Downtown Colorado Springs is at the fringe of change, or as it is locally referred, the Downtown Renaissance. Many individuals, developers, and politicians are beginning to set their targets on our Downtown. The Mayor of Colorado Springs, Mayor Steve Bach, was recently quoted by the Gazette in saying “I believe strongly in doing everything we can for our downtown. It is the heart of our city. It can help build the soul of our community,” Excellent! This leadership and understanding of the importance of Downtown is what the City is after!
A phrase that I have been using, that perhaps accentuates my passion for downtown in a young professional manner, is the importance of a High Concentration of Awesomeness. This was an important element in the selection of the location of Better Block Pikes Peak, as well as the organizing framework of The Village at Gold Hill Mesa. My hope is that it is a discussion point of future development across the country.
A friend and colleague of mine, Ken Brickman, wisely noted during the Gold Hill Mesa design charrette:

John, nobody wants to be at a party that feels empty.

True words Ken, very true.
We took this into account when designing a neighborhood for incremental growth – Gold Hill Mesa. In this particular project site, where we have over 100-feet of elevation change, it is imperative to create one primary node of great pedestrian-friendly neighborhood retail. This street needed to be close to the existing fabric of the neighborhood; great visibility from a major arterial (21st Street); relatively flat for a walkable retail feel (see prior post Slope and How it Affects Walkability); and have a connection to the existing iconic element of the site, The Stack. All of this needed to occur in a high concentration. Why a high concentration you may ask? “Nobody wants to be at a party that feels empty.” Retailers, offices, residential dwellers do not want to be in an empty, unfulfilled place. There is only so much demand for neighborhood retail, so it is a matter of basic economics – Supply and Demand.

A concept for connecting 21st Street with “The Stack” for a high concentration of awesomeness. Drawing and diagram courtesy of EVstudio Planning/ Collaborative Design Group.

Gold Hill Mesa, like other neighborhoods near Downtown are part of the equation of the Downtown Renaissance. How you may ask? A diverse balance of building typologies are important. For the success of Downtown, we need to provide something for everyone. This is particularly true when it comes to residential options. While it would be unfeasible and inappropriate to plan detached single-family residential in Downtown Colorado Springs, it is an element that compliments and builds Downtown Colorado Springs. Ideally, it is located as close to downtown possible. There is a great quantity of such homes in the adjacent neighborhoods of Shooks Run, Mill Street, Old North End, Patty Jewett, and just east of the interstate on the West Side. Downtown should have a priority to connect these in a pedestrian-sensitive manner. Connections exist, but should be enhanced and emphasized for the good of the neighborhoods and downtown.

Photo from Better Block Pikes Peak. Photo Credit: BUSSANICH-KJELDSEN Art

Better Block Pikes Peak was another such conversation. My friend, Aaron Briggs of HB&A, and I were walking Pikes Peak Avenue discussing Food Trucks and the location of Curbside Cuisine. While walking around, we were also discussing where a Better Block-like demonstration would be best served in Colorado Springs. Rather than spreading these elements out in our Downtown, we felt that it would be most beneficial to have them in the same place. This would create a High Concentration of Awesomeness. Alas, Food Trucks, while it has not officially found a home Downtown… yet, proved to be a great asset to Downtown during Better Block Pikes Peak. More will surely come on BBPP and Curbside Cuisine in the future.
I wrote about the pedestrian connections to the adjoining neighborhoods above, but equally important are the connections from Downtown to our other Jewels nearby. Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, Colorado College, The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community College, Fort Carson and the US Olympic Training Center should be connected very easily by mobility other than the single-occupancy vehicle. Consideration of tourists and residents who desire to lose a car should be a priority. Streetcars have been discussed, which is incredibly important in and around Downtown. However Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) gets very little discussion. BRT is a cost-effective way to connect nodes of activity, without the negative connotations of bus travel. I’m not sure exactly why BRT is favored over standard bus travel, but I am certain that it has more to do with Sociology than anything else.
This diatribe reassures my assertion that it has been far too long since I wrote a blog post. However, I still want to address the changes in the Downtown Partnership. On Wednesday, my friend, Ron Butlin, resigned from his post as the Executive Director of the Downtown Partnership. This caught me with great surprise, as I believe it did many other Downtown advocates. Ron is a great man, who has provided a great service to Downtown Colorado Springs. I hope that he continues to provide his insight as a fellow citizen and advocate. Thank you Ron for your service, much appreciated!
I also want to acknowledge the decision to select Hannah Parsons as the Interim Director of the Downtown Partnership. While she has stated that she does not want the position on a permanent basis, she is a tremendous choice. She is one that has the attributes that are needed as we move into and through the Downtown Renaissance. I would ask that the selection committee look for someone with similar attributes, namely the passion and energy for our Downtown.
Sorry this was so long, I will work to making future posts concise.