Gold Hill Mesa retail strategy panning out

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Gold Hill Mesa’s development plans include ample space for restaurants and retail businesses.

Gold Hill Mesa builders are making plans to add retail and restaurants to the mixed-use development under construction at 21st Street and U.S. Highway 24.

The 264-acre development includes 82 acres of commercial space on its revised master plan, which the Colorado Springs Planning Commission approved about a year ago. The plan calls for the addition of commercial and retail development at the northwest corner of the property, along 21st and Highway 24.

Plans are in their infancy with several steps to complete before development can start, says Gold Hill vice president of communications Stephanie Edwards, but the builders are beginning to think about what businesses they want to attract.

Gold Hill Mesa’s commercial wish list includes sporting goods and apparel stores, a book store and medical services.

“We’re definitely going to want some kind of entertainment,” she said. “And we definitely need to have a grocery — probably a natural grocer of some kind because that fits with the community.”

She’d like to see restaurants added along the north side of the development, overlooking Fountain Creek and U.S. Highway 24.

“We’re going to try to put an emphasis on getting local restaurants,” Edwards said. “I’m sure we’ll still have some national chains, but the emphasis will be on local.”

She says the development will aim to provide commercial options that don’t exist in what many say is the underserved southwest side of town. She adds that she hopes the infill development will serve to make the city more cohesive.

It’s important to the development team that the commercial element of Gold Hill Mesa be as distinct as the residential neighborhood, which features single-family houses and townhomes with front porches, garages in the back, wide sidewalks, bright colors, high density and an emphasis on community.

To connect the residential area to the commercial space, Gold Hill Mesa proposes incorporating green walkways and an amphitheater near the old smokestack, where residents and the public can see live music and gather for events.

“We’ve turned away some very strong retailers, and at a time when it would have been easy to just let it go, especially for the economics of it,” Edwards said.

Developer Bob Willard has a vision for the development that does not include stores like Wal-Mart or home-improvement giants. They could have a place at Gold Hill Mesa if they came up with a new concept, he said.

“But we’re not doing 10-acre parking lots here,” Willard said.

There will be room for some major national retailers, Edwards said, but they will most likely have to modify their architectural concepts to fit in with the community.

Flexibility is essential to whatever Gold Hill Mesa does. Edwards said the developers wouldn’t accept a traditional movie theater without some modifications to make the space more flexible.

“We’re planning for 2120,” she said, “not 2021.”

Gold Hill Mesa is planning carefully because it doesn’t have room for wasted space. While 82 acres is a fair amount of land, a lot of that is on a steep slope heading up a dramatic hill toward the dense residential development.

Edwards said she sees the grade as an opportunity to do some inventive and interesting work with parking. The team has been looking at European towns built into mountain slopes and parking structures in Colorado resort communities for inspiration.

Colorado Springs city planner Ryan Tefertiller says he expects that when the development team comes to him with plans, he’ll see parking structures built into the slope.

Willard sees the slope as a possible roadblock. It’s a challenge that will require some imagination from designers, engineers and the city.

“We’re trying to do something that’s never been done here before,” Willard said. “We don’t know if we can do what we want to do with the zoning that exists. The city might have to invent new zoning for us.”

Tefertiller says the commercial portion of Gold Hill Mesa is zoned Planned Business Center, which is the most flexible of city commercial zones. It will allow office development, mixed-use office and residential, restaurants, food sales, retail and lodging. With conditional use permits, the developer could even include multi-family, long-term care and mixed-use with residential and retail.

The only limitation is that no buildings can be taller than 45 feet. But Tefertiller says Gold Hill Mesa could be rezoned to Planned Unit Development if it wants taller buildings.

The Gold Hill team will discuss plans with city officials on June 18, Edwards said. Within the next couple weeks, plans will be made available to residents.

The Gold Hill project began in 2006. At the onset, home sales were slow but steady with about 65 homes selling in the first two years, according to Gold Hill Mesa program manager Barry Brinton. Then the bottom fell out of the housing market, and the development had to fight a tough battle about misconceptions that the neighborhood was built atop toxic land. Sales were slow and business was hard between 2008 and 2011, Edwards said.

That’s changed now. The development has sold 146 homes, with almost a third of those coming in the past year.

“It’s because of the success of the residential that we’re ready to start this process with the commercial,” Edwards said.

The development had sat vacant for more than 40 years after the gold mill that occupied it closed down. But with more residents and existing development, concerns have been put to rest and buyers are coming to Gold Hill Mesa, Edwards says.

Willard and Edwards said they hope to unveil their complete concept plan for commercial development by the Parade of Homes in August.

Gold Hill: Brighter future

  • 485,000 square feet of retail
  • 233,000 square feet of commercial
  • 146 housing units sold

Developers hope to attract:

  • a natural grocery store
  • a sporting goods retailer
  • local restaurants
  • bookstores
  • medical services