The earth is moving in Woodland Park — and it feels good.
Construction crews are working on the west end of town, erecting two new stores — O’Reilly Auto Parts and Family Dollar — near the Country Lodge. Central Woodland Park is seeing the first phase of a downtown makeover with Woodland Hardware and Rental breaking ground this month. And crews farther west are nearly half-complete on a massive Bible school campus expected to attract 1,000 students.
“Every one of the components is important in terms of how they affect each other,” said Brian Fleer, Woodland Park economic and downtown development director. “We are in a really good situation with our local government, the (Downtown Development Authority), the staff, and we have strong community support.”
It’s been a long, quiet spell for economic development in Woodland Park. Like most cities, Woodland Park in recent years was just trying to hang on to its existing businesses. Plans for downtown development, which began in 2002, were stalled. The last substantial development was Walmart, at the east side of town, five years ago.
“Over the years we had a number of initiatives that were quite extensive that included well-thought-out designs, and the recession hit in 2007 and there has not been a lot of progress,” Fleer said.
Now things are shaking loose and Woodland Park is poised for economic growth. In the heart of downtown, the DDA is leading the charge with development of a 10-acre site known as Woodland Station. Using tax increment financing dollars, the DDA has committed more than $900,000 toward the infrastructure — which includes drainage, roads and sidewalks — and now is recruiting businesses to the site, which is directly behind the city park on U.S. Highway 24, bounded by Park and West streets.
Page Construction crews started work this month on the infrastructure, making way for Woodland Hardware and Rental, the first store to move into the Woodland Station area. Plans for the entire 10 acres still are being developed, but the idea is that the square will become the town’s “festive marketplace,” Fleer said, with multiple uses, including apartments and possibly a hotel and event center.
“You go to communities throughout Colorado and there is something you can identify,” Fleer said. “We have an opportunity to do that. That is why the DDA was formed.”
Building a town square that is pedestrian-friendly is especially important because the town’s Main Street is a major highway with as many as 50,000 vehicles a day traveling it.
“As Woodland Station builds out, it will be a big asset to our community,” said Kelly Rodarmel, owner of Woodland Hardware and Rental.
His family has been leasing the building for their hardware store in Gold Hill Place since the 1980s. Now they are building their own 25,000-square-foot store in Woodland Station. He expects to open the new store in the third quarter of this year, he said.
“I think there are some exciting things happening in Woodland Park, no question,” Rodarmel said. “You either have to grow — whatever that level is, 2 or 5 percent a year — because a community that just maintains, years down the road they are on the decline.”
When BierWerks brewery owner Arden Weatherford looks out at the 10-acre site, he envisions his future outdoor beer garden. He already has the liquor license and now is in the design phase. The beer garden would be an extension of the city’s park — he would not brew beer there, only serve it, he said. He got the idea recently when a German architect was visiting.
“He said this town needs a beer garden. If this were Germany, it wouldn’t be a question of is there one. It would be, where is it?” Weatherford said.
He opened BierWerks brewery in 2010. But Weatherford also is interested in building housing in that town square.
“There is not a whole lot of residential in downtown,” he said.
In the meantime, he plans to open the beer garden by Memorial Day with some temporary structures and continue to work on the permanent structure.
At the same time, there is serious interest from a couple wanting to build a 12-lane bowling alley in Woodland Station, Fleer said. They’ve already been to the DDA with their idea and are in the financial planning stage.
“Woodland Station — what is so critical is that as it builds out, surrounding properties around it will redevelop,” Fleer said. “That is a huge factor — redevelopment in and around the downtown area.”
Through the 1990s, Woodland Park was growing at a steady clip. Today, the city’s population is just under 8,000. Its master plan projects build-out population to be about 13,000. That includes projected population increase from the Andrew Wommack Ministries and Charis Bible College campus, under construction on a 137-acre site near Pikes Peak Regional Hospital.
While the campus has been controversial, it already is igniting conversations about other potential economic growth, like retail stores and restaurants to support the estimated 1,000 students who will study at Charis Bible College.
“From an economic standpoint, we are excited to have this facility in our community from a standpoint of providing jobs during this construction phase,” said Debbie Miller, Greater Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce president.
The college is expected to draw non-traditional (older) students, and they could bring entrepreneurial ideas, Miller said. Some Charis students already are floating ideas for retail shops that might benefit, she said.
The coming college also brought a renewed interest in multi-family housing, Fleer said. Woodland Park had an active housing industry until 2007, he said.
“We want to foster that industry, plus we are actively supporting affordable housing in Woodland Station,” he said. “(Wommack Ministries) will have an impact as it develops and continues to develop — most people realize, and welcome, that kind of impact to the community.”
Fleer is happy that projects are now getting off the ground after years of discussion. O’Reilly Auto Parts and Family Dollar are expected to open in February. Those two projects also leveraged TIF funds through the DDA, Fleer said.
Although the plans for the downtown Woodland Station continue to develop, Fleer is hopeful the project will be complete in three to five years.
“I think it’s critical,” Fleer said. “It defines our downtown. It’s a major draw from an economic standpoint but also for tourism.”