Tale of two sides: Hwy 24 to swing south at 8th

       A state-planned Eighth Street/Highway 24 interchange lacks final approval and is at least eight years from construction, but there is little doubt now that the south side of the intersection will absorb nearly all the new pavement. Several businesses in the Colorado Place strip-style
shopping center at the southwest corner of Highway 24
and Eighth Street can be seen in the background, while at left is La Casita, a free-standing restaurant in the center’s parking lot.
Westside Pioneer photo
       As a result, owners of the new Shoppes at Bear Creek shopping center (originally a Western Sizzlin' site) on the north side of the highway are confident that their upgrades will not be lost when the interchange project starts, while on the south side the owners of a shopping center, gas station/convenience store and hotel are mulling futures elsewhere or perhaps not at all.
       The result will be the removal (albeit with state compensation) of the largest number of businesses in any one place in the entire Highway 24 expansion project.
       Specifically targeted are:
  • The 37,000-square-foot, roughly 25-unit Colorado Place strip center, plus the freestanding La Casita restaurant, which ironically had moved to the center after being relocated from South Nevada Avenue by the I-25 expansion of the 1990s.
  • The Acorn (Conoco) gas station/convenience store, which has been operated by the Ochs family's Acorn gas distributing company at the southeast corner of Eighth and the highway (also called Cimarron Street) since 1965.
  • The 207-room Express Inn, which, like the Acorn station, was built about the same time as the original highway - initially as a Holiday Inn.

           Why only the south side of the intersection? This was a decision reached by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and city staffers during meetings a year and a half ago, according to City Transportation Planner Craig Blewitt. The main idea, according to Blewitt and Kyle Blakely, a CDOT consultant, was to avoid taking more properties than absolutely necessary when planning an interchange that would have a footprint about twice as wide as the current at-grade intersection. (In fact, when the overall highway expansion project west to Manitou is complete, the segment between Eighth and I-25 will be the widest portion because of through-traffic volume and connections to I-25 on/off-ramps. Even now, with more than 50,000 cars a day, it has a quarter more vehicles than any other segment.)
           Another given for CDOT and city staff was to keep intact the century-old residential neighborhood just north of Shoppes at Bear Creek. In laying out the interchange, “no matter how far north they [the planners] went [short of the neighborhood], they couldn't miss the properties to the south,” Blakely said. “By going to the south, we were able to keep the properties north of the highway.”
           An unknown is what these looming changes will mean for the targeted properties between now and 2016 - the earliest date that local officials have indicated funding might become available for the interchange. John Kim, representing the Colorado Place ownership group, expressed dual views. On the one hand, he said, “I think it's a shame that a commercial retail anchor for [the Westside] is proposed to be paved over by the project. It's a shame for a lot of small-business owners who've been our tenants.” But on the other hand, figuring the interchange likely will not happen sooner than 2016 to 2020, if at all, Kim noted that “it's weird to see so much hoopla about something that's not beyond the environmental impact stage… Ten years out is a long time - who knows what's going to happen by then?”
           The Colorado Place ownership is even “seriously thinking about” doing a renovation between now and then, he said. “We can't just hold our breath for the next 10 years. Life has to go on. People deserve a shopping center that looks good and has good businesses.”
           During last year's greenway planning phase of the Highway 24 expansion planning effort, conceptual plans showed a possible future center on Eighth Street, about the same size as Colorado Place, just south of the new interchange and fronting on Fountain Creek. It sounds nice, but the myriad of logistical details to relocate the Place such a seemingly short distance was outside the scope of the greenway effort. In general, Kim does not want to move far. “It all depends upon what the proposal is,” he said. “This is a growing area.”
           One of the longest-term tenants in the nearly 30-year-old Colorado Place is Billy's Old World Pizza, which was bought five years ago by Jim Hendershott. His lease will expire before any construction would start, he said, but right now he's just trying to ride through the down economy. “I have to get through this before I can think about eight years down the road.”
           Harland Ochs of Acorn described numerous renovations on his property over the years, including keeping up with environmental regulations, adding E85 fuel and changing the original service station into a convenience store. But knowing that the station will have to move within a decade, “it will be very difficult for us,” he said. “We'll have to measure very carefully any investment in that property. I hope we're not pushed to anything extreme by the marketplace.”
           The Ochs family has been gradually reducing its number of stations over the years, from a high of 25 down to just 6 in Colorado now. He could not say whether in 8 or 10 years the ownership would want to relocate the Eighth-and-Cimarron Acorn station or take the state compensation and let it go at that.
           As for the neighboring Express Inn, Ochs said that over the years it has evolved from an overnight motel to one for people needing short-term residential rentals. A spokesperson for the limited liability corporation owning the Express Inn could not be reached, but Ochs said he did not expect to see any major renovations. “The property is due for some sort of redevelopment,” he said. “But I would think the impending changes on Highway 24 would keep that from happening.”
           On the north side of the street, Southwestern Commercial Properties is eagerly moving forward with its plans, which include renovations to the 20-year-old, one-time Western Sizzlin' restaurant building (now three retail units) and a planned second commercial building with access from Seventh Street. “From the drawings we have seen, there will be very little impact on this property from the highway project,” said company vice president Robert Aertker. “We're real happy about it.”

    Westside Pioneer article