It’s a glimpse of what Colorado Springs could look like in the future: dozens of buildings rising up out of the ground from vacant land near America the Beautiful Park and from empty warehouses near the US Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame. The massive $2 billion Southwest Downtown Redevelopment proposal is expected to take 25 years to complete. It is also projected to create 5,293 new permanent jobs as well as 1,358 construction jobs.
Included among the new buildings are a 500-room high rise hotel, 4,500 new residential units, and 750,000 square feet of new office space. At street level would be new stores and restaurants, and beneath the buildings would be a parking garage the size of an entire city block.
"It’s just going to be a great game changer for this community," said Jariah Walker, Executive Director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority.
Project Developer Nor’wood will spend the summer trying to woo City Council, County Commissioners, the District 11 School Board and Pikes Peak Library District to support the project. They want to use future sales and property taxes collected from the urban renewal zone to pay for an estimated $216 million in infrastructure projects associated with the redevelopment.
Those projects include the parking garage and a pedestrian bridge connecting the museum to America the Beautiful Park. Other infrastructure needs include stormwater and utility infrastructure improvements, an extension of Cimino Street, trail connections, new curbs and gutters and public art.
Those projects would be paid for using a mechanism known as Tax Increment Financing, whereby future tax revenue collected above current amounts would be paid to the Urban Renewal Authority. The authority would then distribute the money to pay for the infrastructure projects.
"This isn’t just for tourists, this is something for every resident in of Colorado Springs to be proud of," Walker said. "When they have family come in or when they’ve got kids coming in, whatever it may be, they’ll want to go here."
Former City Councilman Joel Miller thinks the $216 million much too high.
"We’ve got things to pay for like stormwater and roads and police and fire and parks," Miller said. "Why should we be participating in this high stakes investment game."
He said Nor’wood doesn’t need incentives to move forward with the redevelopment, especially when the economy is booming.
"Do you think these business investors would spend $1.8 billion if they didn’t think there was a market there," he asked.
Walker explained that tax incentives are what make urban renewal possible. The infrastructure replacement costs are much higher than they are with new developments. He said that explains why new growth tends to spread farther and farther outside the city center.
"It’s just more expensive to do," he said. "When we try to get people to come closer to the core and do infill projects, you need to have mechanisms in order to help with that."
Walker expects presentations to be made later this summer for the school board, library district, and board of county commissioners seeking approval of the TIF. If they agree, then the Urban Renewal Board must sign off before the project goes to the City Planning Commission for a referral to City Council. If all of the various parties agree, Walker believes construction could begin by the end of the year.