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Updated downtown development plan draws criticism from Colorado Springs City Council

Plan focuses on area near Olympic Museum

Images show possible future of downtown Colorado Springs

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Local planners, designers and city staff have presented the latest version of a redevelopment plan for the southwest downtown area of Colorado Springs.

But the plan drew sharp criticism from some City Council members, particularly Jill Gaebler and Bill Murray.

At the City Council's regular work session Monday, presenters said they only wanted to display ideas and concepts for developing the area east of the Olympic Museum project.

"Nothing is set in stone yet," said Ryan Tefertiller, the city's urban planning manager.  "We'll keep working on the plan and come back to you (the Council) with final versions."

The target area would start on four square blocks covering Vermijo Avenue, and Sierra Madre, Sahwatch and Costilla streets.

Presenters said the development will cost $2 billion over 20 years, with all but $200 million coming from private investors.

The development also intends to create more than 6,600 jobs, as well as generate $100 million in sales tax revenue and $11 million in property tax revenue.

Presenters said the plan's goal is to improve the blighted area across from what will be a brand new museum.

The plan also includes several high-rise buildings -- between 15 and 19 stories in height -- for mixed-used purposes, such as 4,500 residential units, 500 hotel rooms, 750,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 of retail and restaurant space.

A two-level, 1,000-space underground parking lot for the museum is part of the plan.

Murray and Gaebler expressed concern about costs, the necessity of some parts of the plan, the lack of a final version, presenters not giving the Council enough time for study and whether affordable housing will be included.

"There are a lot of issues involved here," said Murray, emphatically shaking a copy of the plan.  "We're skimping and glossing over a lot of this.  The plan would physically move the center of the city.  So if your business is farther away from that, how many people will actually walk to your business?"

Murray also questioned the need for a pedestrian bridge across railroad tracks to connect the museum to America the Beautiful Park -- a feature expected to cost $10.6 million

Presenters said the bridge will provide safer access and views of downtown and the mountains.

The council could vote on some aspects on the plan as early as next month, but Gaebler said she wants planners to solicit public input.

"I love the presentation material," Gaebler said.  "But it didn't get out to us and the community until (Sunday) night after 8 p.m.  That is just not acceptable."

Other aspects of the plan include an urban renewal district, a business improvement district and a metro district to generate tax revenue, some of which would pay for operations, maintenance and marketing.

"Special districts like these are already in place in Denver and Aurora," said Jariah Walker, one of the presenters.  "But these will be the first for Colorado Springs."

"I like the plan," Councilman Tom Strand said.  "I don't think it's too ambitious."

Because there is no building height limit in the development area but there is a limit in the surrounding downtown area, some City Council members worry about high-rises blocking mountain views.

"I like the plan but I wouldn't be too happy about losing views," said Wayne Timan, a citizen. 

Another citizen, Amy DeShiro, disagrees.

"I think the mountains span far enough across the city that if you want to see them, you can see them pretty much anywhere you go," she said.  "It's not just that you can only see them from right here.  So I think that's not an issue.  Colorado Springs really needs something like this."

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