Council approves developer debt, public improvements to revive southwest downtown

By Pam Zubeck

City council voted unanimously Feb. 11 to boost development of the long blighted southwest downtown by approving a “cooperation agreement” with the developer — Nor’wood Development Group — that pledges at least $20 million in public spending and allows a newly formed business improvement district to issue $50 million in debt.

The public money would be spent on parking, drainage, street upgrades, including an overhaul of Vermijo Street from the Olympic Museum to Wahsatch Street, utilities work and more.

As the agreement states: “The vision set forth in the Urban Renewal Plan is to create a world class urban neighborhood, comprised of new residential, office, retail, restaurant and hospitality uses catalyzing around the Museum, Hall of Fame, the [America the Beautiful] Park and their connections to the downtown core area and the City in general.”

Before the votes, Councilor David Geislinger said the city had conducted its due diligence, noting an “extensive, extensive, extensive” involvement by city officials “over the last several weeks or months.”

The roughly 100 acres at issue has been designated for urban renewal for 20 years but nothing happened until the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum project, at Vermijo and Sierra Madre streets, arose a few years back — it’s expected to open in May — along with plans for a stadium to host Switchbacks soccer club games a block or so south. It’s slated to open in 2021.

Nor’wood’s plan in the near term calls for building 300 residential dwelling units to the east of America the Beautiful Park, a multi-story office building of 180,000 square feet and a 240-room hotel. The 20-year build out will see construction of 4,500 residential units, 750,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 500 hotel rooms.

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Here’s a list of what will be funded with public money to help the developer get that ambitious redevelopment off the ground.

• $8.8 million from City for Champions state sales tax rebates. C4C is the tourism venture approved by state economic development officials in 2013 that also includes a new Air Force Academy Visitors Center, the museum, downtown stadium, Colorado College hockey arena, and sports medicine facility at the UCCS.
• $12.25 million from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, funded with a 1 percent sales tax for regional road, bridge and trails projects.
• $1.55 million from the city’s parking enterprise.
• $1.35 million from city stormwater fees collected from residents and property owners.
• $3.5 million from Colorado Springs Utilities.

Council also granted the Southwest Downtown Business Improvement created by Nor’wood authority to issue $50 million in debt to execute the first stage of development.