If you live in Colorado Springs, urban renewal might conjure the idea of large swaths of land cleared and giving birth to new uses.
But the Fountain Urban Renewal Authority
is taking what seem to be baby steps acquiring a few tracts of land at a time in areas not necessarily adjacent to each other. One set of lots, though, has been assembled that will provide space for a grocery store for this city of 32,000 people where the nearest supermarket is miles to the north.
Started in 2008, the authority didn't do much during the recession but in recent years has come into its own by acquiring land and setting the stage for converting blight into green space or viable business uses.
Photos by Pam Zubeck
Kimberly Bailey, Fountain's economic development manager, wants to attract private reciprocal investment.
One project has caused a bit of controversy, but some ill feelings are starting to smooth over.
"It takes a village. That's my motto," says Kimberly Bailey, Fountain's economic development manager who oversees the URA. "One person can never, ever do it alone. It's all about timing and economics."
In Colorado Springs, several urban renewal projects have stretched over large parcels. A classic example is University Village on North Nevada Avenue where old motels and rundown buildings gave way to a shopping district west of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with Lowe's, Kohl's, CostCo, Stein Mart, Starbucks and Trader Joe's. Another is roughly 100 acres southwest of downtown where the Olympic Museum is under construction just east of America the Beautiful Park and where apartments, retail and office space is planned where old warehouses now sit.
Not all of Colorado Springs' URA projects are large. There's Ivywild School, a former elementary converted to a brewery and other businesses, and the City Auditorium block southwest of Kiowa and Weber streets where not much has happened yet.
After Fountain set up its URA in 2008, the chief accomplishment was establishing its boundaries, which cover a stretch of Highway 85 through town and some older areas, including City Hall and its surroundings. From 2012 to 2014, the URA worked on helping a property owner clear an apartment building property behind the 7-Eleven store just off the south entrance to Fountain from Interstate 25. The building was an eyesore and magnet for idle youth and crime, Bailey says. The building was razed.
Another project involves acquiring a strip of land that borders the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks from Aga Park south several blocks to Illinois Avenue to create a green space named "Blast Park." Funny name, but chosen due to this being the location of the historic 1888 explosion caused by a runaway train
loaded with dynamite that killed four people and left a crater 30 feet wide.
The URA also purchased land with a storage building at 212 W. Illinois for $275,000 about a year ago. The building will be used by the city's parks department for storage or could host events, Bailey says. Illinois will be closed from the railroad tracks east to Main Street next year, pushing through traffic to Indiana Avenue to the south; a traffic signal will be installed at Indiana and Santa Fe Avenue, she says.
A key project of late for the Fountain URA is bringing a grocery store to what Bailey says is a "food desert" in Fountain. The closest market is Safeway at Mesa Ridge several miles north and WalMart, also north, on Highway 85.
The block where a new grocery store will be built next year.
Funded with taxes collected in the URA area, the authority paid $765,000 for three properties on the west side of Santa Fe, which is also Highway 85, and south of Missouri Avenue. Bailey wouldn't divulge which grocery company will build on the site but said the existing buildings will be razed in February and construction is expected to start on a 15,420-square-foot store a few months later.
The project was undertaken in partnership with the Colorado Housing Finance Authority, she says, which provides help in bringing services, such as food stores, to underserved areas.
"We're there to get the legs under the project by investing in the land," Bailey says.
In a deal inked about a year ago but not yet finalized, the URA placed a 1904 brick building immediately north of City Hall under contract for $450,000. The building contains God's Pantry and several apartments.
A 113-year-old building north of City Hall in Fountain will be the Urban Renewal Authority's newest purchase.
The purchase speaks to the URA's mission of preserving historic buildings, and Bailey says there aren't many left.
"It's got really good bones," Bailey says of the building. Noting the existing leases will be honored on the apartments, Bailey says URA doesn't have "an immediate intent of use" for the property and that URA officials "want to have a bigger community conversation about that."
The building's owner Carey Adams runs God's Pantry and, in retrospect, says she wouldn't do the deal if given a second chance.
"I do feel like I was duped," she tells the Independent
. "I would have never sold my building if I'd known there wasn't a place for me to go."
Carey Adams, left, with a God's Pantry volunteer Robin Allison.
Adams says she understood the URA to say it would help her find another location for God's Pantry, which gives away clothes and food and also sells second-hand goods. But she admits that provision was not in the contract she signed. It took her awhile, she says, but she's found a location for her store on Widefield Boulevard three miles away.
"I feel good about keeping my ministry going. I want people to know I've got God in my heart and he's watching out for God's Pantry," she says.
Adams hopes the URA can direct some energy to the other problems facing Fountain. "We've got a huge housing crisis and homeless population. People are coming to me to feed them because their rent just doubled," she says. "They [URA] keep buying stuff up and tearing stuff down."
Thus far, according to its website, the URA has contributed $46.3 million to its mission of revitalizing the community's underserved areas through partnership programs and cultivating a "sense of place" to encourage new business development, and, ultimately, improve property values.
"If we show we're investing in our community over a period of time, that's going to bring us the private reciprocal investment," Bailey says.