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Downtown digs

Proposal could bring more housing to downtown but not for many who work there


Vice Mayor Larry Small - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Vice Mayor Larry Small

If a local ballot initiative in the November election passes, downtown Colorado Springs could eventually see the addition of 2,000 housing units a departure from the city's earlier plans of a downtown where people go to work and play, but not to live.

"Now there is more interest in urban living," says Vice Mayor Larry Small, who, with Colorado College President Richard Celeste, co-chairs the Imagine Downtown project, a series of planning workshops for downtown's future.

The Downtown Development Authority, which would create a self-imposed tax zone, will be voted upon by downtown's 4,000 property owners and tenants. The DDA would charge downtown residents an increased property tax of .005 cents per dollar, garnering close to $660,000 annually.

The DDA zone would also incorporate tax increment financing (TIF), a plan in which property owners pay a base tax to the city's coffers, while additional tax revenue created through growth is invested into downtown. A TIF would reap between $70 and $90 million over the next quarter-century.

The DDA district makes an imperfect cross shape around the core of the city; it's bordered by Cache la Poudre Street to the north, Fountain Boulevard to the south, Interstate 25 to the west and El Paso Street to the east.

Imagine Downtown leaders, who already have sketched out myriad uses for the DDA tax, say housing and retail opportunities will help revitalize a downtown that has seen several businesses close over the past few years. The DDA tax would likely be used to market downtown to potential developers, providing subsidies that could reduce the burden of breaking ground in one of Colorado Springs' priciest areas.

A preliminary plan includes a desire for "workforce attached housing" for low-income employees in downtown Colorado Springs. But Imagine Downtown leaders have yet to put serious weight behind the initiative that could cure one of downtown's critical deficiencies the fact that the bartenders, wait staff and retail personnel who work in the city center can't afford to live anywhere near it.

"Given that there is very little housing now in downtown, [affordable housing] is not the first or second project to get started on," says Ron Butlin, who leads Imagine Downtown's housing committee. "Hopefully it will be the fourth or the fifth."

Imagine Downtown defines as "low-income" those households bringing in less that 80 percent of the median income for the metropolitan area. This amounts to $50,000 per year thousands of dollars more than downtown's cashiers, bartenders and hostesses earn.

Under state standards, the 80 percent rule is only applied to low-income homeowners. Low-income apartment renters earn between 40 and 60 percent of the median income, which would come to about $25,000 per household. But Imagine Downtown has not yet come up with a plan to bring affordable rentals to this group.

"If [developers] wanted state money, we would not give it to them under that [80 percent] standard unless it was for home ownership," says Justin Marks, a research and policy analyst at the State Division of Housing.

Beth Kosley, director of the Downtown Partnership, says affordable housing should be "scattered" throughout more expensive apartments and lofts in downtown, which will lead to "decreased crime and social problems," according to an Imagine Downtown executive summary.

"We know that we need to mix it up," she says.

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