ULI: prioritize residential development

A panel of 10 downtown redevelopment experts from the Urban Land Institute recommend turning America The Beautiful Park into Olympic Park and constructing a wall there featuring the names of all the nation’s Olympic athletes through history.

The recommendation was part of the panel’s presentation to a group of community members at the Fine Arts Center Friday morning.

Panelists arrived in town last weekend with a mission to spend one intensive week in the city and offer suggestions for action and implementation that would lead to a downtown renaissance.

Panelists carried on with their assignment despite the distraction and concern caused by the Waldo Canyon fire that burned 347 homes in the northwest part of the city and forced the evacuation of 32,000 residents.

Panel chair Bill Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis, announced Friday that the ULI would offer a disaster recovery advisory panel to the city free of charge at a future date. ULI panels have advised cities like Oklahoma City and New Orleans on recovery efforts after disasters.

The panel offfered suggestions to spur a downtown renaissance that would help Colorado Springs “rise from the ashes like a phoenix, both literally and symbolically.”

The recommendations focused on three primary goals: downtown residential development, arts and culture and collaboration between downtown organizations.

Walter Bialas, a real estate consultant from Washington, D.C. said there is currently demand for 200 to 300 units of residential development downtown and the panel recommended that it begin with some 50-  to 75-unit apartment buildings with rents ranging from $800 to $1,200.

Panelists said there could also be room for some student housing downtown that would anchor some University of Colorado at Colorado Springs activity in the city’s core. After initial residential development, Bialas said demand for residential development downtown could expand to 3,000 to 6,000 units of housing ranging from lower-end rentals to townhomes and high-end lofts with the next 10 to 15 years.

Glenda Hood, former mayor of Orlando, Fla. said that in order to achieve that type of development in her downtown, Orlando offered government incentives to the earliest adopters who built housing and hotels. Those incentives got projects off the ground and spurred further development.

The panel also suggested continued development of an arts and culture scene downtown along with maintaining and improving greenways. The city is in a unique position where it could market itself as a health and wellness center, panelists said.

And finally, the panel recommended that the city find a champion – probably the downtown partnership or Mayor Steve Bach’s downtown solutions team to lead all of the various groups and organizations that have their own agendas now.  The panel said those groups need to be more cohesive.

“What we can’t have is a lot more talking about what we should do,” Hudnut said. “We have to move forward. You can’t sit on your  — assets – forever and expect to make progress.”