Palmer Village plan unites public vision with private know-how

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Palmer Village Development, LLC, recently unveiled a comprehensive proposal for re-development of Colorado Springs’ Southwest Downtown corridor that may be the first of its kind in the country. “This concept is really well-thought out,” says Olson Plumbing and Heating owner, Mike Trapp. Trapp admits that initially many landowners resisted the Urban Renewal plan because of the threat of condemnation and worried that owners would be under-compensated based only on the City’s appraisal of their business value. “I really doubt now that condemnation will even be a factor for most of the business owners down here,” Trapp said. “A developer understands the complexity of relocating a business – the parking, access, and customer education that has to take place. I think we’re all satisfied with this approach, and we’re looking forward to seeing Confluence Park become a reality.”
Jeff Smith, President of Classic Companies and project leader/member of the Palmer Village Development team sees winning over the landowners as a first but important step. He also believes the combination of public and private resources are key to the project’s success. “We hired CIVITAS, a Denver-based company that has worked with Urban Renewal Authorities and cities across the companies to conduct three preliminary design charrettes,” says Smith, “and the result is the plan you see today.” One new concept that emerged was the change in location of the proposed civic/convention center from the originally proposed corner of Cascade and Colorado to a site further west (the site of the City Gas Department buildings). As Smith pointed out, a massive civic center with parking and loading docks can back up to nearby railroad tracks without creating aesthetic issues – a potential problem if located in a high-traffic main street location. He also sees development of walkways to other downtown establishments.
In most cities, Urban Renewal and municipal authorities work directly with landowners to purchase re-developable properties. The process, often stalled by time-consuming legal battles can create difficulty in obtaining financing. Colorado Springs will do things differently, however, and the City’s Economic Development and Urban Projects spokesman, Jim Rees, is optimistic about the City-Developer-Landowner coalition’s ability to move ahead. Noting that there were three proposals, Rees said the Palmer Village Development concept was by far the most comprehensive. The Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority is set to meet on Feb. 28 to discuss the proposals and to schedule presentations from all three proposing groups. “I know the re-development authority would like to see ideas from all proposals integrated into a final plan,” said Smith.
The Palmer Village development team consists of three of Colorado Springs’ most visible companies — Classic Companies, Nor’Wood Development and G.E. Johnson Construction. Their plan, submitted in response to a Request For Proposals published last November, details the Palmer Village vision for approximately 100 acres just north of Cimarron, south of Colorado, east to Cascade Avenue and west to I-25. Their proposal includes provisions for a project team, supported by a talent pool of local and national consultants including urban planning, architectural, construction, project management and financial/bonding consulting firms.
Project leader Smith sees Southwest Downtown redevelopment as a way to create broader uses and expanded economic opportunity in the city’s core area. In addition to Confluence Park, new projects may include a re-located Sky Sox Stadium, construction of a downtown civic center and adjacent hotel, and a mixed-use development incorporating office, residential, retail and recreational components. Smith also sees a growing market for downtown luxury apartments or condominiums – especially in view of other slated improvements.
There are key plan components for the redevelopment project:
n Large public destinations will anchor corners of the mixed-use core.
n Pedestrian links will be constructed from Tejon Street to Confluence Park.
n Sierra Madre will become an entertainment district, connecting the Arts District to pedestrian anchors to the south.
n Urban medical and office campuses will anchor Cimarron and Cascade Streets.
n Taller buildings will be widely distributed to maximize visual connections to the mountains, and will minimize internal traffic.
n Highest traffic and vehicle volume will be centered on Cimarron Street and Cascade Avenue.
n Significant public space is located at Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Streets.
n Flexible building types promote uses that are easily convertible over time.
n Existing uses are integrated within the Urban Renewal Area.
n Diversity will mix of office, residential, commercial and sports uses.
n There will be a promenade edge along Confluence Park.
n Pedestrian bridges will connect streets to Confluence Park.
n High quality infill neighborhoods will be developed.
In its proposal, the Palmer Village team also says that it will assist the City in implementing its vision for the future, as laid out in the City’s Downtown Action Plan. To date, taxpayer financing for the multi-million dollar phased redevelopment, expected to take up to 25 years to complete, is not likely – and the City has actively solicited the support from the private sector to realize its goals.
What could hold up this golden plan for a Southwest Downtown makeover? The biggest challenge will be acquisition of all the necessary parcels. The developer has requested the City’s assistance in consolidation and relocation of existing Union Pacific railroad tracks – as well as help in handling related environmental issues. Rees said that point is still up for discussion, although he is optimistic that based on early discussions with the railroad, that some of the 12 existing tracks between Sierra Madre and I-25 could be relocated or consolidated.
Located within the Urban Renewal Area, businesses such as Crissey Fowler and Berwick Electric are in the process of relocating or finding new sites. Olson Plumbing and Heating’s Trapp says he is looking for a new location but is not in a hurry. “Our existing facilities are accessible, we have plenty of parking, and we are centrally located – and we’re not in a hurry to relocate.” Even in the event of condemnation, owners have up to three years to complete their relocation plans. Another negotiating point is that the Team, as the master developer, be given the exclusive right to purchase land adjacent to Confluence Park for three dollars per square foot. From the Palmer Village proposal, “Obtaining exclusive right to acquire and develop the parcels described above is a critical component of the Development Proposal.”
Plans also exist for the renovation of the Sun Building, not formally a part of Palmer Village. Gary Hollenbeck, Sun Building manager for H2 Properties sees the property as a complementary addition to the overall design and development intentions of the Southwest Downtown area. “As Confluence Park and the new civic center become realities, opportunities exist to grow with a revitalized downtown – and we look forward to that time.”
Asked why he, along with the other Palmer Village team members, were willing to put the time and effort in on the long-range plan, Jeff Smith, a native of Colorado Springs says that he enjoys allocating efforts and resources to something that holds so much potential for the community. “I know it sounds corny, but I think it’s just a neat thing to be able to do.”