Staying focused on two zones

Listen to leaders talk about the keys to revitalizing Colorado Springs, and you’ll hear several recurring responses.

Mayor Steve Bach talked about three specific “drivers” this week at his monthly briefing. One is the airport’s commercial zone, being cultivated to appeal to possible manufacturing companies. Next is the future evolution surrounding University of Colorado Health in operating Memorial Hospital (along with an increased presence for Children’s Hospital Colorado). Third, of course, is City for Champions, with its potential to impact tourism and downtown enhancement.

Anyone who cares about trying to diversify the area’s economy would agree with most if not all of Bach’s drivers. But that doesn’t mean the city is overlooking everything else. Far from it.

Encouraging news from that monthly update came in another presentation, reporting on two “economic opportunity zones” focused on North Nevada Avenue and a 12-square-mile stretch along central and southern Academy Boulevard.

Fred Veitch of Nor’wood Development Group led an effort to organize “solution teams” for the two areas, and the separate groups have finished their initial work with impressive lists of strategic recommendations. In the case of Academy Boulevard, the team chaired by Tiffany Colvert of NAI Highland Commercial Group looked at four “catalyst areas” including Rustic Hills, Citadel Mall, Fountain Boulevard and Hancock Expressway.

Both solution teams are proposing aggressive timetables for moving their ideas forward.

Some suggestions are general, such as burying power lines, increasing police presence, supporting more farmers and ethnic markets and expanding the community art program. Others dig deeper into innovative changes, including creation of a straight-through intersection between the Citadel and Citadel Crossing. Among other ideas would be a larger bus transfer station, moving to Academy; recruiting a “pharmacy/grocer” in Rustic Hills; redesigning Hancock-Academy; and assisting retail businesses wanting to locate near Fountain or Hancock.

That’s just a sampling, but the report goes far deeper.

Then there’s North Nevada Avenue, which has gone downhill between Fillmore Street and Garden of the Gods Road. Those ideas include trying to find a purpose for the old Rocky Mountain Greyhound Park, using the old railroad right-of-way east of Nevada for transit purposes as part of a plan connecting UCCS with Colorado College and downtown, working with ComCor (Community Corrections) on its possible relocation, and evaluating whether the city might plan to phase out the Birdsall power plant.

This group, led by Rob Oldach of Colorado Structures Inc. has identified target uses from “hotels and motels supportive of UCCS,” expanded student housing, multi-family housing and office parks, health care beyond plans already pursued by UCCS, entertainment and other “student-related retail and service uses,” and much more.

Another concept would involve changing North Nevada from a major arterial to a slower-moving, two-lane thoroughfare with plenty of room for bicycles and turn lanes. And you might hear the entire area called the University District.

None of these are plans for the distant future. Both teams propose aggressive timetables for moving their ideas forward in the months (not years) ahead. As Veitch put it, “There’s a lot of grant money available,” as well as tax and investment credits, business improvement districts and other tools.

One last positive point: Most members of those teams, we’re told, will continue serving to keep their momentum going.

And that, folks, is how a city reinvents itself.