A Potential Path Forward for Old Colorado City

November 20, 2021

With Downtown in the midst of a renaissance (See recent CSBJ article, ‘Skyscraper’ points toward Springs Future), it’s time to focus some attention and love to some of the other areas around the edges of downtown. Old Colorado City is the most obvious location of what is next. Arguably, Old Colorado City includes a better stock of historic architecture than the Downtown area, including wonderful brick buildings that line Colorado Avenue and the City’s highest concentration of Victorian Homes. Old Colorado City is now a neighborhood rich with history. “Colorado City,” as it was known, actually pre-dates Colorado Springs (1871) by thirteen years, founded in 1859 as the capital of the Territory of Colorado. Old Colorado City was annexed into the City of Colorado Springs in 1917.

Colorado City was the wild sibling of the City of Colorado Springs, where the unsavory activities that were prohibited in Colorado Springs were prevalent. It was rich with saloons and brothels where patrons of Colorado City and Colorado Springs gambled, consumed alcohol and “visited” prostitutes. Fragments of this history can still be found in Old Colorado City today including tunnels where patrons could visit the establishments without being seen.

Rather than restating the history of the area, let’s focus on the great potential and a couple of key opportunities for Old Colorado City today.

CODE UPDATE

Development is coming to Old Colorado City in one way or another in the coming years. My hope is that it can come in a manner that is sensitive to the history of the area, while incorporating some of the modern innovations of the 21st Century. About a decade ago, I recall an uproar from Old Colorado City when a Kum & Go gas station was proposed on the east side of the Colorado City “downtown”.

I was in support of the actions of the residents that protested the Kum & Go, but perhaps for different reasons than most. It saddened me to see this otherwise walkable district of Old Colorado City be flanked by such a large automobile user as a large gas station. Gas stations, strip malls, and other land uses with a focus on the automobile are effectively repellant for walking. They are a cue for an out-of-town visitor to turn around and not proceed further. The west side of Old Colorado City also includes similar uses, repelling people from walking further. And to be fair to Old Colorado City, these walk repellant land uses are not exclusive to this district, they exist all over the City, State and Country.

As Old Colorado City redevelops, I hope that the City and the residents of Old Colorado City demand more. They should demand zoning similar to that the form-based code of downtown where land use is deemphasized and the code instead provides for a better pedestrian experience. Development will be quickly moving toward Old Colorado City and the preservation of the sense of place that exists could be quickly threatened.

ROAD DIET FOR COLORADO AVENUE

The other major opportunity that exists in Old Colorado City is in how Colorado Avenue functions through the heart of Old Colorado City’s “downtown.” A few years ago, the Old Colorado City SIMD (Special Improvement and Maintenance District) had requested some drawings of how Colorado Avenue could function better with its streetscape and how the pedestrian experience could be enhanced. I had called my friend Aaron Briggs, Principal of HB&A, in to assist with some drawings. We provided the following illustration to the SIMD and discussed them with the City.

2014 Graphic of Colorado Avenue with a transformation from four lanes to two lanes. Final graphic produced by HB&A.

It seemed like we were making some progress in bringing new life to Old Colorado City with nearly doubling the amount of on-street parking, decreasing the number of traffic lanes and pedestrian crossing distances and even infusing some parklets into the vision for Colorado Avenue. We had the support of the SIMD, the support of Colorado Springs Traffic Engineering and several of the Old Colorado City business owners. I thought this was a success and the SIMD had even asked for further streetscape drawings, which my office at the time (EV Studio Planning/Civil Engineering) graciously provided. All seemed to be moving forward, until it wasn’t.

To this day, I’m not clear on what stopped this vision and potential boon for Old Colorado City, but my suspicion is that some of the local politics came into play. There continues to be this great fear that by removing traffic lanes, less people will be able to visit a district. Although this has been proven false over the years, the fear is still present. The reality is that more lanes do not equal more visitors. More lanes, however, does induce higher speeds, more wrecks, and the wrong kind of congestion (annoying congestion, as opposed to “seductive congestion”) for a district.

In summary, my hope is that residents and business owners of Old Colorado City can advocate for: a context-sensitive form-based code for their community; and an update to Colorado Avenue focusing on providing a better pedestrian experience and on-street parking.

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