The Ivywild School development was envisioned as a gathering place in a historic neighborhood where people could sip a handcrafted beer, enjoy a meal or snack, buy locally grown food, go to a concert or attend a meeting.
Since it opened in the summer of 2013, Ivywild, at 1604 S. Cascade Ave., has promoted redevelopment, revitalized the neighborhood, attracted businesses and become a cultural hot spot.
Bristol Brewing Co. and The Blue Star restaurant were neighborhood fixtures when the school was decommissioned in 2009, its closure an eloquent comment on the area’s decline. But owner Mike Bristol, Blue Star owner Joseph Coleman and architect Jim Fennell partnered to bring the building back to life.
The former Blue Star restaurant, a block away on South Tejon Street, has sat mostly empty since it closed in October 2017. Recently, Coleman re-opened part of the building as The Side Door, a small concert venue that has hosted several performances by up-and-coming bands. Now he’s proposing to put in another venue, The Orion, in order to draw larger audiences and bigger-name bands.
The Blue Star’s neighbors showed up in force at a pre-application meeting Jan. 23. Many of the 50 attendees voiced concerns about the effects on parking, already limited in the area.
But even those who are worried about the proposal think Coleman’s Ivywild investment has been good for the neighborhood and good for business.
Ivywild today is not the same neighborhood as it was 10 years ago. Homes shine with new paint, and a hip, young crowd ventures into the area to meet at venues like Axe and the Oak Whiskey House and Bristol in the school, Distillery 291 and the newly opened Prime 25 restaurant on South Tejon, and the Millibo Art Theatre, housed in the former Ivywild Community Church.
“I think there has been notable change in that area,” said Ryan Tefertiller, urban planning manager with the Colorado Springs Planning Department. “There’s more activity than there used to be. I think that the investment and interest in Ivywild School helped spur additional investment in that area. We’re seeing lots of investment along South Tejon Street with Prime 25 and other proposals, and significant investment along South Nevada Avenue as well.”
Bristol thinks the Ivywild School project had a lot to do with that.
“We’ve been involved in the neighborhood since 1998,” he said. “We felt, like a lot of people in the neighborhood, that a boarded-up school was going to be a black eye, and nothing good ever comes from something like that.”
Bristol, Coleman and Fennell brainstormed about how the school could be a positive force and came up with some groundbreaking ideas.
“We do believe in local businesses. We never intended to put Starbucks or Chipotle in there, [though] it would have been more profitable,” Bristol said. “Overall, we wanted to be a community gathering place, get people off the couch, out from the TV and the internet, to get them out talking to each other. I think a lot of that has been realized.”
In a 2013 interview with the Business Journal, Fennell said one of the revolutionary concepts about the Ivywild development was the creation of a symbiosis district, a concept that had intrigued him since he was an architecture student.
For example, the byproducts from Bristol’s brewery, like spent water and grain, would be used to fertilize and irrigate crops grown in a greenhouse. Co-locating businesses in one building draws more people than each business would generate alone, and the entire project supports and draws support from the surrounding community.
“The Ivywild model is really an economic and cultural catalyst,” Fennell said. “Closely locating different businesses … creates ongoing social exchanges — a sharing of ideas and vitality — and these mutually beneficial relationships are what truly create long-term sustainability.”
Ivywild was the first project to put the symbiosis concept into practice, earning it a 2014 award from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Colorado chapter and spawning similar projects such as the redevelopment of Lincoln Elementary School on North Cascade Avenue.
“I’ve heard from some of the other development that’s going on out there that they were certainly happy that we came in and sort of started things off,” Bristol said. “We knew we wanted to encourage like-minded things. … We certainly saw the potential for other interesting uses.”
The entrepreneurs worked to bring in the MAT, which leases the former church from them, and encouraged Distillery 291 to take over the brewery’s former building at 1647 S. Tejon St.
“We thought that adds value and would be good for the neighborhood,” he said. “I think that’s where the music venue comes in — we think that adds value.”
Bristol said he was not directly involved in the music venue, though he co-owns the building.
Coleman did not respond to requests for an interview about the project, but Bristol said, “the neighborhood certainly said loud and clear that they’ve got concerns with it. Joseph’s a smart guy; he’s not going to try to railroad something that people don’t want.”
Tefertiller said developers haven’t yet submitted a formal application.
“What was described at the neighborhood meeting by the proponent was that the primary venue would have an occupancy limit of 417 occupants,” he said. “Then there’d be a smaller concert venue. The two would not be used at the same time.”
The former restaurant’s parking lot has only 27 on-site parking spaces. The city’s zoning code “requires parking stalls on the same property as the use, but if the proponent were to identify a parking lot or structure that they had rights to park in, then a significant variance might be reasonable,” Tefertiller said.
Dieter Schnakenberg, owner and general manager of the Edelweiss German Restaurant his parents founded more than 40 years ago, said parking problems in the neighborhood predated the Ivywild projects.
When The Blue Star and Bristol were located on Tejon Street, “there was never enough parking,” Schnakenberg said. “Their lot wraps around the building and empties onto Ramona [Avenue], which our lot opens onto. [Customers] would see this nice, well-lit lot with empty parking spots.”
Schnakenberg said his 150-space parking lot is filled every weekend, and it has invested in a fence and parking attendants to stem the tide of interlopers.
Nevertheless, he said, “the Ivywild development is a great project that has brought a lot of business to the neighborhood even when they were next door to us. … I know we have people go over there for drinks first then come here.”
If and when the application is submitted, Tefertiller said, “we will send out city post cards to property owners in the area. I’ve also promised to send an email notice to any individual who has emailed me about this project previously. … Once those notices go out, any concerned party has the ability to review the application documents on the city website. They can submit their thoughts, concerns or opposition. All that information helps inform staff’s decision on the application.”
Bristol said Coleman has other options.
“I think Joseph at this point can decide, hey, I want to submit it anyway and here’s how I’m going to address the concerns, or it just doesn’t make sense and I’m going to either scrap it or I’m going to build it somewhere else.”
The opposition to the new music venue has been portrayed as a huge battle, but Bristol prefers to think of it as “an engaged neighborhood. By and large, the neighborhood has been very supportive of what we’ve done.
“We’ve always envisioned the Ivywild School itself as continuing to evolve,” he said. “We’re not done yet.”