Developers divided on Academy

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Editor’s note: The southeastern portion of Colorado Springs has had its challenges economically. The Academy corridor project highlights different ways the city of Colorado Springs can help. But just how and how much should the city be involved? This concludes a two-part series looking at the Academy corridor and government incentives for business.

Government should not be involved in attracting business to the Academy Boulevard corridor, say some, while others say the city should — as it already does — offer incentives.

Developers and property managers within the Academy corridor offered their views on how — or whether — the city should involve itself in their business.

Looking at factors like schools, crime and demographics, the city has studied a six-mile stretch of Academy Boulevard from Maizeland Road south to Milton E. Proby Parkway. The study area also includes one mile east and west of Academy. Fifteen percent of the city’s residents live in the area: 66,000 people.

The per-capita income is $46,000, compared with $60,000 for the balance of the city, the report reads.

Also, the crime rate stands 30 to 50 percent higher in the planning area than in the rest of the city.

According to the plan, the goal is to identify assets within the area and “best support revitalizing the corridor.” It also indicates that the city recommends a “permissive and flexible” approach to business development.

“I don’t think the government should be involved in filling it,” said Marty Johnson, CB Richard Ellis Realtor. Johnson manages Academy Tower at 201 N. Academy, which he said is half-filled.

“It’s the job of the owners to fill their properties,” Johnson said.

There are incentives for blighted areas, but development plans must come from a developer, not the city planning department, said Carl Schueler, senior planner for the city of Colorado Springs.

“What we’re seeing is repurposing” of buildings along Academy Boulevard that had been grocery stores now reopening as thrift shops, for example, said Schueler.

“I’ve been in business a long time,” Johnson said. “What we’ve seen here in Colorado Springs is typical ring-type development,” where business developments followed residential.

“Academy kind of cleared out in the last decade, and the Powers Boulevard corridor became the new shiny penny,” Johnson said. “In the Citadel trade area, we lost an incredible number of tenants.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to retailer demand,” and the city hasn’t historically subsidized retail development, Johnson said.

Johnson said there had been too much retail in the Academy area to be supported by the local population. He predicted redevelopment of some of the Academy corridor into other uses, like housing or industrial.

“Some of it will never get used and get knocked down,” Johnson predicted, adding that the area “will never have that much retail again.”

Bally’s Total Fitness, which had occupied a former grocery space at 1801 S. Academy, vacated June 1, said property manager Jay Carlson, who manages Bally’s Plaza and Plaza 2300 on the southeast corner of Academy and Maizeland.

The city can help developers by streamlining the planning approval routine to “make the process shorter and cheaper,” Carlson said. “Historically, they’ve made it so difficult,” so developers move on to other cities.

Also, “security is an issue,” with the higher crime rate in the city’s southeast portion, Carlson said.

Next alternatives

Three entities have expressed interest in renting space at Bally’s Plaza, but the city would need either to grant a variance or rezone it to industrial, Carlson said.

“What we want to do is change the way that building lays out and put two anchors — two different retailers — there,” Carlson said. He did not divulge the retailers’ names. He added the timing would be “if everything works out, six months or so.”

Like Johnson, Carlson also predicted some areas will be redeveloped into housing.

“There’s too much retail there,” Carlson said.

Bally’s closing on South Academy left Bally Plaza at 60 percent occupancy, Carlson said. The Bally’s Total Fitness on 5620 N. Academy, near the intersection with Vickers Drive, is still open and operating.

Meanwhile, Plaza 2300 is at 90 percent occupancy, he added.

Vacancy at Rustic Hills North, near Academy and Palmer Park boulevards, stands at about 40-50 percent occupancy, and is “kind of in limbo at this point,” said property manager Scott Shore.

Shore said he did not know the long-term plans for Rustic Hills North, but “It would be great if we could get a grocery store back in there.”

Many retailers moving east to Powers “makes retail development very difficult. I don’t know how you’re going to attract tenants back to Academy,” Shore said.

Matt Craddock, who manages the Mission Trace Shopping Center at Hancock and Academy, said he would welcome it if the city were to bury transmission lines that parallel Academy. He also looks forward to intersection improvements planned for Hancock.

The transmission lines have a 100-foot easement, which could be better used if the lines were buried, said Schueler. The policy of Colorado Springs Utilities is to bury lines when matching funds are available and when CSU has the money, the project’s summary said. The cost to bury lines is estimated at $2.8 million per mile.

Concerns about crime

The most important aspect of the area is the perception of high crime, Craddock said.

“People typically don’t recreate at night,” he said. After dining out, “people go hide out. A beefed-up police force would help that area.

“It’s sad — I don’t think there’s that impending danger, but the perception is there.” Adding police, he feels, “will give people confidence.”

Any time soldiers are deployed, “the spending demographic is gone,” said Steve Hunsinger of Olive Real Estate Group, which manages the Gateway Village Shopping Center, 2322 to 2460 S. Academy.

“If the government could get out of the wars and bring the guys home, that would be great,” Hunsinger said. “That end of town is so reliant upon the demographics of the base; it makes it difficult when those guys are gone.”

The southern area of Colorado Springs “has always been difficult,” because both the airport and Fort Carson keep development from happening in south and southeast Colorado Springs, he added.

“Hancock used to have three grocers; now there’s one,” Hunsinger said. “I suspect that’s all the area can support.

“I’m not sure what the government can do to improve that condition.”