Interquest Marketplace hopes high

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Colorado Mountain Brewery is one of the new restaurants opening in the Interquest Marketplace.

Colorado Mountain Brewery is one of the new restaurants opening in the Interquest Marketplace.

The closest gas station to Pat and Kelly O’Brien’s house in Abert Estates in north Colorado Springs is five miles away in Gleneagle, and the family’s restaurant options include dining at the Promenade Shops at Briargate, a trip of seven miles or so.

And it’s at least that far to fetch groceries.

All of that will change this fall when three retail projects representing more than $10 million of investment will have opened at Interquest Marketplace in north Colorado Springs.

They include Colorado Mountain Brewery, Cheddar’s restaurant and a 7-Eleven convenience store and Shell station combination.

Plans are also once again moving forward on a Brunswick Zone XL family entertainment center, which represents at least another $10 million investment, though that project is likely to take two or so years to complete.

Each of these retailers is banking on the site’s visibility, easy access from Interstate 25 and proximity to pent-up demand for services from surrounding neighborhoods.

The project stands in sharp contrast to broader retail trends that have seen many expansion plans ground to a halt.

“The market’s hard even for legitimate deals right now,” said Norwood Vice President Fred Veitch, who represents the site’s owner.

Interquest broke ground in 2007 with the development of a hotel that has yet to be completed. Its most notable feature: a Hollywood theater complex. The recession has slowed Interquest’s development. Getting retailers committed to the project is now more critical than ever, in light of plans by competing developers to try to draw tenants to the Copper Ridge project a few miles north. That project was approved by the city council this spring.

The new Colorado Mountain Brewery, a 6,500-square-foot upscale casual dining restaurant with views overlooking the U.S. Air Force Academy, is set to open at the end of July.

CMB partner Scott Koons, who along with his father and 36 investors — most of whom were USAFA graduates — funded the project privately. They decided to break ground last year in spite of a flagging economy.

The risks are clear to Koons.

“We’re planning everything from away game tailgate (parties) to special hockey, basketball and other athletic-themed events down the line. A lot of people from the neighborhoods have been stopping by during construction, too. We’re optimistic,” he said.

Doug Rogers, franchise owner and Cheddar’s founder, said his new 8,000-square-foot location is the company’s second in Colorado.

Cheddar’s is a mid-priced eatery. Its family-friendly menu features typical American entrees such as chicken, ribs and sandwiches, and bills itself as making most items from scratch.

“Our menu runs from about $5 to $14 for most entrees,” he said, adding that he chose to move ahead when other operators held back based on the success of the company’s Aurora store, which opened last year.

Rogers expects his 275-seat restaurant, which has another 50 seats on an adjacent patio, to open this fall.

Perhaps the most anticipated opening at Interquest Marketplace, however, will be that of the convenience store and gas station.

An investor group headed by local Abert Estates resident Marc Jenkins is moving ahead on the project, which is expected to open by year’s end.

Veitch said the station’s “gateway” location at the entrance to the development and its stucco and stone look will help ensure its success.

“It’s going to be very upscale, in keeping with surrounding neighborhoods,” he said.

That might not count as much as the fact that the area in the days before the recession was growing fairly rapidly.

There are now about 27,000 households within a five-mile radius of the Interquest site — and that number is expected to grow to close to 30,000 by 2015, said Sierra Commercial Real Estate retail broker Lori Ondrick.

“Right now your options are about seven miles apart. You have to plan so you don’t run out of gas. It’s either (driving to) the Loaf and Jug in Gleneagle or going down to Briargate (Parkway),” said Front Range Commercial Group’s Jay Carlson, who lives in the Black Forest.

He believes the new complex will draw business from commuters who typically get off I-25 at the Briargate or Northgate exits.

Like many companies, Brunswick has slowed expansion plans during the past three years. The reason: To build its elaborate facilities investors must come up with $10 million or more, on top of land costs.

Once completed, the center will compete against locales such as Mr. Biggs Family Fun Center, off the Rockrimmon exit of I-25.

A Brunswick Zone XL built in a few years ago in Lone Tree features 48 bowling lanes, a 5,000-square-foot laser tag arena, 5,000 square feet of arcade games, eight billiard tables, party rooms to seat 250 people, two bars and catering facilities.

Optimism aside, there is one concern all have voiced: When will the 300-room Renaissance Hotel and Conference Center open for business?

“John Q. Hammons has a lot of money already in it. He’s bound to move ahead soon. Right now I’m just focused on my own building,” Koons said.

“I’m very surprised he hasn’t opened yet, especially when you have that kind of money in it — but it’s his money,” said Rogers, adding that the thriving theater next door and visibility from the highway and Interquest were reassuring.

O’Brien was unaware that work had stopped on the hotel, but said that bothered him less than the buildings sitting empty across the street at the stalled Colorado Crossing project.

“They’re a real eyesore. I hope the city or the county can do something about that,” he said.