Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and many Colorado Springs young professionals seem to be localizing the credo.
A group of socially minded residents united in the summer of 2012, choosing to be the change they wished to see in the Pikes Peak region — and Colorado Springs Urban Intervention was born.
CSUI’s first mission was to re-imagine a stretch of Pikes Peak Avenue downtown into Better Block Pikes Peak, which demonstrated the drastic social and physical improvement that could be achieved with a few tweaks: wider walkways, better bike lanes, benches and more.
Since then, the area has seen a surge of creativity and collaboration, which many say has been a long time coming for a city that is often out-shined by the bright lights of Denver.
Michael Hannigan, executive director of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation (which oversees CSUI), has lived in Colorado Springs since arriving at Colorado College in 1971 and described the current time as a “tipping point for the community.”
“Pikes Peak Community Foundation is dedicated to helping social entrepreneurs who have great ideas bring those ideas to life,” he said.
“We’re always looking for good people who have good ideas, and we try to push those people in the Pikes Peak region.”
Hannigan said that although the young professional community has great potential to set a course for the city’s future, there are always challenges.
One of those challenges is keeping college graduates from relocating — the number of local workers aged 25 to 44 decreased nearly 5 percent from 2006 to 2012, according to the Pikes Peak United Way’s 2013 Quality of Life Indicators Report.
CSUI co-founder John Olson, 34, rejects the nonprofit’s identification as a group or club, and says it is a movement all residents may join.
“If you are a member of this community and you really want to help change things, we consider you a part of CSUI,” he said.
Olson, principal of landscape architecture and urban planning at EVstudio Planning, described CSUI, which was inspired by the Tactical Urbanism movement, as a thread that draws the community tighter. Olson described Tactical Urbanism as “those ideas of how you can make low-cost, short-term impacts … or events that make a long-lasting impact on the community.”
In many places, Tactical Urbanism manifests itself in the form of paint, plaster and metal — repurposing once-derelict buildings into public spaces, transforming old shipping containers into eye-catching installations and giving new meaning to a host of objects that have fallen into disuse.
In Colorado Springs, the movement is primarily aimed at increasing the efficiency, enjoyability and interactivity of the downtown core.
On its website, the group describes itself as a proud program of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation with a mission to identify “underutilized urban neighborhoods and streets” and transform these “places into active destinations brimming with life.”
“The Downtown Partnership is really supportive of what they do,” said Sarah Harris, development manager of the Downtown Partnership. “They see ways to bring about positive change … and we’re always supportive of that.”
Before the group had a name, it helped create Curbside Cuisine on the southeast corner of Nevada and Platte avenues, and has since helped develop projects to restore the historic Tahama Springs Pavilion in Monument Valley Park, create pop-up parks across town and to analyze and improve the city’s walkability.
“There is certainly an energy loss when others leave, but there is also this energy gain where people are trying to make this their own city,” Olson said. “There are all these components that are really grass roots but make a big impact.”
When Ryan Lloyd moved to Colorado Springs with his wife and kids six years ago, he was nervous and unsure. He had just left Portland for Denver, but plans changed and the Springs seemed to make more financial sense for the small family.
Lloyd, now 39, said that in the five years since starting Echo Architecture, the pace has finally started to pick up. One reason is The Machine Shop, a collaborative workspace he created to serve as the combined home of four firms — Echo Architecture, Design Rangers, Fixer Creative Co. and CoPilot Creative — and other designers in need of a desk.
“This is something that my wife and I have dreamed about since we moved to the Springs,” Lloyd said. “I love it [in Colorado Springs], but I still think we have some things missing.”
Lloyd signed a five-year lease with Craddock Commercial for the old shop at 4 S. Wahsatch Ave. and redesigned the space with his own simple, modern flair.
Unlike his most recent projects, Wild Goose Meeting House and Manitou Brewing Company, the 3,000-square-foot Machine Shop was not restricted by size. Expected to open in early May, the large industrial space will feature 16 permanent desks (12 of which will be booked), a community table, bar, lounge, and conference and meeting rooms — seating about 50 patrons.
Lloyd said the space will also serve as a sort of art gallery/studio with ceiling tracks for moveable display walls and room for an artist in residence, who will have the opportunity to show his or her art at the end of the stay.
Craddock covered the cost of the permanent buildout — walls, paint, electrical work and solar-powered radiant heating under the bare concrete slab — according to Lloyd. He said he and his wife Valerie, the Machine Shop’s curator, will pay for the other $20,000 in finish work via their parent company, Rootstock LLC.
Despite what may seem to be obvious similarities, Lloyd said The Machine Shop is unlike such facilities as Epicentral Coworking and Enclave. He explained the space isn’t intended to be a co-working space as much as a collaborative, with people working as one group rather than several.
“We’re trying to differentiate,” he said. “I don’t think at all that we are competing with Epicentral. We love them and we love what they’re doing, but this is different. We haven’t done it yet, so we can’t define it.”
Epicentral Coworking, which sits on the opposite end of downtown at 409 N. Tejon St., provides a similar kind of service for professionals in need of a temporary workspace.
“Their mission is different,” Hannah Parsons said, explaining the difference between co-working and collaboration. “They’re more niched in design work. … We have software engineers, writers, people in finance and all kinds of things.”
Parsons, who is also on the CSUI advisory board, and business partner Lisa Tessarowicz have experienced steady growth since opening Epicentral in 2011, and plan to relocate to a larger space this June, Parsons said.
She doesn’t consider the Machine Shop competition — although longtime tenant Fixer Creative will be moving from one to the other upon the Machine Shop’s opening.
“We’ve been very excited about what The Machine Shop is doing,” she said. “This is probably one of the fastest-growing work environments out there. It increases creativity, so I think it would be wonderful if there were several here.”
Another factor that makes the three co-working/collaborative spaces different is availability. While Enclave (2121 Academy Circle), Epicentral and The Machine Shop all offer dedicated desks for $200 to $300, as well as monthly full-time passes for $100 to $200, The Machine Shop is the only business not offering daily and part-time rates. Lloyd said this is due to the difference in structure and his fairly serious vetting process.
“We’re really trying to be a shared-works environment for creative professionals,” he said. “We want everybody in the space to be more established and busy doing work. We want people who are committed and who we can enjoy. … This space isn’t for everybody, and we’re OK with that.”
Both Parsons, who described her work as “loss prevention,” and Lloyd, who has fallen in love with his new home, agree that places such as these are what Colorado Springs needs to retain its young professionals.
And through CSUI, the two business owners consider themselves players on the same team rather than competitors in the same business.
“Colorado Springs has not catered to young professionals,” Lloyd said. “We’re hungry for a town that has culture, and I think the momentum has finally grown to the point where we’re doing it ourselves — grassroots. …
“We’ve got to be lean, mean and smart, and if that means sharing space and sharing ideas and sharing talent, then that’s what we’re going to do, and it’s going to make this town better.”