Touches of old and new in couple’s redevelopment at 1621 W. Colorado Ave.

       Joe and Linda Schmeiler are feeling good these days. The major redevelopment of their commercial/residential building at 1621 W. Colorado Ave. is nearly complete, and they're hopeful of finding tenants in the near future. What the building at 1619-1621 W. Colorado Ave. looked like before the renovation began.
Westside Pioneer photo The building this month with the renovation nearly complete. The two stories continue to the rear 
of the property at the alley.
Westside Pioneer photo
       It was not always thus. They had difficulty and delays in gaining approval of their project and admitted they had doubts to begin with. “We were at a crossroads,” Joe said. “We had to decide whether to sell it or renovate it. It wasn't marketable as it was.”
       Along the way, the Schmeilers found that a city clerical error had put the wrong zone on the property (so an unexpected zone change request was needed), and the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) questioned the plan's non-historic styling and possible parking pinch.
       The Schmeilers, who are not professional developers, were stung by the criticism. They believed they were doing a good thing for the community by fixing up an essentially non-descript, non-landscaped, 43-year-old building on which they were having increasing problems with bad tenants.
       Linda also had what she terms an “emotional attachment” to the place. She'd owned the property since 1983, operating her Hair Drama salon on the site before finally closing it in 2004.
       She'd even met her husband-to-be there. Joe Schmeiler, a Colorado Springs police officer (then as well as now), stepped into the salon on a call one day in 1990. Linda invited him to stay for coffee and doughnuts. Little did they know that later that year they'd be married - even less that they'd eventually be planning one of the Westside's biggest-ever building renovations.
       When they did start thinking about such a project, the reasoning was more philosophical than anything else. “What convinced Linda was the idea that if she sold it, did she want to drive by later and see somebody else doing this (a renovation)?” Joe recalled.
       Linda's initial thought was that maybe it would take $20,000 to do the job. The plans evolved quite a bit from there. The Schmeilers estimate now that the final cost will be at least three-quarters of a million dollars.
       Other than a few walls, the old structure was demolished. New utilities went in. The original one-story building is now two.
       Design features include a front façade that is encased in brick - a tie-in with the dominant Old Colorado City style, Joe explained. There are also steel beams which are exposed in places, an open-air first-floor-rooftop terrace (which also allows continued light through the second-floor windows of the house just to the west) and a fence along the east boundary. The fence is noteworthy because it uses brick from a sagging, roughly 100-year-old building that had to be torn down for the project.
       The Schmeilers are proud of that historical touch, but admitted to displeasure at those who wanted them to go a lot further - designing the renovated building in character with some of the Victorian structures in that vicinity of the avenue. The owners pointed out that the expense would have been even higher if they had done so; also, that the “character” in that area is so eclectic it's hard to say what it really is. And, finally, both frankly admit, they are not big fans of Victorian styling, anyway.
       The final product contains about 6,000 square feet of building space (about twice the size of the original building). There are two second-story apartments and two office-space areas - a large one on the second floor (which could be partitioned) and a smaller one on the ground floor. There are also two ground-level office or retail spaces.
       In back is a two-space carport. A Colorado Avenue entryway provides access to parking along the east side of the building and to the alley in back.
       Jerry Burns of Architrilogy was the architect on the project. He described the design effort as “a challenge. We were dealing with a '60s block building. What do you do with it?”
       At the same time, he said, it wasn't “economically viable” to tear the old building down completely.
       Jack McGrath, who formerly worked for long-time area contractor Chuck Murphy, was the contractor on the project. He said the biggest challenge for him was the “size of the building vs. the size of the lot.” An example was when a shipment of brick arrived. “We had to bring it down the alley on a forklift,” he recalled. “There was no way to pull a semi in.”
       Another construction consideration was building a separate structure to support the second floor (because the original first floor had insufficient load-bearing capability), McGrath said.
       During the project, which started last March, he said that despite the building's “high visibility,” the feedback from the neighbors on either side and from others in the area has been “all positive.”
       Linda summed up her opinion on the new structure as a whole: “It fits in, but it stands out.” Even during the project, she admitted to second-guessing herself, but now, seeing the nearly finished projct, she said, “I'm really happy we went for it.”

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