Construction has been a staple in the urban renewal area over the past year, but behind the scenes and the growing row of retail storefronts, hundreds of wheels are turning on projects that will breathe new life into the area south of Ramona Avenue and the long-neglected Cheyenne Creek itself.
Working with the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, three developers — Sam and Kathy Guadagnoli, Danny Mientka and Walt Harder — are heading major projects on the west side of South Nevada.
On Aug. 22 Mientka’s group will present its financing plan to the Urban Renewal Authority board, seeking approval for financing of a planned shopping center called Creekwalk. Land use entitlements, including a concept plan, a zoning change and a street vacation application, were submitted to the city of Colorado Springs Planning Department July 24.
Creekwalk is one of many projects that will change the face of the once-blighted area and the creek that runs through it. The Business Journal spoke with Mientka, Ray O’Sullivan, the development manager for the Guadagnolis’ Ivywild Development company, and Jariah Walker, executive director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, about what’s next in the massive makeover of the area.
Fast-casual restaurants Smashburger and Tokyo Joe’s will be opening soon in the Guadagnolis’ new 8,088-square-foot retail building on South Nevada, along with European Waxing Center (a national chain) and a locally owned restaurant, O’Sullivan said.
Technically the tenants have 120 days from June 30 to move in, he added, but “rumor is they’re moving a little quicker — it might be just another four or five weeks.”
The 19 townhomes in the first phase of the Guadagnolis’ Canyon Creek Townhomes, on West Cheyenne Road, are all either built out or under construction, and “we have an eye to be completely wrapped up with [the first phase] by Thanksgiving,” O’Sullivan said.
The Guadagnolis expect to break ground on the second phase of Canyon Creek Townhomes this month, bringing more changes to the neighborhood.
“Sam’s building another 24 townhomes around the corner … where the new roundabout’s going to be at the dead end of Tejon. It’ll have frontage on Ramona, Cascade [Avenue] and St. Elmo [Avenue], with a nice through-road,” O’Sullivan said.
The developers changed their original road system design to accommodate the city’s planned roundabout and to improve traffic flow, O’Sullivan said.
Things are also moving along at 1515 S. Tejon St., O’Sullivan said. “They’re going to permit that project this month and start a new restaurant concept that Sam has been working on for about 12 months.”
The Guadagnolis’ projects in the urban renewal area also include a branded hotel, expected to come in at more than 120 rooms.
The hotel will be a welcome addition, Walker said.
“It will invite people to stay in the area and enjoy Ivywild School, which is another one of our projects, be able to have some fun, be able to use and connect to the trail corridors that we build through there. … [I]t will open up to having some added tourism in the area, which is always a good thing,” he said.
As for a timeline: “He’s trying to go fast and furious,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s been in the process of permitting the demolition of the last four homes that are on the hotel site — and getting permits for demolition is almost as hard as getting permits for a building, so we’re just working through the state office for that. … So if I had to guess, we’re going to break ground on the demolition in the next 60-90 days and maybe sooner, and then we’ll continue with the creek improvements and the street scene improvements while we’re permitting the foundation for the hotel this year.”
There are big plans for the neglected and debris-choked Cheyenne Creek, which runs between Ivywild School and South Nevada Avenue. The Guadagnolis and Mientka are investing heavily in improvements intended to transform it from an eyesore to a jewel in the crown of the neighborhood.
The Guadagnolis control an approximately seven-block stretch of Cheyenne Creek, from St. Elmo Avenue to Brookside Street, O’Sullivan said, and the developers have been working with the city’s parks department on renewal plans.
“Some of these things are going to have to be cleared through FEMA just to make sure you don’t fill anything in the floodway, and we’ve got some pretty elaborate designs for the trail system, lighting and landscaping along the creekway,” he said. “You have to be cautious about the impacts you have on the creek specifically. The good news is there’s enough debris from the last 100 years in that creek where, by cleaning up some of those things, we’re going to be able to effect some really nice treatments on the creek design itself.
“You want to have minimal impacts on the natural flow of the creek, so we have to be sensitive to that, but I’d say 40 to 60 percent of that creekway is disturbed by a lack of any kind of a maintenance program. The city of course couldn’t maintain it because it was private, and before, the ownership was so disparate for the last hundred years — everybody just owned their little piece of it. But Sam has assembled all those parcels along the creekway and now it can be upgraded coherently and the trail system linked together.”
Many areas along Cheyenne Creek “are in pretty bad shape,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of debris, a lot of creek work that’s got to be done. … really Sam Guadagnoli is the one that’s going to be working pretty hard on that, making sure that the trail’s connected, that it’s lighted, and that we engage with the creek and treat it like the amenity it needs to be instead of how it’s been thus far.”
O’Sullivan said the Guadagnolis’ work removes “about 40 antiquated crack shacks along the creek,” along with hotels and stumps, and will not only beautify the creek but open up access. Right now, “technically no one can go near the creek; it’s all private property.”
Part of the tax base for about 14 acres or so of commercial and residential development makes a contribution to the operations and maintenance of the creek, he said, providing security and lighting on a sustainable basis without assistance — from an operations or maintenance perspective — from the city.
The city and the Guadagnolis are partnering to make the most of the creekside areas.
“Sam has offered to build the [creekside] trail to the city specs with the hope that it’ll be linked in to the Legacy Loop — the 10-mile lap around the city that’s trying to be completed now — so he’s hoping that it becomes a part of the advertised trail system here in Colorado Springs while still maintaining it and being able to offer security for it,” O’Sullivan said. “What it does is it opens up to the whole neighborhood and the whole city, and they can walk and bike, and have access to the creek and the shops and restaurants and the hotel…”
Mientka is also focusing on Cheyenne Creek as an attraction. In plans for Creekwalk, he said, Cheyenne Creek will “centerpiece of our shopping center.
“What we intend to do with Cheyenne Creek is going to be really exciting,” he added. “It’s a natural feature that very few know about — it’s sort of hidden back behind all of this dated development that [will be] torn down. When we reclaim that creek and bring it back to life, whether you’re going to our shopping center or you’re just coming through to check out the creek, it’s going to be this natural feature that will, I think, really excite our community and once again reestablish how special Ivywild, Cheyenne Cañon, the southwest really is.
“The creek is something that will be really well received … and our interest is in making it really experiential. So when you come in to Creekwalk you might be anxious to get a table — but you’re probably first going to run down and check out the creek.”
Mientka is holding back most details of the planned project until the Aug. 22 URA board meeting, but he said Creekwalk will be seven buildings, roughly 60,000 square feet, and will boast six to eight restaurants.
“It will have best-in-class restaurants from the Front Range that Colorado Springs hasn’t likely experienced,” he said. “There’ll be some expansions likely of existing restaurants in our community but we expect to bring new, really innovative and popular concepts that are fresh.”
Following the URA board meeting, neighborhood meetings and stakeholder meetings will be conducted this month, Mientka said, and possibly into September.
He expects plans to make their way through the planning commission and city council in December to early January, and expects to see financing closing in the first quarter of 2019. A sequential plan for relocation, remediation and demolition will be launched immediately after financing closes.
Walker said development of the urban renewal area is “a long road,” and Springs residents can expect ongoing changes and improvements.
“We hope, when it’s all said and done, that it’s more walkable, bikeable, connected; that there’s shops that people feel comfortable at, and that there’s this energy down there that removes a lot of the stigma that the area carried before,” he said.