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Once choked with debris, the reclaimed Cheyenne Creek will be framed by new landscaping and a walkable and bikeable path.

Even with all the recent development on South Nevada Avenue, there’s still a lot of urban blight in the area. Jariah Walker, executive director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, recalls when things were a lot worse.

“That area had some of the highest rates of opiate abuse and calls to the police in the entire city,” Walker said. “It was a lot of old roadside motels — and we still have a few on the east side of the street, but … on the west side, there were some hotels that were really hurting the area, causing a lot of crime and undesirable activity. Those were holding the [Ivywild and Stratton Meadows] residential areas hostage a bit. It wasn’t conducive to people getting out of cars or walking around on foot. It was a rough spot with lots of blight on the east and west sides.”

It’s what led to the city council designating roughly 100 acres as an urban renewal district. The district is bounded by Wahsatch Avenue on the east and Tejon on the west, with Cheyenne Road forming the south border and I-25 the north.

And as the latest stage of construction gathers pace, local developer Danny Mientka is getting excited.

“We’re putting the finishing touches on Creekwalk South,” said Mientka, owner of The Equity Group and one of several developers who’s been spearheading renewal efforts along one of the city’s major arteries. 

“The landscaping is rapidly coming into place, and we’ll see that really create a frame around that shopping center,” Mientka said. 

A 52,000-square-foot retail center, Creekwalk South is now fully constructed. Eleven tenants have already leased space, another lease for a national tenant is currently out for execution, and there’s a letter of intent out for another restaurant, so Mientka fully expects to have 13 businesses which will be gradually opening over the course of the next three to five months. 

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The Creekwalk signage has been delivered and will soon be installed.

Over in Creekwalk North on the block between St. Elmo and Ramona avenues, construction has begun on a long hoped-for 23,000-square-foot Sprouts Farmer’s Market. “That will continue to drive additional traffic for all development along South Nevada Avenue. … We’re looking at the store opening in the first quarter of 2023,” Mientka said.

And starting in June, four planned kinetic sculptures by legendary local artist Starr Kempf will begin to arrive. The bases to secure the sculptures have already been poured and lighting has been installed along the reclaimed Cheyenne Creek, which will also feature a new, 10-foot-wide sidewalk for bicyclists and pedestrians.

“It will really anchor the experience you have at Cheyenne Creek, near where Starr Kempf lived, and created these wonderful sculptures that are known around the world,” Mientka said. “They’re amazing creations that work with the wind and are beautiful and unique. We’re very proud to have four of those coming.” 

Predictably, the biggest obstacle to progress is still supply chain issues, which are delaying some important tenant improvements. “But we’re weathering that storm, and aggressively trying to source what is needed so we can get all these tenants open,” Mientka said.

While the supply chain issues have affected all kinds of materials, perhaps the hardest to get have been electrical components, such as heating and cooling units. “In some cases, those are 25 to 30 weeks out, which is unusual in terms of supply chain backlog,” Mientka said. “You don’t know exactly what the heating and cooling requirements are going to be until you bring a specific tenant in … but that’s the big one, electric components that meet Colorado Springs Utilities standards.”

Things are no different for Ray O’Sullivan, development manager for Sam and Kathy Guadagnoli’s Ivywild Development LLC, the other major developer in the South Nevada Urban Renewal Area.

“Getting the proper pipe, manholes and really just basic materials we need for underground utilities has been an issue. … Stuff that used to take a couple of weeks to get in? Suddenly they’re saying they can’t get it, or it’s 16 weeks or something crazy. … ,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve kept the underground [construction] going. That’s a huge part of our budget, and people don’t see what’s happening on that, obviously. But that’s wrapping up and we’ll get out of the general contractors’ way here in the next month or month and a half,” O’Sullivan said. 

A phase of 19 townhomes, Canyon Creek Townhomes, has already been completed, along with Ramona Retail, a shopping center directly behind Ivywild Pharmacy, and Prime 25, an upscale steakhouse and seafood restaurant that opened in 2018, has been thriving. Next to the steakhouse another project has broken ground — a 162-room Marriott Tribute, one of Marriott’s more upscale brands. O’Sullivan hopes to have the foundation done sometime in the next six weeks.

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Crumbl Cookies and Orangetheory Fitness are among tenants already in place as Creekwalk’s streetscape and trail system take shape. 

Another Ivywild Development project in the works is an apartment complex of about 120 units between Navajo and Brookside streets, behind the building at 1515 S. Tejon Street. Construction on the apartments should begin around this time next year, while the plan for the 1515 property is a Spanish wine bar that will serve tapas, and is projected to open in September.

“At St. Elmo [Street], kind of kitty-corner to Danny Mientka’s new shopping center, there’s an urban-style apartment project planned there,” O’Sullivan said. “Now initially, [developers] Sam [and Kathy Guadagnoli were] going to do 35 units. … The way the town has changed, and rents have risen, it turned out to be appropriate to do a higher-end project there. It could be upwards of 280 or even 300 units.”

While pandemic-related restrictions devastated the hotel industry, O’Sullivan said the sector is now undergoing an unprecedented rebound.

“We are the No. 2 hotel market in the U.S., and the rents have gone up dramatically in town — but in the meantime, that’s spooked all the lenders,” he said. “They [lenders] have really been dropping out of the equation for construction for new hotels. … That made it very difficult, and that’s the bad news. The good news is quite recently they’ve come back into the market.” 

Given all of the pandemic-related delays, Walker, of the Urban Renewal Authority, is optimistic about the pace of development along the South Nevada corridor, which he’s described as “the most complicated urban renewal area, I would bet, in the state of Colorado.”

“Now that Danny Mientka’s got the green light to put the Sprouts in, we expect a real influx of activity in that entire area,” Walker said. “His project was key in shoring up that southern side of the Urban Renewal boundary.  

“There will be a lot of improvements along the trail system and streetscape design. … We’re excited, as an organization, for him getting these projects vertical and he’s already got tenants — Orangetheory Fitness is there, Crumbl Cookie is there,” Walker said. “I think once [Creekwalk] goes up and he gets everything built in, we’ll start to see more interest on the east side of Nevada [Avenue]. That will be a domino that’s going to invite more activity in that area.”

Walker feels lucky to have been able to involve developers with specific visions for the properties.

“With all those [developers] combined, we were able to get enough private capital to come into the area and make a large investment and make the area better,” he said. “A lot of retailers and developers want to see how those first-entry guys do before they end up moving forward with other developments. So everyone is watching closely — but I think we’ve got something special here. 

“Even the streetscape ... we’ve been working hard on South Nevada to make the sidewalks wider, and to bury these big bulky electrical lines, put in nicer benches … just make the area more appealing to walk through. It’s been a long battle, and there’s still a lot more to go, but projects like Danny’s, and what Ray and Sam are doing? It really is elevating the area,” he said. “And now the creek and the trail along it are starting to take shape. ... Hopefully this trend will continue and we’ll be able to develop it going further north.”