In the ’80s and ’90s, Denver took its sketchiest urban blight and transformed it into the city’s most bustling neighborhood. Today, Denver’s LoDo boasts a major-league baseball stadium, world-class nightlife and the hippest map store on the planet. LoDo burns with an urban-cool furnace turned up to high.
It’s one of the many things that, over the years, has given me Denvy—you know, that inescapable envy about all the neat stuff Denver has that we don’t: LoDo, RiNo, Confluence Park, Tattered Cover, Shake Shack.
Sure, we have plenty they should envy, like a mountain in our back yard and breathable air. But still.
I had a moment the other day when I wondered if the burgeoning south end of downtown Colorado Springs might be the verge of its LoDo transformation.
A soccer stadium, museum, biscuit restaurant, new apartments and a hotel or two won’t get us anywhere near LoDo in scale or vibe. And that’s OK. But, we’re no doubt on the verge of something, and what that something will be is unclear, a bit fragile and possibly out-and-out sensational.
The sparks for this would-be downtown explosion started over five years ago with extraordinary efforts by the Downtown Partnership, which provided a vision and more effective events in the city core, like ice skating and First Friday art walks. It also took some outreach for state funding and a gamble by developers willing to step into uncharted waters.
Some of those pioneers included longtime local philanthropist Kathy Loo and ambitious newcomer Darsey Nicklasson, who invested in Blue Dot Place, the first new-construction apartment complex to open in the downtown core since 1960. Everybody knew that lofts and apartments would be key to downtown revitalization, but nobody was willing to take that chance and be wrong, until Loo and Nicklasson.
In 2016, they opened Blue Dot Place, a tony 33-unit apartment complex situated on the previously sleepy 400 block of South Nevada Avenue. Their pioneering effort paid off, as the units quickly leased, paving the way for a tidy pocket of urban dazzle. (I’m looking at you, Loyal Coffee and 333 ECO).Around the same time that Blue Dot was in the planning stages, Laura Neumann, then-Mayor Steve Bach’s chief of staff, was filling out some interesting paperwork. It was a wildly ambitious application for state tourism funding that would leverage our Olympic presence, positioning the Springs as a “City for Champions” (C4C), with a number of sports-centered projects, including two potentially game-changing downtown developments: A U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and a sports and event center.
“We were applying for the biggest RTA incentive in history with four visionary and very bold projects,” Neumann says. “Some, like the stadium, were not very fleshed out, but we went for it anyway.”
Miraculously, we got the award for C4C: a whopping $120.5 million in state tax increment financing. Of course, nothing from then on would be a slam dunk. Both the museum and the stadium needed to raise quite a bit of money. The museum had more momentum from the start. It was already a proposed concept when the C4C money came along to supercharge the soon-to-open $75-million aggressively contemporary silver space ship at Vermijo and Sierra Madre.
The stadium seemed touch and go until Dean Weidner stepped in. As a Springs native, Seattle developer and partner with the Switchbacks FC soccer team, Weidner envisioned an 8,000-seat, $35-million multiuse stadium surrounded by upscale apartments at Cimarron and Sahwatch streets.
Together, those two anchors resounded like a dinner bell, and downtown investors started arriving with gusto. Most of the money has been flowing toward the south end, now being called by neighbors “the New South End.”
In 2018, the Denver Biscuit Company (DBC)/Fat Sully’s/Atomic Cowboy, a three-in-one Denver eatery and bar, took up residence in the New South End, a nifty sign that Denver smelled money from 70 miles away. Locals stepped in to extend the development on both sides. Ari Howard, who’d taken over her husband, Greg’s, Irish pub McCabe’s, transformed it into the stylishly urban, decidedly more feminine Streetcar520. Ari says she can feel that shift going on downtown, as the energy moves south.
“For all the years I’ve resided in this space, I would have given my left arm to reside on the other end of Tejon,” she says. “That’s where it was all happening, and it was close to CC, and that’s where you had to be. Nowww that I’m in this location, I wouldn’t change for the world.”
Sit on the wraparound second-floor balcony of the DBC on a Friday evening, and you can see some of that future taking shape: the fire pits in the courtyards of neighboring eateries and watering holes, the chic Mae apartments towering across the street, (a belching power plant that should be photoshopped out of this picture) and Pikes Peak beyond.
A couple of blocks away, Nicklasson is building her next big thing, Casa Mundi, a mixed-use, Latin-flavored artisan apartment building, next to what will soon be a towering new Marriott hotel. A couple blocks south, a grocery store: Bread and Butter Market. Everywhere you look downtown, especially in the New South End, construction sites promise islands of future coolness.
Not everybody is feeling the vibe though. Take Joe Campana, a legendary curmudgeon and restaurateur who seems to be opening a new concept every time he sneezes. His Cork & Cask serves craft whiskeys in the shadow of DBC and the Mae, and he says he’s doing fine. But he doesn’t see a scaled-down version of LoDo coming here any time soon.
“Soccer? Really?” Campana says. “I’d rather have seen the Sky Sox move in there. I just don’t see it.”
I see it. Sure, soccer still may be a slow build for some, and the museum may be more of a tourist than local draw. But talk to the folks with flesh in the future of this game.
Like Neumann, who gushes about the spectacular rooftop restaurant and lounge that will crown the stadium apartment development and the entryway, which will be like Chicago’s reflective Cloud Gate—only round like a globe or soccer ball, with a Jetsons swoosh on top.
Or hear Downtown Partnership’s Susan Edmondson talk about what happens when brick-and-mortar realities go in directions beyond the planning boards.
“What people love about downtowns, and it’s certainly true of ours, they’re eclectic and organic,” Edmondson says. “They grow in their own ways. I can’t control what a private property owner does, nor should I. And that’s why downtowns can end up with so much character.”
Will these downtown projects and future visions converge into something like LoDo? Will some of my obsessive feelings of Denvy finally be assuaged?
Probably not. But whatever exactly it turns out to be, I want to be in that seat, watching soccer and munching gourmet veggie dogs.
Major Downtown Projects Opening in 2020
Boutique 27-unit apartment complex with amenities including room service from downstairs Paris Crepe. Now open. 418-22 S. Tejon St.
A 30-unit “friendly boutique hotel” offering shared dorm rooms to luxury suites. 415 S. Nevada Ave.
The Mae at Cascade
Chic 184-unit apartment complex with second-story courtyard pool and gaming lawn. 609 S. Cascade Ave.Hyatt Place
Downtown outpost of Pikes Peak Brewing includes a large rooftop patio. Next-door CO.A.TI event venue features an eclectic mix of boutique retailers and food and beverage concepts. 518 S. Tejon St.
U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum
The 60,000-square-foot state-of-the-art museum opens to the public May 31. 200 S. Sierra Madre St.
Planned and In Process
120-room hotel on the southeast corner of Nevada Ave. and Kiowa St.
SpringHill Suites by Marriott and Element by Westin
Dual hotel brands in a 261-room tower at 402 S. Tejon.
80-unit apartment project by an out-of-state developer, 502 S. Weber St.
Attainable workforce housing with 150 units by Nor’wood Development Group, Vermijo and Wahsatch.
Weidner Stadium and Apartments
The 8,000-seat, multiuse stadium will be home to Switchbacks FC. The $2.5 million mixed-use development includes dining, retail and 200 high-rise apartments. Cimarron and Sahwatch streets.
YMCA Downtown Rebuild
The $100-million first phase builds a new Y with high-rise, workforce affordable housing above. Target completion 2022. 225 N. Nevada Ave.