Imagine Downtown sets ‘lofty’ goals for Springs

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It is going to be a busy year at the Downtown Partnership, as the group begins the next phase of Imagine Downtown, a plan to revitalize and remake the Colorado Springs’ central business district.
The group spent 2005 creating committees and organizing a series of workshops designed to create momentum for the downtown area.
“Some of the committees are focused on parking and transportation; others on economic vitality,” said Beth Kosley, executive director of the nonprofit organization. “The marketing committee has been meeting to discuss branding downtown to better tell its story. Downtown is the heart and soul of a community, but we have to get those words to mean something. They’re working on the town’s history and its special status.”
The committee volunteers have a daunting task: to turn a vision of housing, jobs, retail development and parking into reality. Kosley said the group is interested in creating a downtown development authority to seek funding for the projects.
“These committees are how to get to the downtown we all know we can have,” she said. “It rounds out the plans, gives them more definition. By the end of the year, all the committees will have come up with a list of things that need to happen, reduce the barriers to make them happen and seize the opportunity. The funding will also be worked out.”
Imagine Downtown is moving away from ideas that failed in the past, Kosley said. Instead of seeking typical downtown projects, such as a movie theater or a ball park, the group is looking for unique venues.
“We call it ‘one of,’” she said. “When a community has the ability to support a unique thing that there’s only one of in the entire community, that’s what we’re looking for. The Pikes Peak Center is a perfect example. It’s a state-of-the-art performing arts center, and we’re so proud that it is downtown.”
Kosley said that providing affordable downtown housing is a priority for the group.
“We’ve had tremendous success with the lofts in the core,” she said. “And more people are interested in the new ones being built on Tejon Street. But we need to provide more, different kinds of housing, with different price points. It won’t be totally market-driven, because we know it has to be assisted to meet medium point prices.”
Les Gruen, CEO of Urban Strategies, has been part of the planning process. As the chairman of the development committee and its three subcommittees, Gruen said the plan will benefit the entire community.
“The intellectual firepower that has been mustered to make downtown a better place is just amazing,” he said. “We’re talking about people with years of experience behind them, bringing that experience and their personal commitment to bear. The result is going to benefit all of downtown and the community.”
The development authority will allow the organization to put together funding while the plan is being developed.
“The plan is to build list of types of projects that fit downtown and that we need to attract to downtown,” Kosley said. “For instance, bringing jobs downtown is one of the goals. So, we hope to create a list of companies that … would want to expand or move downtown. What types of regular anchors are logical (for) downtown?”
Kosley said the process was designed to step back and view the idea of growing downtown in a different manner.
“We need to market downtown more aggressively,” she said. “We’d like to have a theater, something like that. We’re still in the infancy of it all, still starting to work it all out.
“For instance, when 32 Bleu closed, it left a big hole in the market. We need to see what might be done to create a new type of venue for the bands that used to play at 32 Bleu – where to put it, who to partner with and how to provide it. Those things need to be determined, and this process will give us new tools and criteria to do that. We might have a cultural venue; we might have a music venue. We’re not after projects per se, that’s not what makes downtown tick.”
Kosley admits the project is ambitious.
“It’s a lot of work for the committees,” she said. “We have more than 100 people working on this. As long as the chairs and the staff keep them organized, I think it’s reasonable that we’ll stay on top of this and be finished with the committee work by the end of the year.”
For Gruen, the process has just started. His committees are focusing on economic vitality and downtown development.
“Imagine Downtown is just taking another bite out of the apple, so to speak,” he said. “We’ve had several downtown action plans, the first becoming an ordinance in the early 1990s. It’s part of the code; we amended it about five years ago. And now we’re coming up with the best way to transform downtown into a neighborhood that serves its constituents and the community as a whole.”