For one local developer, investing in downtown is not just about making a profit.
“I wanted to be part of helping to revitalize downtown and make it truly into a sustainable neighborhood, so I decided that I needed to build apartments,” said Darsey Nicklasson of DHN Planning and Development.
Attracting more developers like Nicklasson, who co-developed the Blue Dot Place apartments on South Nevada Avenue, is the purpose of the Downtown Development Authority’s third annual State of Downtown report, released this week.
Whether it’s a new business moving in, an owner growing an existing operation or interested real estate investors and developers, the State of Downtown report is meant to provide data to help support those projects, said Sarah Humbargar, vice president of development services at the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs.
Partnership staff is responsible for executing the work of the Downtown Development Authority as a contracted affiliate.
“If someone is looking to invest in our market, we’ve pulled all that data together into one location where they can get everything they need,” she said.
The annual report is released at the end of first quarter and includes data that encompass the previous year, Humbargar said.
One area highlighted in this year’s report is all the building downtown.
“Last year was certainly a big year of construction,” Humbargar said. “Not only did we have lots of our streets under construction, which is definitely evident to the general public, we certainly had a lot of buildings coming out of the ground.”
It’s the first time in several years three cranes have filled downtown Colorado Springs’ skyline, Humbargar said.
“That’s very exciting,” she said.
New projects in 2017 included the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, the 165-room Hilton Garden Inn as well as ECO Apartments going vertical with the construction of 171 new residential units, according to the report.
“So certainly 2017 was a pardon-our-dust type of year,” Humbargar said.
Nicklasson also announced her plans for a new multi-use building project last year called the Casa Mundi Lofts, which broke ground Monday at 418 S. Tejon St.
The new project is slated to include two or three restaurant/retail spaces for lease on the first floor along with 27 apartments.
“I developed Blue Dot Place apartments on Nevada Avenue, and that has been successful for us, so we’re going to take on another one,” Nicklasson said.
Beyond construction, downtown also saw a significant increase in visitors, Humbargar said.
“We had a lot more visitors coming to our downtown partnership-type activities like [First Friday Art Walks] and our cultural walking tours and those types of things,” she said.
The number of visitors was up 148 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the report.
“We had about 54,000 people who came for different downtown events last year and a total of about 825,000 visitors last year,” Humbargar said.
Part of the visitor spike is because of the Acacia Park skating rink’s record attendance numbers, she said.
“The attendance for Skate in the Park rose by 70 percent last year, so we hit a record number of skaters at just over 20,000, which was great,” she said.
Humbargar believes the increase in visitors is driving downtown’s hospitality growth, she said.
The supply of hotel rooms in downtown is set to double with two new hotel proposals as well as the under-construction Hilton Garden Inn.
Additionally, downtown saw great improvements this past year on several public realm projects such as on-street multi-modal enhancements, pedestrian-protecting medians and the city’s first parking-protected bike lane on Weber Street, Humbargar said.
“We also have been doing a lot of planning around things like improving our gateway experiences and improving alleyways,” she said. “It’s lots of movement of implementing the Experience Downtown Master Plan.”
The master plan was adopted in 2016 by city council to help create a vision for what downtown needs to be in the future, Humbargar said.
Downtown commercial vacancy rates increased from to 2.9 percent in 2016 to roughly 4.6 percent by the last quarter of 2017, the report stated.
“We were almost at an unhealthy amount of vacancies because it means new businesses couldn’t really enter the market,” Humbargar said. “Now we’re sitting at 4.6 percent, and that’s still a very healthy figure and means that there is room for construction.”
While the downtown’s core area along Tejon Street remains strong, growth also is beginning to expand farther out, she said.
“We’re also just seeing really significant growth in things like retail and restaurants and new development throughout the downtown area, so I think people are going to start to experience a bigger footprint of what downtown should feel like to them,” Humbargar said.