On Sept. 9, 2013, Zeezo’s owners Mark and Jessica Modeer bought the building that formerly housed Bryant & Scott Jewelers for $1.263 million. It seemed like a pretty hefty price for the 113-year-old 8,350-square-foot single-story building, but Mark and Jessica had a deserved reputation as canny business owners. Skeptics assumed that they knew what they were doing and wished them well.
The Modeers recently put the building on the market for $2.4 million, noting that their business no longer requires so much space. To dazed old settlers unaccustomed to soaring downtown property values, such pricing seems aggressive, but that’s beside the point.
Like most of its low-rise neighbors along Tejon Street from Pikes Peak Avenue to Boulder Street, retailers have occupied 112 North Tejon since it was first constructed. That legacy is what makes downtown unique, interesting and fun. Walking Tejon today is very like walking it in the 1950s — the buildings are unique, the merchants distinctive, the shopping fun and the subdued urban clamor delightful.
This engaging historic environment has endured for well over 100 years. Beautiful buildings such as the Burns Opera House fell to the wrecker’s ball in the 1960s and 1970s, as did scores of Victorian commercial buildings south of Colorado Avenue. Yet somehow the humble structures along Tejon were spared, and downtown’s soul preserved.
The asking price of $2.4 million translates into $287 per square foot for the building, or $252 per foot for the 9,500 square foot lot. That would seem to make most retail uses untenable, and might even give pause to a well-funded restaurateur.
It may be that the building has reached the end of its useful life, and isn’t even close to being the “highest and best use” of its valuable site. It could conceivably be replaced by a multistory mixed-use structure, or a buyer might try to assemble a larger site for a more ambitious project.
The property is the canary in the coal mine, a signal that the downtown spine won’t endure forever. Cities aren’t static displays in a history museum, but collective entities created, sustained and continually reborn. In New York City, that process led to the demolition of the magnificent art deco Bonwit Teller Building and its replacement by the garish Trump Tower.
But redevelopment can be positive. Consider the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building — each replaced multiple small buildings, displaced tenants and small businesses and transformed neighborhoods. The much-beloved Pioneers Museum, originally the El Paso County Courthouse, was plunked down in the center of a Palmer-dedicated park, replacing a grove of cottonwoods that once shaded a popular picnicking spot. The U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, situated on a desolate tract of land between Sierra Madre and an abandoned railway siding, may spark the long-awaited rebirth of southwest downtown.
Whether large-scale change comes to the downtown core in a few months or a few years, one thing is certain: City government won’t have much to say about it. No historic preservation ordinances will prevent downtown development, although form-based code guarantees that new development conforms to certain urban norms. Architects and planners may yearn for good design, for buildings that enhance the urban experience, and for lively, walkable “complete streets.” Some developers, like Kathy Loo and Darsey Nicklasson of Blue Dot Place, are completely on board with such enhancements, while others may be less committed to expensive excellence.
Yet there are many reasons to be optimistic about change. Today’s prices may deter speculators from demolishing the existing building without immediate redevelopment plans. It’s worth noting that flat parking is no longer a principal permitted use in newly created vacant lots. And let’s not forget the Jenkins/Blessing overhang, notably the two vacant half-block parcels on Pikes Peak Avenue between Cascade and Weber. Both will eventually house major multistory structures that may absorb downtown demand for years.
Rather than fear development, we should welcome it. New construction in the core may actually improve North Tejon, not change it for the worse. And let’s trust downtown pillars such as Richard Skorman, Patricia Seator and Perry Sanders. They’ve protected and treasured downtown for many years. So don’t worry — as Bogart said to Bergman (sort of), we’ll always have downtown…