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Concepts presented to give new style to ‘No Man’s Land’ on Manitou/Colorado Avenue

       “No Man's Land” could evolve into an area that features, at least in part, recreationally geared shopping/ office/lodging “villages” that capitalize on nearby parks and open space, a creek running through it and the national attraction of Pikes Peak.
       Consultants from the Leland Consulting Group and Thomas & Thomas Planning presented this vision for a 1 ½-mile area of Manitou/Colorado Avenue to about 35 people at a meeting in Manitou Springs City Hall Aug. 21.
       The gathering was part of an effort, led by Manitou's Economic Development Council (EDC), to find a cost-effective way to upgrade what it calls the “east corridor” of Manitou Springs between the Manitou interchange and city limits. The EDC, which obtained a grant to hire the consultants, is proposing a Manitou urban renewal authority; its creation would allow corridor developers to use tax increment financing, by which tax revenues from any property value increases could be pumped back into the area instead of going to the city's general fund.
       One consultant idea was for a sporting goods-type store in the style of a Denver REI that uses a nearby creek to let prospective kayak purchasers try out the product. When a meeting attendee suggested that such a store might be discouraged by proximity to the Eighth Street Wal-Mart Superstore, EDC Director Kitty Clemens commented that the goal would be to present a shopping “experience.” Wal-Mart, she said, “is not an experience - definitely not a Manitou Springs experience.”
       The study area itself is not big enough to attract big-box stores, Clemens added. “We're going to be looking at potential boutique developments that specialize in small properties,” she said. “The big boxes are going to North Nevada [Avenue] and talking to Colorado Springs urban renewal. They're not going to look at us.”
       The east corridor area, dominated by small hotels built in the days before the Highway 24 expressway, has been nicknamed No Man's Land because of public infrastructure neglect, including lack of sidewalks, curb and gutter, landscaping and drainage improvements. A recent Leland study also identified blight conditions (as defined in state statutes) in most of the 100 private properties within the study area. Such findings would meet the requirements for creating an urban renewal authority, but the final decision for Manitou Springs is up to its City Council.
       The consultants' study area also extends east of Manitou, covering properties under Colorado Springs or El Paso County jurisdiction, to 33rd Street. Neither of these entities has yet stepped forward with plans to make use of Manitou's consultant efforts.
       Although current economic trends could not be isolated to just the study area, the corridor “has suffered economically in recent decades” and the decline in popularity of small motels has led to a “general economic stagnation,” Leland's Ted Kamp summarized at the meeting.
       The good news, based on demographics gathered by consultants, is that relatively affluent people reside within a three-mile radius, and could be “captured” by high- quality corridor stores, said Thomas & Thomas' Jim Houk. There is also the proximity to downtown, and the natural amenities alone might attract certain types of retail and office businesses
       During the meeting, there was no strong opposition to the conceptual ideas, although the audience, consisting chiefly of property owners along the corridor, offered some comments and questions. Nancy Garrigan, who owns a Manitou Avenue parcel with her husband, Jerry, said she thinks the area needs “more of a clean-up” than a major rebuild.
       John Hooten, co-owner of the Timber Lodge, 3627 W. Colorado Ave., in the county portion of the area, was curious why urban renewal would be better than just “letting the market decide” on improvements. Kamp responded that while the latter is not out of the question, developers as a rule “are attracted to places with a vision.”
       Another concern, expressed by Hooten's wife, Cindy, concerned the Fountain Creek flood plain that constituted the most prevalent “blight” condition for the corridor properties. Mike Hussy of Nolte Associates, the chief contractor under the grant, did not have an exact answer but said the flood-plain scope could be diminished by changing the way the water is channeled. Another possibility is having buildings in which commercial activity is on the first floor and residential on the second (thus getting living space out of the flood plain), he said.
       Consultants stressed at the meeting that no developer is currently waiting in the wings to take on a big urban renewal project and that eminent domain is seldom used in such cases. However, Clemens noted that a great number of the properties in the corridor are for sale.
       Kamp estimated that the consultants would need at least four weeks to finalize plans for a presentation to Manitou City Council. The study began in February.

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