Colorado Springs | by Helen Robinson

In 2007, Holly Trinidad traded the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles for her hometown of Colorado Springs, fully expecting to return to a city that was — at least décor-wise — suspended in the past.

“We were moving from a really cool part of Los Angeles, so it was like, ‘Oh, we’ve moved to Podunk.’ … I remember feeling really lame,” Trinidad said with a laugh. “There was not a lot of cool stuff. And all the office space was not updated or renovated. You see these houses that get renovated, and it’s all in the same fashion that looks like they’re from 1990 — everyone does the stone and stucco.”

As a majority owner of Hoff & Leigh, the commercial real estate company co-founded in 1987 by her father, Tim Leigh, Trinidad has watched as the prevailing narrative from her high school days — Colorado Springs as “the red-headed stepchild of Denver” — has shifted into one where young professionals choose to live in Olympic City USA.

“[The weather in Colorado Springs] is sunny a majority of the time and if you’re an outdoor person, the accessibility to trails is incredible,” Trinidad said. “Our kids go to arguably one of the best districts in the state [Cheyenne Mountain School District 12] at no cost, and we live in a house that [costs] maybe $300,000 to $400,000. You’re not going to have that in Denver.”

Since 1989, El Paso County has seen its residential property values jump from $1.47 million to $4.26 million in 2018 — a 63 percent increase, El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker said.

Additionally, a county with just more than $890 million in commercial property on the 1989 tax rolls saw $2.78 billion in commercial values last year, a 65 percent jump across three decades, Schleiker said.

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A variety of factors have contributed to those numbers, but perhaps none more so than the fact that Colorado Springs has simply found its own identity, Trinidad said.

“I think what people have finally started to discover is that our proximity to the trail system sets us apart from all the other cities along the Front Range,” she said. “Colorado Springs has really come into its own and is a place where young professionals actually want to live because there’s actually cool stuff happening — as opposed to when I was in high school, it was kind of just the redheaded stepchild of Denver. I don’t think we’re that way anymore.”

Now instead of Colorado Springs natives fleeing to the state capital, people are actually moving from Denver in search of a lower cost of living and “arguably less traffic,” Trinidad said.

“Now there is cool stuff to do outside of just working, and there are more jobs and you can get more bang for your buck living down here,” Trinidad said. “It’s no longer lame.

“In terms of real estate, people are actually paying attention to design, and we are seeing houses being built that are more modern looking — same with office renovations,” she added. “I think we’re finally catching up.”

Residential real estate

Before she took over the company, Trinidad recalls Bob Hoff — who  founded the company with her father — assuring her that no one in Colorado Springs would ever pay $1,000 a month for a rental property.

“He was like, ‘There’s no way that will ever happen,’” Trinidad said. “You look at the downtown rental places right now and there’s stuff that for renting for a lot more than $1,000.”

In fact, 48 percent of Colorado Springs apartments range from $1,001 to $1,500 a month, according to Rent Café. The average monthly rent for an apartment in Colorado Springs was $1,183 as of this month, a 6 percent hike from last year.

“The growth has just been significant, especially with everything happening up north and all the infill downtown and around downtown,” Trinidad said. “We’ve seen rent increases and sales price increases, which I don’t think is a mystery to anyone.”

All it takes a cursory glance of the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors website to see the spike in residential real estate, even despite a “significant downturn” after Trinidad’s 2007 return, she said.

“It’s easy to see how much [real estate] prices have gone up in the last market upswing. You don’t have to be a residential expert to see that,” Trinidad said. “If you’re on PPAR cruising around for residential real estate, everything is under contract — I think even in the last market cycle, it’s amazing how much the pricing has changed.

“If you lived on the Westside, you could buy a house for $200,000 [in the last market cycle],” Trinidad said. “It seems like now it’s $450,000.”

Commercial real estate

Perhaps the biggest indicator of commercial growth in the Springs is the Powers Boulevard corridor, which is populated mostly with chain stores and restaurants that have followed the rooftops sprouting on both sides of the Powers corridor.

The Skirted Heifer, a popular hamburger eatery, opened its second location in Dublin Commons III on the corner of Powers and Dublin in February. Owner Kevin Megyeri told the Business Journal in January that the location had “all the components for success — high traffic and visibility, good retail analytics and lots of residents nearby.”

“Interestingly enough, when I went away for college, I don’t think Powers Boulevard was even built out yet,” Trinidad said. “When I came back in 2007 to get into the business, it just absolutely blew my mind the amount of growth that is out east, and how much development and how spread out Colorado Springs has become.”

Now, when Trinidad heads to the northeast side of the city, she sees “ a completely different world.”

“Everything is new and nice,” Trinidad said. “Housing is booming up there.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the 80905 ZIP code — the city’s Westside — boasts some of the fastest-appreciating real estate in Colorado Springs, Trinidad said.

“People are figuring out, ‘That’s really close to the mountains, that’s a really cool area, I want to live and work there,’” she said. “It’s been on fire.”

Trinidad added that the downtown area was “finally taking off,” with Class A multifamily housing projects like the Casa Mundi apartments under construction on South Tejon Street and coming attractions such as the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame — expected to draw 350,000 to 400,000 visitors each year once it opens in 2020  — and Weidner Field, the future home of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC that will seat more than 8,000.

“We finally have draws bringing young professionals, and that’s really what a downtown needs,” Trinidad said.

What’s next?

Some officials predict Colorado Springs will see more growth than the Denver metropolitan area during the next 30 years. Trinidad finds that difficult to believe, but she does think that transportation infrastructure should remain a priority if the city plans to sustain its real estate boom.

“Highway 24 is a disaster Friday afternoon and coming back from the mountains on Sunday,” she said. “The other major thing is the airport. We have to get better hubs, otherwise we’re not going to be able to recruit.”

However, “the right people are seeing that we need to do that,” Trinidad said.

“I think the Springs has really good growth plans, and I really think the biggest thing is that Colorado Springs has finally come into its own,” she said. “It’s finally viewed as a desirable place to live outside of people that are actually living in Colorado Springs, and I think it’s going to continue to be that way.”