Compared to other shopping centers, Mission Trace goes at its own pace.
On a recent Wednesday at the retail center of about 20 businesses in Southeast Colorado Springs, traffic trickled into the parking lots and empty U-Haul trucks awaited outside a Self Storage store. Diners walked in and out of restaurants — Sabrina’s Soul Food Kitchen, Mariscos Altamar — while music echoed from inside Trends of Africa & Alterations and lights flickered from the windows of Ebony’s Beauty Supply.
But slow doesn’t mean no progress.
A recent remodel included fresh paint, new signage and parking lot resurfacing for the center’s buildings. And Mission Trace will soon welcome the newest location of Las Tortugas, a popular Denver-based tortas shop.
These updates come from Craddock Commercial Real Estate, which purchased the once-bustling shopping center in 2006 after it fell into foreclosure.
“About 20 percent of it was occupied and it was falling apart,” says Matt Craddock, an owner of his family’s real estate company. “It was a derelict shopping center. We decided, ‘We’ll come in and fix this up.’”
Craddock has since poured more than $3.5 million into the center. By 2010, it was 95 percent occupied and has kept that rate.
Fixing it up hasn’t been as straightforward as the new black-and-white paint job. Mission Trace has been caught up in complications for years.
The main complication is impossible to miss: In the middle of Mission Trace sits a vacant and decaying 58,242-square-foot supermarket building with boarded-up doors and holes in the walls.
“It brings the whole shopping center down,” says Craddock, who doesn’t own the building. “It continues to be a sore spot.”
The building, once home to King Soopers, has been sitting empty since 2003, when the grocery store moved across the street and shopper traffic followed. It marked the end of Mission Trace’s heyday.
In the 1980s the center, near the intersection of South Academy Boulevard and Hancock Expressway, boosted business and brought in the Southeast’s first bank. Since it hit the skids in 2003, it’s been the subject of several studies and proposals, including a 2009 initiative called Dream City 2020 and a 2018 study by the Urban Land Institute.
Plans presented by developers and others over the years have not come to fruition. That includes efforts by Solid Rock Community Development Corporation to turn the shopping center into a community hub.
In 2018, Solid Rock’s Executive Director Benjamin Anderson told us about the vision for Mission Trace to become “the center for entertainment, the center for communication and the center for recreation for the Southeast.” He detailed plans to turn the old King Soopers into a community recreation center or gathering place. Those dreams were to be funded by a $1 million grant from The Colorado Health Foundation, awarded in November 2018.
It continues to be a sore spot.
— Matt Craddock
Now, those plans are “dead,” says Anderson.
“The status of Mission Trace becoming a community hub has not been talked about for [about] three years,” he says. “We’ve moved on.”
Craddock says his company worked with Solid Rock for two years. He says seeing those plans fall apart was “devastating.”
“It didn’t make sense financially,” he says. “That conversation has completely disappeared.”
The grant, though, is “still in play.”
That initial grant’s period was slated to end in October 2021. It was then extended through January 2024 and the grant amount was increased to $2 million, according to Taryn Fort, senior director of communications and influence with The Colorado Health Foundation.
Anderson hinted that Solid Rock hasn’t given up on the idea of a community hub for the Southeast in another location. And Solid Rock still has a presence in the shopping center via a community food pantry, which distributes free food weekly.
More hope for Mission Trace came in 2020, when Toby Gannett, owner of BCR Management, proposed turning the old King Soopers building into 280 units of affordable housing.
Craddock, who also helped work on that deal, says it simply “didn’t go anywhere.” Sixty35’s attempts to reach Gannett were unsuccessful.
“Every year since 2006, I’ve been throwing ideas against the wall to try to make something happen,” Craddock says. “If I could figure out a use for that King Soopers, I would be the first one in line.”
The problem goes back to 2003, when the former King Soopers building was purchased by Parkway Market Limited Liability Company, which is owned by Denver-based businessman John Buckley.
Buckley owns at least part of a competing shopping center across the street, according to Craddock.
“He hasn’t been motivated to sell,” Craddock says. “I think this has been a really fun game for him. He’s wrecking what could be a community asset.”
(Sixty35 attempted to contact Buckley at several phone numbers, and was unable to reach him. Olive Real Estate, which is trying to sell the building for Buckley, declined to provide any contact information for him, or to comment for this story.)
In 2010, Craddock told us about the same issue.
“I’ve tried to talk to him, but got nowhere — but I’ve heard he’s starting to get serious about selling,” Craddock said at the time.
Thirteen years later, there’s one indication of that being true. The empty supermarket at 3175 Jet Wing Drive is listed for sale via Olive Real Estate Group (olivereg.com/listings/#/property/118374). It comes with a price tag of $2.5 million.
Olive Real Estate states the site has “direct visibility from Academy Blvd, which features daily average traffic counts of 55,700 vehicles per day.”
Craddock sees the “untapped” potential. He just hopes a buyer does, too.
“It’s a golden opportunity,” he says. “It would raise up the whole community. It just needs a creative redo.”
Craddock suggests an entertainment complex, amphitheater or community center.
For now the building sits vacant, as it has for 20 years. And Mission Trace is still without an anchor to draw in shoppers.
“It’s a great local shopping center,” Craddock says. “Until that King Soopers is dealt with, it will never be more than it is.”
Craddock is still on that mission.
“It’s my No. 1 project,” he says. “I’m never going to give up.”