Old Colorado City visitor center, restaurant use in the works for former Goodwill housesBarring expensive surprises before a tentative May 1 closing, the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) plans to buy the two historic houses next to the former Goodwill building.
The addresses are 2324 and 2326 W. Colorado Ave.
The nonprofit business group, which is the main marketing organization for Old Colorado City, would turn 2324 into a "Westside welcome center" for visitors and a headquarters for itself.
In a related deal to help defray its costs, OCCA would sell 2326 (next to Front Range Barbecue) to the restaurant for possible future expansion.
The seller is Junior Achievement (JA) of Southern Colorado, which last year paid $600,000 for the former Goodwill-owned properties on the north side of Colorado Avenue's 2300 block (except the retail store) and will be moving its headquarters there in April. Not needing the two houses and trying to raise money for a major future program enhancement, JA put them on the market, said David Loose, its executive director.
OCCA signed a contract on the properties this week, according to its executive director, Dave Van Ness. The agreed-on price for both houses is $165,000. Under a best-case scenario, the center could open as early as September.
"I am so excited about the whole thing," Van Ness said. "This is a very positive step forward for OCCA. We're moving forward instead of just being an advertising machine."
Loose offered a similar level of enthusiasm. "We like the idea of Victorian homes being preserved," he said. "If they can fix them up, great. It's exciting that OCCA is interested and think they can make it work."
Van Ness said the OCCA board agreed to the contract after responses to a survey of its 54 business members showed 81 percent in favor. The survey was accompanied by a three-page brochure describing the proposed welcome center's advantages. The space would be allotted to an information area, visitor restrooms, OCCA storage space, a meeting room for the group's board meetings and an office for the director, the brochure states. It adds that costs could be defrayed by renting the meeting room (to non-OCCA member groups) and extra space for an office.
The estimated cost per year, including paying off a 20-year mortgage and keeping up with maintenance, would come to $10,800. Although this is about $7,000 more a year than OCCA is spending now to lease office, storage and meeting space, the plan is not only affordable but worth it by providing a facility "similar to the Convention and Visitors bureau downtown," the brochure states.
It elaborates, under a subheading of "Synergy and Preservation" as follows: "We believe there would be synergy created between the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the Manitou Visitor's Center, the Garden of the Gods Visitors Center and the Westside Welcome Center. Additionally, the property has parking in the front and in the rear of the building. During the debate regarding the Kum & Go, the neighborhood made their opinion known that the preservation of the historic district is important. By purchasing these houses, we can ensure they won't be torn down and redeveloped with projects that may not fit with our historic feel."
Front Range Barbecue has operated for 15 years in a converted house built in 1928. An expansion four years ago added a covered area on the west side of the building to create more dining space and a stage for live music.
Asked about his part in the proposed purchase plan, Front Range Barbeque owner Brian Fortinberry said "I'd love it to come together," but expressed reluctance to delve into details until the closing actually happens.
"It would give us a little more luxury to do things we want to do," he allowed. "We'll see how things roll and keep our fingers crossed."
Not fully known is the condition of the houses. At one time, Goodwill had used them for office space, but neither has been occupied for several years, Van Ness said.
He was encouraged by a preliminary walk-through with a local building contractor that revealed some needs, "but we didn't see anything that jumped out."
A detailed inspection will precede the closing. If this turns up a "prohibitive" expense, OCCA has the contingency of pulling out of the contract, Van Ness pointed out.
The biggest expense for the "welcome" house would be installing handicapped-accessible bathrooms that meet American Disabilities Act standards. He estimated a $25,000 pricetag for that and possibly a like amount for paint, carpet and other upgrades.
JA would retain an easement between the houses. The concrete pathway - connecting the parking lot in back to the handicapped-accessible building entrance on Colorado Avenue -- was also used for many years by Goodwill employees and clients.
Another deed restriction requested by JA is that neither of the two buildings can ever be used for a tattoo parlor or a marijuana shop, Van Ness noted.
Here is some basic information on both houses (from the El Paso County Assessor's website):
- 2324 W. Colorado -- Built in 1898; building size 1638 square feet; property size 3,577 square feet.
- 2326 W. Colorado -- Built in 1899; building size 1,402 square feet; property size 3,600 square feet.
Westside Pioneer article