Copper Ridge project vote: Calculated risk or folly?

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The Colorado Springs City Council rolled the dice in its decision this week to approve an urban renewal plan for Copper Ridge at Northgate, a 2.5-million-square-foot retail development that’s proposed on 200 acres of undeveloped land southeast of Interstate 25 and North Gate Road.

Let’s hope it all works out. Any argument that an undeveloped piece of land outside the city’s core should be slotted for “urban renewal” is, of course, absurd on its face.

Developer Gary Erickson pitched  the Copper Ridge plan to the city’s Urban Renewal Authority last month. But based on the council’s action, we might as well dismantle the authority and send everyone home.

The authority is a nine-member volunteer board charged with recommending to City Council which proposed redevelopment projects should be approved for tax breaks that will in turn benefit the “blighted” area in question. If it matters to anyone, the authority voted the project down.

Erickson got his wish in part by promising that tax revenues generated by his project could be used to pay for the long-needed Powers Boulevard extension to I-25, a project that the Colorado Department of Transportation is supposed to be building but which it can’t afford to complete for years to come.

He also swayed the council by saying he’s working to attract high-end retail anchors, such as Nordstrom. The retailer doesn’t typically open stores in markets with fewer than 1 million people, so Erickson’s claim is an interesting one, but never mind.

City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the plan.

Again, we can only hope for the best.

But before we move on, let’s be honest about one thing: The approval of this plan is an abuse of the spirit behind the urban renewal philosophy.

Urban renewal is intended to breathe new life into decaying city centers, offering developers incentive to build in areas that might otherwise be overlooked.

Heck, if we’re going to offer this sort of help to Erickson, wouldn’t it be fair to do the same for the developers of the Promenade Shops at Briargate?

There’s no doubt the city will benefit from the tax revenue that could be generated by the development of Copper Ridge. Of course, it should also expect the new competition to cause tax revenues to fall at the Promenade Shops at Briargate.

Moreover, whenever urban renewal status is granted to a project that is neither “urban” nor “renewal,” it lessens the chances that developers will consider the areas that really need it.

How about a Nordstrom downtown? Or how about south Nevada?

That’s where the renewal is needed most, not in the suburban sprawl of the northern edge of the city.