The request sounded innocent enough, asking invitees to meet on Feb. 26 for breakfast and a presentation on urban development, specifically the monstrous project surrounding Denver's new Union Station.
Many of the 100 or so attendees surely saw that Chris Jenkins, president of Nor'wood Development Group and an energetic leader in the crusade of transforming our downtown, was involved in organizing the event. So perhaps this wouldn't be just a seminar on Denver's progress. Surely, there would be some tie-in to our City for Champions in Colorado Springs.
In fact, it was far more than that. Jenkins and Nor'wood had brought in some visitors from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, the internationally known architecture and engineering firm whose credentials include the Air Force Academy's Cadet Chapel, the Sears Tower and Hancock Center in Chicago, various New York City landmarks and, several in Denver, among scores of others reaching as far as London, Hong Kong, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
At this point, SOM (as the company is known) has no direct involvement in City for Champions. Obviously, that could change depending on how the design process unfolds, particularly for C4C's downtown elements.
The emerging concept, as came clear at that breakfast, reaches beyond the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, a stadium and events center, and a walkable bridge pulling the projects together. That construction would form the nucleus for an ambitious commercial, residential and transportation-linked development put together by private developers, led by Nor'wood.
Opponents and cynics may relish railing against C4C's flaws or uncertainty, but as far as Nor'wood taking the bold step of bringing in SOM, we should be impressed, even wowed. The point person is Kristopher Takacs, an architect and associate director in SOM's New York office, who heads the firm's "city design" and transportation efforts. In a recent interview with dbetoday.com, he described his work: "We're urbanists inventing the city of the next century. For each project we start by defining the challenges and opportunities unique to the place, culture and context."
This was Takacs' first visit to the Springs, and after just one day of checking it out and meeting with civic leaders, he could see the potential.
"You are blessed with an incredible, spectacular city," Takacs said. "I won't pretend to tell you what you should or shouldn't do. We are starting a dialogue with your city to map out a strategy and projects around the Southwest Downtown Development District. We want to create something even beyond your wildest dreams."
Strong words. Exciting words for anyone who cares about this city's future.
Takacs did offer some immediate advice, which we should take to heart as if it were, say, Tiger Woods offering input on how to hit a golf ball.
"You need strong gateways here," Takacs said, referring mainly to Interstate 25 with its millions of travelers passing through each year. "You need those gateways to announce who you are and even shape your identity."
He did offer a synopsis of SOM's work in Denver, in which the company is creating a 42-acre "civic axis" around Union Station with 1.35 million square feet of development, including 19 ongoing projects within a half-mile radius adding residential buildings, supermarkets, high-rise hotels, office space, a sprawling underground bus terminal and open plazas.
Takacs calls it "a pedestrian-friendly urban neighborhood," and you get the sense he and SOM already see similar potential — on a smaller scale but still dramatic — in Colorado Springs.
"Growth is coming," he says. "You have to decide for yourself how you want it to be. ... The opportunity ahead of you is really unprecedented for a city your size."
Consider the source of that analysis, a key player from a proven giant in the world of urban planning. Think about the fact that Skidmore, Owings & Merrill would not waste its time or roll the dice with its global reputation except for a chance to make Colorado Springs a centerpiece for how to shape a mid-sized American city of tomorrow.
Roll that all together, and you can't help but dream about what comes next.