Academy experiences ‘repurposing’ of buildings

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In southeast Colorado Springs, the use of many buildings has changed in recent years.

“Repurposing” is the descriptive term identified by Carl Schueler, senior planner for the city.

What used to be a big-box store on the corner of Hancock Expressway and South Academy Boulevard is now the home of Victory World Outreach chapel.

A development south of Academy and Palmer Park boulevards, which had been a Sports Authority, now stands mostly vacant, with Passages, another church-related entity, occupying some of the space around the corner in what once was known as Rustic Hills South.

At Rustic Hills North, one former Albertsons supermarket was recently converted into an event center.

Goodwill soon will occupy what had been a Home Base big-box store, also at Hancock and Academy.

“That had been closed for a very long time,” Schueler said. “What we’re seeing is repurposing.”

Business vacancies along the six-mile Academy Corridor north of Milton E. Proby Boulevard are around 25 percent, more than double the rest of the city’s 11.5 percent vacancy rate, according to a study conducted by the city. The area is designated one of three Economic Opportunity Zones as identified by the city’s 2013 strategic plan.

The city’s Academy Boulevard Corridor Great Streets Plan (tinyurl.com/Springs-Academy) includes statistics on all aspects of the area, including public transportation, crime, unemployment, office and business vacancies, housing, schools, and more.

To combat further vacant storefronts, and to encourage business along Academy Boulevard in southeastern Colorado Springs, there are a number of tasks the city can undertake, said city staff members.

The area is “over-retailed,” said Schueler. “It really has a large population, but it’s getting older; it’s been identified that some of these retail properties should convert to other uses.”

Because the population is aging, some of the retail could also be converted to senior housing, Schueler said.

Beyond the malls

Schueler cited as an example the Rustic Hills North development north of Palmer Park Boulevard. Schueler called Rustic Hills North “a 1960s shopping center that’s pretty dilapidated.” The vision for that would be for someone to tear it down and rebuild it with a different use, possibly housing, he said.

Schueler also highlighted The Citadel, a traditional enclosed mall that has been in business since 1972.

“Essentially, there have been no traditional malls built in 29 years,” Schueler said. The challenge with The Citadel is that it’s “still pretty successful” despite its Macy’s anchor store closing.

Mayor Steve Bach has established an Economic Opportunity Zone Strategies Team chaired by Fred Veitch of Nor’wood Development Group, said Bob Cope, economic vitality director for the city.

“We want to find ways to incentivize developers to make investments in southeast Colorado Springs,” Cope said.

How to accomplish that results in a list of potential tools the city and the business community can use to encourage business, Cope said.

The first he mentioned is “form-based” zoning, which looks at the form of a business more than the use of the property.

Colorado Springs Utilities can upgrade utility lines at no cost to the developer, Cope suggested. This solution, like the form-based zoning, would require City Council approval.

City staff can be “as flexible as possible” with the land use process and issuing building permits, he added. The city’s rapid response team can cut in half the time it takes for a proposal to be approved, he said.

Lowe’s example

Cope cited the Lowe’s home improvement store at Academy and Platte Avenue, just east of The Citadel, as an example of helping a developer with little city investment. Lowe’s had purchased the real estate years before the development started, and that property stood vacant for several years until the city and Lowe’s reached agreement on incentives.

“We were willing to rebate a small portion of their sales tax,” Cope said. It was enough of an incentive to move the development to the top of Lowe’s corporate list of projects to pursue. The amount rebated was $250,000.

The city can also make it easier for development, Schueler said. The plan recommended the city use a “permissive and flexible” approach, “so long as the activity does not preclude the long-term vision or adversely impact public investments.”

“You can’t be too picky if someone’s wanting to redevelop property. Maybe it’s a thrift store, but it’s better than a vacant store,” Schueler said.

Another opportunity listed in the plan involves burying overhead transmission lines in the corridor. That comes with a hefty price tag — $3 million per mile, Schueler estimated.

Burying the transmission lines would “repurpose” some of the easements for private and public development, the plan said.