Back in June, we heard about local groups spending $125,000 to bring a team of experts here for the purpose of evaluating downtown Colorado Springs’ future, and we applauded.
Not because we were expecting a bushel of brilliant new ideas from the Urban Land Institute’s contingent. We assumed that many of the conclusions might sound like a revised version of themes we’ve heard before, along with a familiar message: Make our downtown more vibrant and appealing, to residents as well as visitors, and the entire city will benefit for decades to come.
That turned out to be accurate, as the ULI folks led by former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut returned this week for their final presentation. They came armed with refined, specific recommendations, and that’s fine, but the input won’t matter unless Colorado Springs does something about it.
Which is exactly why we cheered this project in the first place. We got the distinct impression that this report wouldn’t quickly wind up on a storage-room bookshelf, destined to gather dust and be forgotten. The right people were behind it, and they wanted fresh guidance — even if many details might be recycled.
This group smartly built on local ideas already in the works. The visitors learned about campaigns, in varying stages, to build new downtown museums for children, science and the Olympics. They produced a concept for an arts-and-entertainment area that could handle all that and more. They even suggested renaming America the Beautiful Park (after all, that wasn’t the original name … remember Confluence Park?), and making it Olympic Park.
If there’s an Olympic museum nearby, why not? No reason to be paranoid about the park’s name, because it wouldn’t be trying to make a profit off the Olympics. It would be honoring the local Olympic presence, including a wall (like the Vietnam Memorial) inscribed with every U.S. Olympian’s name, so why not?
The other priority that we like is the emphasis on creating affordable downtown housing, modest at first, with more later. They aren’t telling us to erect thousands of units — just a few hundred, realistic for now, aiming to attract college students.
ULI dug deeper with some observations, even wondering why downtown doesn’t have a Walgreens-style drugstore or a grocery. Housing, of course, would help change that.
So what happens next? Let’s be realistic: There’s no way to expect Mayor Steve Bach and City Council to give the ULI report an instant, loving embrace.
Regardless of what anyone says, they first want to see whether voters renew the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority tax for infrastructure improvements. That likely will happen, but nobody is taking it for granted, just as civic leaders are holding their breath about federal budget cuts and possible sequestration, which could postpone indefinitely the hope of anything positive for Colorado Springs. If those issues work out, the city can address other matters.
ULI made a strong point with Hudnut saying “downtown needs a champion” to lead a revitalization that becomes a renaissance. He added that Mayor Bach might appoint such a person, “who could even be on the public payroll,” to spearhead the downtown effort. That “champion” could put together an aggressive timeline, tied to achievable goals.
With that timeline, and leaders determined to make it happen, this could go somewhere.