancies the idea of multi-family housing being built in The Citadel mall parking lot.
“We’d potentially have to change zoning, but that concept of having residential next to shopping is more common now,” Wysocki said. “There are all kinds of mixed-use opportunities out there.”
The city has a performance-based incentive package available, where businesses potentially can get some sales and use tax returned, Cope said. The city uses it on a case-to-case basis.
No incentives were offered for the new construction at Maizeland and Academy, he said, where a Carl’s Jr. and Kum & Go will open soon.
South Academy is seeing some growth and new development, Cope said.
“A major success story is Lowe’s purchasing that site at Citadel Crossing,” he said. “When the recession hit, they were going to sell. We had an economic development agreement and a very modest sales tax sharing agreement and incentivized them to build and open the store.”
The city worked with Walmart to open a Neighborhood Market on South Academy and did the same with Gold’s Gym, which took over a building vacated in the Rustic Hills area.
“City and community intervention can make a difference,” Cope said. “It’s not hopeless.”
NO URBAN RENEWAL PLANNED
Despite the blight, Urban Renewal Authority Executive Director Jariah Walker said there aren’t plans to create an urban-renewal area for any part of the Academy corridor. It’s just not that easy, he said.
Still, he said, it could happen as part of larger redevelopment plans.
“The board made the decision to allow me to seek out areas for urban renewal on the southeast side,” Walker said. “The Mayor [John Suthers] made the comment at our PlanCOS event [July 20 at the Southeast YMCA] that he’d like to see some urban renewal.
“I’m trying to seek out investors and developers to see if there’s a fit where urban renewal could be leveraged. A lot of the market on Academy has left, gone either north or east, so there is a ton of opportunity down there. I’ve had discussions but nothing concrete. This stuff takes a long time.”
If an urban renewal area is created, the city gives credit back to the developer if additional growth occurs in that area, up to 2 percent of the increased sales tax, Walker said.
“Urban renewal is a great vehicle,” San Fernando said. “But you’ve got to have momentum with regards to sales tax-producing entities and we don’t have the businesses in any of those areas to do that, in my opinion.”
There are currently 10 urban renewal areas in the Springs, Walker said,
“It’s always a big deal,” he said. “You don’t want to create one just to create one. All hands have to be on deck to make sure the project is done. It’s serious business.”