Nearly three months ago, I joined a group of business and community leaders on a trip to Washington, D.C., for two days of meetings and sessions with government officials, addressing issues of interest to Colorado Springs.
Two weeks ago, I returned to D.C. for an entirely different purpose, this time personal. When adult children are making a cross-country move and need help, that’s when parents step in, right? Even when it means driving their car for the 1,800-mile trip, then flying back.
During our four days in Washington, this visit had nothing to do with government or sightseeing. We were less than three miles from the White House and all the great museums. But that didn’t matter.
Instead, this trip provided a different bonus: seeing real-life urban revitalization, in person.
We stayed in a small area of northwest District of Columbia called Columbia Heights, actually a little less than a square mile in size but with more than 30,000 people living within its boundaries. The main arterial is 14th Street Northwest, and the epicenter includes the totally convenient Columbia Heights station for the D.C.-area Metro train, serving two lines (one with a direct route to Reagan National Airport).
Having easy access to the Metro, and having 10 bus routes passing through the neighborhood, makes it possible for most residents there to not even have a car. But that’s not really applicable to Colorado Springs, so we don’t have to belabor that point.
What really blew me away about Columbia Heights, however, was experiencing something that could transform Colorado Springs, if we could just find a way to emulate it with our downtown.
The concept there is simple. Without getting in a car, you can live your entire everyday life (including work, if you’re lucky). That includes having easy walkable access to the following:
A King Soopers-sized supermarket appropriately called Giant, complete with in-house bakery and deli, meat and seafood markets, among many other services;
Dozens of restaurants and bars, some chains but more independently owned, with almost every ethnic-cuisine choice imaginable, and many with delivery;
All kinds of services and small businesses, from dry cleaning to florists, liquor stores and much more;
And last for this purpose but far from least, the DC USA complex, basically a shopping center inside a redeveloped city block along 14th Street.
DC USA, almost six years old, includes such stores as Target, Best Buy, Marshalls, Staples and Bed Bath & Beyond. With a neat 65-foot-high atrium lobby, it totals about 900,000 square feet of retail space with 1,000 parking spaces underneath (many still prefer to drive, especially when weather’s a factor), and the complex was built for $145 million.
It also helped lead to more than 3,000 housing units (apartments and condos) built or restored within the immediate DC USA area. More residential restorations are reviving nearby streets, and from any vantage point you rarely lose sight of ongoing construction projects, large and small.
You can check it all out yourself, online at shopdcusa.com, newcolumbiaheights.blogspot.com or, if you’re looking for a reasonably priced place to stay, try airbnb.com/locations/washington-dc/columbia-heights.
From my experience, I could envision how a similar, smaller-scale development might look in Colorado Springs. It would be all about convenient living. With the parking lots we have downtown, developers could produce commercial centers, bringing larger retail businesses back to downtown. But having multiple ambitious residential projects of all sizes would be most important, close enough for walking or perhaps a revived shuttle.
Colorado Springs has the ideal location for such a modern-day laboratory of revitalization, basically along and around Pikes Peak Avenue from Cascade Avenue eastward to Wahsatch Street. And I’m not the first to see that.
Of course, if City for Champions can become reality — at least the Olympic museum and adjacent stadium — that would push many ideas from renderings to groundbreakings, even if perhaps that would revolve more around the section between downtown and Interstate 25.
Many of those renderings already do exist, along with other plans for different parts of downtown Colorado Springs that had been closer to reality about a decade ago — until the recession struck.
We just need something to kick-start our urban-center rebirth. In Washington, it was opening a Metro station in 1999 that led to Columbia Heights’ redevelopment, which continues today. Here, it could be City for Champions and/or a few developers willing to roll the dice.
And no, you don’t have to go to D.C. for an example. There’s another just up the road in the Denver suburb of Lakewood, called Belmar (belmarcolorado.com).
That might be the best blueprint for Colorado Springs.
Road trip, anyone?