Access, transit pitched for Academy Blvd. redevelopment

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City planners have big dreams for a six-mile stretch of Academy Boulevard.

Now all they need is the dough.

This past week, the Academy Boulevard Great Streets team, led by Project Manager Carl Schueler, presented designs from an eight-month study on how to repurpose Academy Boulevard through rapid transit, improved roadway configurations and amenities such as bike lanes.

The six-mile stretch from Maizeland Road on the north to Drennan Road on the south is home to more than 60,000 people, which would make it the 15th largest city in Colorado.

The road changed jurisdiction from the Colorado Department of Transportation to the City of Colorado Springs in 2008.

“We inherited the road, so it’s up to us now to determine how it looks and feels going forward,” Schueler said. “We surveyed the vacancy rates, the crime rate, and the demographics, and we talked to the shopping center owners, neighborhood stakeholders and the school districts to determine what the role of Academy Boulevard should be.”

Among others, the project received input from Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs President Stephannie Finley, mayoral candidate Dave Munger, and has the support of Mayor Lionel Rivera.

First off, the team recommends a greater level of access to the southern part of the corridor as a way to increase traffic for local businesses. That stretch is currently an expressway, meaning there is only access to the road every mile or so.

“This is a tradeoff because you’ll lose some speed due to increased congestion,” Schueler said. “But this corridor shouldn’t be the primary way through town; it should be a way to get to some of these businesses. It would reconcile the road with reality.”

Next, Schueler proposes a “robust transit system,” in the form of hybrid streetcars or a dedicated bus line, as another way to encourage business development in the area.

“With a significant subset of people using that, and if it’s enough of an amenity, the area will become a focus for redevelopment,” Schueler said. “That’s where the action will be. That’s where the best retail stores will look to build around.”

Finally, Schueler recommends enhancing the sides of the road where power lines currently “sterilize” a good portion of the property. Schueler said with the help of Colorado Springs Utilities, those could be relocated underground to free up room for bike lanes or landscaping.

Municipal funds are scarce these days, but Schueler detailed potential rainmakers for the project including a tax on local businesses that would benefit from the remodeling, federal transit grants and urban-renewal designation, which would dedicate tax dollars in the area to the proposed improvements.

“Three of the eight segments of that roadway are physically in the worst shape as any roadway in the city,” he said. “We’re going to have to rebuild it anyway; we might as well do it in a way that supports the existing neighborhoods.”

So long, landlord concessions

The Colorado Division of Housing issued its quarterly vacancy and rent study this week. Buried in the back of the report is a “Rental Losses from Discounts and Concessions” analysis that doesn’t grab the headlines, but is significant nonetheless.

When vacancy rates are high, landlords offer rebates or free months of rent as an incentive to lure renters. That’s not the trend we’re seeing now.

Vacancy rates fell to 7.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, a 1.5 percent year-over-year drop.

Apartment Realty Advisors Vice President Kenneth Greene, who co-sponsors the study, told me that if there is such a thing as an “ideal vacancy rate,” it’s 5 percent, and he expects we’ll be there soon.

Landlord concessions disappear as apartments fill up, and you can see that now in the numbers. Losses from concessions spent the last two quarters fell below 10 percent.

“For (losses from discounts) to be below 10 percent is significant for this region,” Greene said. “As vacancies move down toward 5 percent, incentives will continue to go away.”

Hope you took advantage.

Jonathan Easley can be reached at jonathan.easley@csbj.com or 719-329-5235. Friend him on Facebook, find him on Twitter, and follow his blog at www.csbj.com/realestate/

2 Responses to Access, transit pitched for Academy Blvd. redevelopment

  1. “Municipal funds are scarce these days, but Schueler detailed potential rainmakers for the project including a tax on local businesses that would benefit from the remodeling”

    Better talk to those businesses to see if the benefits outweigh the new taxes you’re going to levy.

    Christopher Colvin
    January 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm

  2. The city didn’t “inherit” Academy Blvd; it traded it for Powers Blvd with CDOT for 20 million dollars which was then put into the ciy’s general general fund. it’s interesting that staff wants to increase access points in order to drive retail acitivty at the same time they are supporting a plan (Freeway) which would further limit access to the powers retail corridor which is flourishing. Major retail projects will not be substainable on S. Academy due to the market demographics. And few of us shop by bicycle…..

    Fred Veitch
    January 28, 2011 at 2:25 pm