New York City has its Fifth Avenue and Broadway; Los Angeles its Rodeo Drive; and Denver its 16th Street. They’re signature streets that epitomize the cities in which they’re located — places where a visit is a unique experience.
Colorado Springs doesn’t have a Rodeo Drive, but it does have Tejon Street and Colorado Avenue in Old Colorado City. Within a couple of years, it may have another signature spot: Vermijo Avenue.
“You’re going to see improvements between Sierra Madre and Tejon Street, from the new U.S. Olympic Museum to the Colorado Springs Pioneers museum, a connection between old and new,” said Ryan Phipps, senior engineer with the city of Colorado Springs.
The 2016 Experience Downtown Master Plan envisioned Vermijo as a wide, walkable thoroughfare lined with shops, businesses, office buildings and mixed-use developments. Now the city has developed a specific plan for a $40 million redevelopment of Vermijo. Phipps presented the plan to Colorado Springs City Council on Dec. 10.
City councilors greenlighted the project by authorizing tax increment funding for the Museum and Park Urban Renewal Area on Dec. 11; revenue will come from new tax dollars generated by the project itself. Other funding sources include the Business Improvement District, state Regional Tourism Act, Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, Colorado Springs Utilities and the city’s parking enterprise fund.
Vermijo has been identified as a potential signature street for years. One reason why is its exceptional width — it spans 140 feet, Phipps said.
Under the plan, the southern half of Vermijo’s right-of-way will accommodate two traffic lanes and parallel parking.
The northern half will be a pedestrian plaza paved with granite and featuring landscaping, unique lighting and an innovative underground stormwater filtering system.
The project’s first step will be construction and installation of a 250-foot-long pedestrian bridge that spans the railroad tracks and connects the U.S. Olympic Museum with America the Beautiful Park.
“It will be constructed off-site [in Houston, Texas] and then we’ll move it into place,” Phipps said. A large staircase and elevator will allow easy access to the crossing.
The bridge will be “iconic … an identifiable element of the city,” Phipps said. “Right now it’s a bit of a task to get over there.”
When the bridge is completed, “America the Beautiful Park will become the front lawn to downtown,” he said.
Nor’wood Development Group owns about 16 acres of land within the newly designated Museum and Park Urban Renewal Area, which embraces the bridge and street.
As the largest private landowner within the area, “our vision is for a great urban neighborhood to develop around the museum and the park,” said Nor’wood Vice President Jeff Finn.
“We have plans for up to 4,500 residential units and up to 750,000 square feet of commercial space … and at least 500 hotel rooms ranging from a limited-service product up to upscale and lifestyle brands,” Finn said. The residential properties will be both sale and rental units that will provide “a spectrum of housing options.”
On the commercial side, “we are technically out of office space downtown; if a large user wanted 100,000 square feet downtown, there is nowhere for them to go. Our hope is that we would be able to bring new large employers into these new spaces. It is these kinds of developments and places that are attractive to their employee and talent bases,” Finn said.
Retail spaces — cafés, specialty and destination stores and shops — will line the street at ground level.
In all, Nor’wood has planned for about 5 million square feet of new space.
“We anticipate that work beginning in 2019,” Finn said. “It is a long-term endeavor — ongoing development for years to come.”
“From a tourism and city pride standpoint, this is going to be something that’s really unique.” — Jariah Walker
When Vermijo becomes a signature street, it has the potential to become an economic development powerhouse.
“This by far has the greatest ability to be one of the most catalytic projects we’ve seen in a long time,” said Jariah Walker, executive director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority.
“We know that we’re going to see further economic growth around this project as it’s built out,” Walker said. “From a tourism and city pride standpoint, this is going to be something that’s really unique. Just looking at it from an urban renewal perspective, the city is going to have a net gain of $1.25 million over the course of the next 25 years.”
More than 100 workers already are engaged in building the museum, and construction of 5 million square feet of new residential and commercial space will employ many more.
“These are real jobs for real people,” Finn said. “It’s significant when those construction workers and new permanent employees go and buy a house here. They go spend their paychecks, and that creates new economic impact. You do that enough, and the impact is significant.”
“I’m thrilled that we’re here,” Finn said. “I can’t wait to start seeing major activity in the area. It will start to look very different in six months.”