“The Market for something to believe in, is infinite” – “The Hughtrain” by Cartoonist, Business-Blogger and all-around savant, @GapingVoid, a.k.a., Hugh MacLeod
Colorado Springs. It’s a beautiful place. It has a stunning setting. It’s young, the average age now down to 38 years of age. It’s increasingly affluent and well-educated.
It also has some boring development. Worse, it has some pathetic architecture. I have a crew of clients that I enjoy sending remodeled homes to, and especially mid-century modern pieces (there’s a sweet one on Astron that debuted, today). As a precious example of our fair burg’s demand going unmet by the supply, methinks this shall sell for $25,000 over asking price. Why? It’s special. It’s clean. It doesn’t have artifice. It’s near that jewel Bear Creek Park. It’s bike-able to Gold Camp Elementary. The door is blue. C’mon, it doesn’t take much to slake the consumers’ thirst in this town.
There are a lot of breweries. There is hubbub over bike lanes. There are Tuesdays for Taco Trucks at the Pioneer Museum. There’s an awesome-looking Museum mushrooming out of the earth on the southwest side of downtown. It’s time to think outside the box. Residential or not, here are four developments I propose should happen.
1.) Niketown-anchored Retail by the United States Olympic Museum.
The home office for LIV Sotheby’s International Realty is across from Neiman Marcus and Restoration Hardware at the Cherry Creek Mall, on the second floor of the First Bank Building. The lounge looks down Speer at Mt. Evans. It’s pretty brilliant. A couple blocks away is the design district of the Rockies, a pedestrian paradise. Look at the mock-ups (this is the architect’s website) of the US Olympic Museum and there is a striking symmetry to the pedestrian-friendly design of Cherry Creek. Do either Room and Board or Arhaus belong next to the Museum? No. But what about the retail sponsors of Team USA? It is not hard to think of retail spaces manned by the giants who are worldwide-sponsors of Team USA: Omega, Samsung and Panasonic (the latter has a big presence already in Denver) all quickly come to mind. Domestically, Nike, Polo, Oakley? Those are some serious brands. Given that Colorado fields more Winter Olympic athletes than any other state (not per capita, more than any other state), the best opportunity to boost traffic at the Olympic Museum is to give visitors a reason to make a day of it. Corporate Sponsors of US Ski and Snowboard include Burton, Spyder, Go Pro, Paul Mitchell, LL Bean and Charles Schwab. USA Basketball is a who’s who of contemporary brands, including FedEx, Verizon, Gatorade and Jeep. And at the top of the list of so many of these US Olympic Teams: Nike. Cherry Creek is a place that’s worth making a day of it, even if your finances are only going to buy a coffee and maybe lounge on a bed for five minutes before buying one online. But know another place that’s worth spending a day?
The Experience Music Project, a.k.a. “The Museum of Pop Culture” in Seattle. See any similarities in building design between the EMP and the Olympic Museum? The EMP also has the Space Needle next door, the botanical gardens and the monorail right actually goes through the very guts of the building. It doesn’t hurt that it is near affluent Bothel, hip Belltown, and my friends at Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty have an office blocks away. But it doesn’t have a big retail anchor. Colorado Springs is a fraction of the population of Seattle, but the Olympic Museum is being built at a fraction of the cost and the dirt around it is a fraction of the price. Oh, and parking is easy in Colorado Springs, and the Olympic Museum will be a breeze to get to from I-25. Added bonus: outside the EMP, there’s an incredible playground. A free attraction. What is immediately west of the Olympic Museum? An even bigger, and better playground, one big enough to host 5,000 people with ease, America the Beautiful Park. Nike is an aspirational placeholder for what kind of retail could be constructed here, but something truly vibrant and concurrent with the quality of what is being raised right now in the Olympic Museum would be a natural win for what should be the new beating heart of downtown.
Imagine: Leaving a casual, newly-minted three-star patio dinner, walking down a pedestrian mall minutes before sunset on a July evening. Your daughter squeezes your hand and points to the black and white heroic portrait of the gold-medal winning US Women’s Soccer Team. They have Alex Morgan’s new cleats, but even better, the interactive is set up for taking shots on net with an officially-proportioned goal and penalty box area set up inside. Down the road, behind the museum, a band is being announced as they take the stage at the Thursday night concert and Farmer’s Market at America the Beautiful. Citizens are milling over their picnics. The sun is setting in about 15 minutes behind Pikes Peak as the alpenglow…
Make no doubt about it, I adore Italy. My favorite foods are Italian, my favorite wines, don’t get me started on gellato. Hence, the franchise EATALY really works for me. New York City has a pair of them, and you can also find them in Stockholm, Moscow, Istanbul, Sao Paolo and other places. Italian culture has no difficulty translating it’s popularity.
Want to know a place that makes some interesting wines in 110 degree temperatures? Cabo. Want to know a place that uses every part of the fish? Campeche. Want to take your taste buds to one of the most varied places on earth? It’s our neighbor to the south. Mexico is not Tex Mex. That’s Texan. It’s not Green Chile. That’s New Mexican. From the simple and insanely humble taco to other-worldly complex Mole’s, most Mexican-themed attractions are derivations on Casa Bonita, without the cliff divers.
The only cue a hub of Mexican cuisine, spirits, culture and consumers wares should take from Lakewood’s shrine to tackiness is loud, bright-pink architecture: three stories with palapas almost seems to be a requirement (again, this is a brainstorm, and hail, blizzards and drought need not be considered for a brain storm). Where to build such a place? Why not Ivywild or South Nevada? Need an alternative? Okay, Midtown, north of Fillmore, south of Winter, which is slated for redevelopment in the next decade. In both places, the opportunity for Olympic Museum-like “what the heck is that?” drive-by rubber necking off of I-25 is instant and immediate.
Imagine: It’s snowing outside as you enter on a Tuesday Night. There’s a vibrant buzz on your left as the live-cooking classes on cooking a whole fish on the grill are under way. As you wind your way past the giant indoor produce market, there is a tasting of Mescal flights, beyond. That’s when the Polvorones de Canele catch your attention with the arresting grab of cinnamon. Upstairs is a bakery making seasonal goods for the coming Easter Holiday. As you look through the glass case at the impeccable creations, your eye catches the woodwork back downstairs…
3. Rebadging Corporate Center Drive
One of the greatest recession-think travesties of development locally is Tiffany Square’s conversion to a U-Haul distribution center. I do not do “blunt-speak” very well, but perhaps the busiest commercial intersection outside the Denver Metro area has an insanely large parking lot with moving trucks stored on it, and that rubs me the wrong way, daily. Tiffany Square has never been what it could be, if you’ve walked inside it, you’d know it has settled profoundly due to the shifting soils. This entire area is a tad bit “fun” geologically. However, consider these salient points of value:
- The Growth Campus for The University of Colorado is UCCS. CU-Boulder and UC-Denver are landlocked. UCCS wants to add another 5000 to 10,000 students. If the college wants to be a regional or nationally-recognized university, it needs a bit more pop than a Costco and Lowes across Nevada. UCCS is 1 mile away and easily connected by existing bikepath and pedestrian trails. Expansion of this system would be relatively easy and cheap compared to almost any other location in the West.
- As previously mentioned, the volume of traffic through this intersection is staggering. Remember: the Pikes Peak Region (El Paso and Teller Counties) is now 750,000 people. Woodmen and I-25 is basically smack in the middle of the traffic pattern.
- The Santa Fe Trail winds it’s way along Monument Creek. There are railroad tracks (hmmm… light rail? Oh no, why put a rail station at Woodmen and I-25?) on the western side of the creek. Right now, the only retail taking advantage of this access point is Criterium Bikes and their own little summertime grill out back. Coutura has a cool little patio, but really, that’s it for retail.
- There’s oddly open land. Now granted, the 1965 Flood of Monument Creek WAS a thing. But there is the possibility to build the best-in-class mixed use throughout this area. Three to eight-story dwellings might not be beloved by individuals in Golden Hills or Pulpit Rock, but if done with style and amenities, it quickly becomes an instant attraction for individuals as they first enter Colorado Springs-proper. The best way to make them popular is to make ’em sexy. Take a look at the projects going into RINO or Sloane’s Lake in Denver and there is no shortage of outside architectural beauty.
Such a project likely requires blighting as it would largely be re-zoned. Serious players own land in this area and may not wish to have their existing infrastructure fall into a blighted-category. But Corporate Center Drive really holds very few corporations: it is better known for a cash-only miniature golf course and Denver Mattress than any real “headquarters”. But every existing denizen of this area would get a massive uptick in consumers should mixed-use development arrive in this half-mile stretch of grossly-under-utilized land.
Imagine: Having just biked with the family all the way to the Northgate entrance on the Santa Fe Trail, it’s time for a treat! Front Range BBQ has moved locations and set up a giant patio overlooking Monument Creek. You could smell the smoke from the other side of Woodmen and your son came flying past on his bike saying “race you to ribs, dad!”
4. Durable Housing: Modular and as Off-the-Grid as Possible
I’m in real estate. I’m a capitalist. I love me some Patagonia because it lasts forever and doesn’t need replacing. I’m a rabid recycler. I calculate my MPG on every day’s driving. I also do precious little to make the earth a better place. I burn way too much gas, I consume too much water, I own too many clothes, I buy too much stuff. Environmentalism and consumerism are laced with the language of shame. “Green” is synonymous with multiple off-putting binaries: good/bad; clean/dirty; sustainable/wasteful. Green, by definition is an exclusive term, because it makes a value statement as to what is, and what is not. In our easily vitriolic world, “green” is too easily dismissed as elitist… rather than opportunistic, economically-achievable or profitable. Quick: name any other entire economic sector that can grow from it’s present 10% of realization to a max-realization that is approximately half the GDP-contribution of healthcare? That’s not a profitable space to play in?
The opportunity to change the implied-meaning of that word has to start by smashing the elitist edge, purposing the technology, realizing simple real estate principles of highest and best, and making “green” economically-accessible. Strange partners that represent local, service and pride need to be enlisted.
For your consideration, I submit the United States Department of Defense.
The DOD calls climate change “a threat multiplier”, citing everything from maintaining the infrastructure of harbors and runways, to the onset of rampaging outbreaks of disease, to the concentration of rural masses into impoverished urban centers where citizenry can be readily-radicalized as militants. The United States mans between 600 and 800 military installations across the planet, and the threat of sea rise, permafrost melt and logistical deployment is readily considered every minute by the fittest fighting force the planet has ever seen.
As an interesting aside, that solar array outside The United States Air Force Academy’s south gate, and those solar panels all over the roof tops of Fort Carson’s base housing are not anomalies: the DOD is the largest consumer of renewable energy in the United States.
What does Colorado Springs have a lot of?
- And Military
Combining the two of those, and adding a third-leg (which costs a ton to do, unless you have a big plain of mass to mess with, which so much of Southeast Colorado Springs, does) called geothermal to the equation, presents the opportunity to build large-scale affordable to semi-affordable housing that would immediately overcome the biggest obstacle to going vertical in Southern Colorado: retail amenities would flock to support the vertical population. It can’t be a one-off project, it has to be a big project. If a project goes big, a project can start to realize enormous savings by being smart with how they both create and use energy (see example of United States Department of Defense). A Colorado-wide development tradition assumes that retail will follow rooftops. The problem is that developers just build lots of roof tops, and rarely build projects that demand retail as a component (outside of the city of County of Denver, this tends to be rare). It can be more profitable for builders to build condos (as they’re more densely-populated) but doing them with panache rarely has happened in this city’s history. Doing it with cutting edge net-zero practices, doing it with branding that resonates with our city’s culture of proud military service, and third, doing it with local developers and builders that already have an established reputation in the community, that’s a game-changer.
Geothermal requires digging dozens to hundreds of wells across a large, flat plain. The purpose of the wells is to create a stable-delta of air temperature for use year-round. In the summer, the air mass in-ground is cooler than the outside air. In the winter, the air mass is warmer than the outside air.
My alma mater, Colorado College, converted an existing, ugly, Cold War relic of concrete and made it a Net-Zero centerpiece of it’s next 100 years when they renovated Tutt Library.
“A geothermal energy field on Armstrong Quad, consisting of 80 wells, each 400 feet deep and five and a half inches wide; 115-kilowatt rooftop solar array; 400-kilowatt offsite solar array; green roof-top garden; and 130-kilowatt combined heat and power system are all part of the project.”
Tutt cost $45 million to produce. That is no chump change. But Tutt was also first constructed in 1962, and it always costs more to remodel than to do it right the first time. Building with modular-construction technology to insure perfect on-site tolerances, capitalizing on the DOD’s energy-efficiency, utilizing innovation in the architecture and naming (I’m holding my ideas for this reason!) and making the project as visually stunning as the 2017-version of Tutt is the sort of smart, forward-thinking path to a durable Colorado Springs the market is begging be built.
Imagine: The closing is in 90 minutes and you’re walking through your new third-story, three bedroom condo. A builder known for their construction of million dollar homes up north has decided to “go vertical” and to bring their skill to an entirely new segment of town. The rep is explaining that the enclosed garden plots will be open for plantings on May 1, they’re sorry about the delay, but that late season snow slowed things up. With VA-financing, and savings every month due to the incredibly-low utility costs, you’re about to experience homeownership for the first time. Even better, because the development has been so attractively constructed with such prominent players in the community, and hundreds of residents have jumped at the chance to own and not buy, retail has flocked to the area in a manner never seen in the community. A brand new Super Target opened last month across the street. There’s rumors of a dozen different retailers that are soon to be added, but the In ‘n’ Out Burger opens next week, so you know the developer will have their pick. It’s been a long 24 months waiting for this to happen, but you can see the next 10-15 years being so worth it…
Why was Nikola Tesla actually in Colorado Springs for 18 critical months of his life? And why is there next to nothing permanent that commemorates the man who invented the 20th Century?