Downtown Partnership President and CEO Susan Edmondson

On the heels of a primarily positive State of the City address delivered by Mayor John Suthers last week, the good news kept coming during the Downtown Partnership Annual Breakfast Sept. 28.

Before a crowd of about 700 people at The Antlers hotel, Downtown Partnership President and CEO Susan Edmondson provided data supporting a thriving economy within the city’s core.

“We’ve gone from zero construction cranes one year ago to three downtown,” she said to applause.

Edmondson said downtown’s latest scoring on the Creative Vitality Index, a national indicator measuring cultural activities and the breadth of creative industry employers in the area, puts downtown at six-times the national average, as well as triple that of Fort Collins and 50 percent greater than the River North arts district in Denver. She added that downtown’s commercial vacancy rate is below 2 percent, a record low.

Edmondson also pointed to the recent groundbreaking of the country’s only Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame as an indicator of positive momentum.

“We saw 23 new street-level businesses open last year and another 15 so far this year, putting our current street-level vacancy rates at an astonishing low level — just below 2 percent,” she said.

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The “pipeline of near-term new residential units has swollen to nearly 600,” Edmondson added.

U.S. News and World Report also ranked the centrally located Colorado College as the No. 1 innovative liberal arts college in the nation, Edmondson said.

She discussed ongoing work on the Legacy Loop trail system, stating it will ensure workforce and customers can safely access downtown.

The Downtown Partnership also recently upgraded its website and launched a companion website, downtowncsdevelopment.com, which is “packed with tools and resources for anyone looking to build, invest and develop in downtown.”

Edmondson also announced the spring launch of PikeCycle, the city’s first bike-sharing program, with Kaiser Permanente acting as the title sponsor.

Holly Kortum, executive director of operations for Kaiser’s Southern Colorado Service Area, shared information about PikeCycle.

Kortum said the bike-share program will “improve health outcomes, it improves air quality, it reduces carbon emissions, it supports and enhances our growing tourism and it embraces, for us, our Olympic City USA brand as a fit, active community.”

The first phase of the program will support the Legacy Loop area, Kortum said, which includes 46,000 residents, 20,000 downtown employees and about 6,000 students at Colorado College and Pikes Peak Community College’s downtown campuses, as well as the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the city each year.

‘We’re No. 1’

Other speakers at the breakfast included Kevin O’Neil, CEO of the O’Neil Group Company and Catalyst Campus, and the mayor.

O’Neil discussed work at Catalyst Campus and the creation of an Air Force accelerator, which will promote tech advancements for the warfighter and help guide the technology transfer between government and commercial sectors.

The accelerator is expected to launch in January and as many as 30 local companies will be involved in the program, O’Neil said.

Suthers relayed much of the same information he provided during his State of the City address.

He began by naming the many ranking lists on which Colorado Springs has recently found itself.

“We’re No. 1 on where homebuyers are heading next; we’re No. 2 for most desirable place to live; we’re No. 3 city as far as employment outlook; No. 4 best city to launch a career and; No. 5 best big city to live in in America,” the mayor said.

Suthers discussed the work of the Quad Innovation Partnership and its downtown location as a way to attract and retain young professionals in the city, and mentioned the importance of the development of residential units within the city.

“Young professionals want to live downtown and we’re working to provide them with that opportunity,” the mayor said.

The Olympic Museum, the mayor said, “will serve as a major economic driver for the downtown area. Tens of thousands of visitors will [come] annually. These are visitors who will eat at our restaurants, stay at our hotels and shop at our retail locations.”

Suthers said Colorado Springs Airport is experiencing great success.

“Enplanements were up 11 percent last year; they’re up another 30 percent this year,” he said. “When it comes to commercial airlines, it’s use it or lose it. You have got to support these initial flights coming to Colorado Springs. Please, you and your businesses — look before you book.”

He also discussed the need for a stormwater fee and plugged Issue 2A, which will appear on the ballot this November.

If the ballot issue is passed, it would allow for the collection of stormwater service fees beginning July 1, 2018 and ending July 1, 2038, to fund the construction, improvement, operation and maintenance of public stormwater facilities and the system.

Residential property owners would be asked to pay $5 per dwelling unit per month and non-residential property owners would pay $30 per acre per month.

Some of the money now being taken from the general fund to pay for stormwater-related projects would go toward increasing fire and police department staffing.

Also at the breakfast, the 2017 Downtown Star Awards were presented:

Individual: “Nearly two decades ago Dan Robertson saw the beauty in older buildings such as the Daniels building and the Giddings building and began converting the upper floors to residential units. It was a gamble to create the first lofts Downtown,” a news release issued by the Downtown Partnership said. “Exposing the brick walls and retaining the wood floors and wooden beams lent character and beauty to each unit and planted a seed in our urban environment for loft living. From the Daniels Lofts to the Giddings Lofts, the Carriage House Lofts and — newly opened this year — the Bijou Lofts, Robertson continues to lead the charge on mixed-use development right in the heart of Downtown.”

Civil Servant: “County assessor Steve Schleiker may not have the most exhilarating of roles, but his is a vital part of a well-functioning community,” the partnership news release stated. “Schleiker and his team work to take the emotion out of numbers, focus on proactively educating citizens — clearing the fog from often complicated state laws and processes — and respond quickly with a positive, helpful approach. Schleiker and his team also were recognized for the newly revamped county assessor website that makes public data user-friendly, business-friendly and resident-friendly, providing valuable information for investors looking to do business throughout the county.”

Business or Organization: “Morgan Calderini and Arley-Rose Torsone, founders of Ladyfingers Letterpress, were recognized for their business, which ‘goes beyond simply selling a product or making a product to fully embracing and enhancing their place in the community,'” the news release said. “Their award-winning stationery is sold across the country and beyond, but more than that, they have created a gallery space in their store, host workshops and classes and serve as a community gathering place. This year, they rallied neighboring businesses to improve the business facades – applying for a Downtown Development Authority grant and project managing the entire process – to paint, update and create new signage for three businesses on their block. In addition, they hosted a prize-giveaway trip TO Colorado Springs, offering the all-expense paid trip as a contest to their distributors, ‘because we want them to know how great our community is, too.'”