Opinion: Can Downtown keep this up? It’s complicated

News  /  Opinion


As construction cranes dot the Downtown skyline and new businesses continue to declare “Now Open!,” some may wonder, can this rapid pace of change continue in our city center?

The answer is yes. And no. Well, it’s just evolving. There’s no denying that inflation and recessionary threats have made financing of large developments more challenging in the short term. But, just as Downtown and all of Colorado Springs weathered pandemic shutdowns better than most cities, we’re headed into 2023 more resilient than ever.

This year you’ll still see plenty of small business openings as well as larger employers filling Downtown office spaces. But the real trend for the next two years: Downtown residents. Our goal to increase residential offerings Downtown will hit its stride in 2023 and 2024.

First, though, let’s pause to reflect on another banner year Downtown:

• The long-anticipated SpringHill Suites and Element opened at the corner of Costilla and South Tejon streets, highlighted by the sexy Lumen8 rooftop bar with arguably the best views in the city.

• New retail and restaurant offerings included The Well food hall, Tattered Cover, the Trainwreck bar and play place, Vine & Wheel, and — filling the long-neglected old Michelle’s café on North Tejon Street — Munchies.

• The new ZEB free shuttle operates seven days a week, with frequencies of 7 minutes weekdays and 10 minutes weekends, making it far more convenient to get around without a car.

• Improvements to public spaces include the playground in Acacia Park and the new AdAmAn Alley.

Tracking since the opening of 33-unit Blue Dot Place nearly seven years ago, Downtown has added a little over 600 residential units, for an average of about 100 units per year. In these next two years, however, the city center is on pace to deliver about 2,000 units — a tenfold increase in annual units delivered.

The variety is wide, from The Plaza at Pikes Peak and Fiona anchoring Downtown’s east side, to Norwood’s VIM with units targeting workers earning median incomes, to Sumner House in the Lowell area designed for lower-income residents. Our own Downtown Development Authority will get in the housing game in 2023 as well, breaking ground on the Artspace project offering affordable live-work apartments for artists as well as commercial studio space, scheduled to open in 2024.

Demand remains strong for Downtown living, and we still have a long way to go to offer the urban residential variety and numbers that would be typical for a metro area of three quarters of a million people. Why is it so important to increase the number of people living in our city center? Several reasons.

• Foremost, urban residents become the lifeblood to our independent shops and restaurants. Downtown is their back yard, and they are loyal to favorite haunts.

• Residents add vitality, personality and even safety to a city. The more that everyday residents walk their dogs, hop on the shuttle, visit their favorite burger joint or park, the more Downtown feels livelier, safer, more inviting.

• It’s been estimated that the city is at least 12,000 housing units short to meet current demand. At the pace of delivery in Downtown, and with many more residential projects in our pipeline, this one square mile of our sprawling city is doing more than its fair share to address the shortage — and that’s essential to moderating housing and rental costs regionwide.

• Urban housing attracts talent. Employers know that top talent is in demand, and our region must provide a wide variety of housing types to attract talent — including options for those who prefer active, walkable urban areas.

Urban living may or may not be everyone’s preferred lifestyle, and that’s OK. But all of us throughout the region will benefit as more people make Downtown their home.

Susan Edmondson is president and CEO at The Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs.

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