Ever visit a Kum & Go? They’re to convenience stores what Costco is to retailers. They’re big, efficient and customer friendly. Pumps are widely separated and easy to access. The stores are spacious and welcoming, offering fresh pizza and pastries, and many locally sourced products.
The privately owned Midwestern chain has entered the Colorado Springs market with a vengeance, with eight stores already in the city, and one in Monument. The company plans to have 20-25 locations in the region in the near future. In fact, they’ve just contracted to buy a couple of rundown commercial buildings not far from downtown, demolish them and put up a sparkling new Kum & Go for the convenience of all.
So what’s not to like? It’s not about the store — it’s about the location.
Now owned by Goodwill Industries, the proposed Kum & Go site covers nearly the entire city block bounded by West Colorado Avenue, 23rd and 24th streets, and Cucharras. That’s at the gateway to Old Colorado City, the restored Victorian commercial district that narrowly avoided the wrecker’s ball 30 years ago.
Now a National Historic District, Old Colorado City is literally irreplaceable. By definition, no Victorian commercial structures have been erected since Jan. 22, 1901, when the “Old Queen” breathed her last. Benighted property owners in our city’s once-resplendent downtown ripped down iconic Victorian buildings such as the former Antlers Hotel and Burns Opera House during the 1960s, but Old Colorado City still stands.
It has been a lively, vibrant place for the past three decades. Locally owned wine bars, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, jazz bars, art galleries and other small retailers occupy storefronts along Colorado Avenue and down the side streets. It’s been a success — but the area needs some upgrading.
Consider Manitou Springs, which has transformed a dowdy downtown into a sparkling gem. Private investment has gone into the restoration of existing buildings and the construction of compatible new ones, complemented by publicly funded streetscape improvements.
The result: more businesses, more visitors, pedestrian traffic, tax revenues, more jobs, higher property values. It’s called a virtuous circle, which can’t occur without close collaboration among government, businesses, residents and property owners.
Can Kum & Go be part of such a process?
“We want to expand and extend the concept of Old Colorado City,” said County Commissioner Sallie Clark. “Kum and Go is the right project in the wrong place.”
The Goodwill properties have been on the market since 2011. At a public meeting during October of that year, neighborhood residents asked Goodwill to find a buyer who would redevelop the site as an extension of Old Colorado City.
Apparently, no such buyer came forward.
The concept plan for the site calls for 10 gas pumps and a 5,000-square-foot store. The company has informally proposed a brick façade for the store to make it more compatible with the neighborhood.
Motorists along Colorado Avenue currently are served by four convenience stores/gas stations, located at 15th, 21st, between 27th and 28th, and at 30th — not to mention Rudy’s at U.S. Highway 24 and 31st. That would seem enough to serve the market, particularly since there are four more on Uintah Street just a short drive north of Colorado.
Kum & Go’s higher-ups don’t care. They know how to dominate markets, and it’s reasonable to assume they expect to win. But they may be in for a fight.
“It looks like something in a strip mall, not an historic district,” Clark said. “I’m just disappointed that Goodwill would look at this from a monetary standpoint. And I have some real concerns about traffic pulling in and out in an area that we’re trying to make as pedestrian-friendly as possible.”
Before construction can begin, Kum & Go’s proposal must jump the usual hoops, starting with public meetings, then the Planning Commission, and eventually City Council.
It’ll be a classic fight, pitting local residents and businesses against the cold-eyed professionals of a national chain. And Westside leaders have begun their campaign. Last week, board members of the Organization of Westside Neighbors voted unanimously to oppose the project.
Land-use matters are the exclusive purview of City Council. Will a majority vote to let the market rule, regardless of neighborhood impact? Or can they help craft a better solution? You can be sure that Mayor Steve Bach and Clark are privately chortling over the political dilemma facing the pushy new kid on the block who represents the Westside on Council.
Will he stick with core conservative principles, or will he vote with the majority of his constituents? He can’t win.
Welcome to the real world of city politics, Keith King.