In the 1990s Downtown Colorado Springs was perceived as a bit of a sleepy place. The once-bustling historic core was losing ever more ground to shopping malls and new housing developments as the city sprawled north and east. While office workers were plentiful on weekdays, come evenings the streets were quiet, with just a few restaurants welcoming customers. Tourists frequented Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs but had little interest in Downtown. And residents? Only a few hundred people actually lived in the heart of the city.
A reckoning was due. Downtown property owners and shop owners coalesced under the Downtown Action Plan, a two-year inclusive process to update an obsolete plan from the early 1970s. Adopted by City Council in 1992, the new Downtown Action Plan set forth goals to enliven Downtown as a place where people gather, community activities are abundant and future generations feel at home. Over and over again, the need for one voice and an aligned management group was cited. Thus the 1990s saw the birth of the Downtown Business Improvement District, in 1994, and, in 1997, came Downtown Partnership as a management group with Community Ventures as its charitable nonprofit arm; (the Downtown Development Authority emerged several years later).
Work began with the simplest of beautification gestures along two blocks of Pikes Peak Avenue: attractive streetlamps, flowerbeds at intersections, brick pavers, and general tidying-up. Further improvements to parking, transit and pedestrian amenities followed, signaling that the heart of the city was still something to be proud of, a neighborhood like nowhere else.
This was a common story for midsize cities at the end of the 20th century, but what happened next took Downtown Colorado Springs to new heights. Two businesswomen, Judy Noyes and Mary Jean Larsen, launched an annual sculpture exhibit called Art on the Streets, which continues to this day. These enhancements signaled not only a bright future for Downtown, but also hearkened to the city’s history as a thriving hub for the arts, sciences and great outdoors.
With public-realm improvements and a cultural renaissance well under way, private investment followed. The historic Cheyenne Building, slated repeatedly for demolition, was refurbished and opened in 1993 as the city’s first brewpub, and many other new restaurants and businesses followed. By the end of the decade the Business Improvement District had radically expanded, both in size and scope, and public consensus had rallied in support of this new plan for Downtown, ensuring that future development and public improvements were aligned in the vision for a vibrant, welcoming city center.
Generously Submitted by Downtown Partnership