One El Paso County community has marched to its own drumbeat — and as a result, has watched its population nearly double and its sales tax revenues soar since 2003.
Tangible testimony to the Town of Monument’s economic health includes the construction of the Monument Marketplace at Jackson Creek regional shopping center; a Fairfield Inn (the town’s first hotel in 30 years); and a new McDonald’s, Walgreen’s and an Ent Federal Credit Union branch.
Near downtown, Alexandher Building Co. is working on a $4 million town hall and police headquarters, and an office park developed by former Denver Bronco’s wide receiver Rod Smith is scheduled to break ground this spring.
The seven-square-mile municipality is home to a population of about 8,000. Its boundaries stretch from just north of Baptist Road to Forest Lakes, east to Highway 105, west to just beyond 105 and north to a half mile short of the Douglas County line.
For decades, rooftops sprang up, but commercial services along Highway 105 and in the small downtown were limited, forcing residents to drive into Colorado Springs for restaurants, shopping and services.
That’s changed dramatically because of the opening of Home Depot, Wal-Mart, PetSmart, Kohl’s, and restaurants and storefront services at Monument Marketplace.
Rich Blevins, project manager for Vision Development, and Rob Oldach of Colorado Structures Inc., which built the busy destination center, said its market value is about $77 million.
A building tax base
The 650,000-square-foot center, surrounded by about 50,000 people within a five-mile radius, has generated millions of dollars in sales tax revenue for the town, in contrast to budget-strapped neighboring communities.
Two other sales tax generators include the Monument Ridge center to the east, off Interstate 25 and Highway 105.
Developed by Jim Morley and Craig Anderson, it includes a McDonald’s, a Walgreen’s and a Fairfield Inn.
A King Soopers shopping center is further east on Highway 105.
Town Treasurer Pam Smith said December sales tax revenue increased 20 percent on a year-over-year basis.
“We didn’t quite hit our budget for the year — down about 4 percent — but we were up a solid 12 percent from 2007.”
That’s in stark contrast to Colorado Springs, where City Council has been repeatedly forced to cut millions of dollars from the city budget.
The community’s good fortune rests solidly on commercial rather than residential development. Only local homebuilders such as Challenger Homes and River Rock Homes — and the sole remaining national builder Richmond Homes — are still active in the community.
“We’ve only had three new residential permits requests since the first of the year — and 45 for all of 2008,” said Tom Kassawara, senior planner.
He, like City Manager Cathy Green, expects it will be at least a year before activity resumes.
“There’s a lot of land platted and ready to go once the economy recovers,” Kassawara said.
Classic Cos, for example, has first-phase plats filed and entitlements completed for development at Carriage Point West and The Sanctuary. In Jackson Creek, where a total of 1,000 homes are planned, only half have been completed — and new home sales have slowed to a crawl.
The community, midway between Colorado Springs and Castle Rock, wants to carve a smart future for itself. The town’s Board of Trustees has committed future development to be “pedestrian and bicycle friendly,” Green said, adding that any new developments on the west side of I-25 will be asked to connect to the Santa Fe Trail with bikeways and trails.
Last week, the Tri-Lakes Economic Development Corp.’s business incubator, headed by Bev Levine, said the organization will support companies like start-up American Electric Vehicles as it moves from research and development and beyond.
In what might be termed a major windfall, during 2007, Smith and Angela Cody-Rouget decided to redevelop a 5-acre cement batch plant site just north of town center.
The former landmark has been demolished, a new sewer line will be installed this spring and, once completed, the Rod Smith Business Park will qualify for phased construction financing of three buildings — ranging in size from a two-story 12,000-square-foot structure to an 8,000-square-foot single story medical/professional office building to a two-story light industrial building.
“While the park’s primary users will be medical and professional offices, other approved uses are retail, general office, day care, health club, eating and drinking establishment, storage and warehouse,” said Chad Kuzbek, owner of Westworks Engineering, site planner for the project. “We’re also looking at some level of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certification.”
In addition to Class A office condominium space, the business park also will offer less expensive space for laboratories, storage and noisy medical equipment outside of patient areas.
But future developers shouldn’t take the town’s welcoming tone for granted.
Monument Ridge project planners spent almost two years getting their commercial development approved.
“Monument’s covenants were very demanding,” said co-owner Jim Morley last year, noting that roof lines, signage and parking were all scrutinized more than they would have been by Colorado Springs’ reviewers.
Kuzbek, who has worked on more than 30 projects in the town, agreed.
“When I first started with Jackson Creek, the town didn’t really have formal (development approval) process like they do today,” he said. “You could work off a sketch on a napkin. There’s been a subtle evolution over time. I think a lot of developers used to the Colorado Springs process may not know quite what to expect — but for me, working with the town’s board and staff has been a good experience.”
Green and Kassawara said that Monument’s reputation for a careful development review is deserved — and they don’t plan to change the process, even when building picks up again.
“Frankly, I don’t mind the slowdown — and think you make better decisions during moderate growth,” Green said. “Now we can take our time and do it right.”