New shopping center would preserve Midland roundhouse ‘character’
The historic Midland roundhouse would be the centerpiece of a commercial redevelopment on the 3.13-acre property at 21st Street and Highway 24 that is now Van
Plans submitted recently to Colorado Springs Planning by the Griffis/Blessing development firm and YOW Architects show a three-phase shopping-center with two new buildings - both similar in appearance to the roundhouse's stone façade - and a total of just under 27,000 square feet of retail space.
“We very much respect the character of that building,” said Steve Engel of Griffis/ Blessing. “We want to stay with that character.”
The location is “an attractive retail location” because it is “es-sentially the crossroads of the Colorado Springs West-side,” he explained. “There is a lot of traffic there, east-west and north-south, going between key locations.”
Originally located near Colorado College, Van Briggle has owned the property for over a half-century. Although the pottery business will not be part of the redevelopment, co-owner Craig Stevenson said Van Briggle will keep on actively making pottery and tile” and has “no plans whatsoever to close operations.”
He said Van Briggle is holding to its previously stated business plan to relocate its business but temporarily retain ownership of the roundhouse property under a deal in which for 10 years the site at 600 S. 21st St. would be leased to an entity which would work the redevelopment, then have the option to buy it in the 11th.
Stevenson added his hope to keep Van Briggle on the Westside. “That would be our first choice, and there seem to be options available,” he said.
The submittal requests approval of a development plan and final subdivision plat for what is being called “Vanbriggle Filing No. 1.” The zone would remain C-6 (general business).
Because there is no zone change, the submittal can be approved by staff without having to go before Planning Commission or City Council, according to city planner James Mayerl.
City staffers, who are just starting to review the plans, have offered no recommendations thus far. Reflecting previous developer discussions with the city, the plans show new access to the Van Briggle parking lot off Bott Avenue (one full access and the other a right-turn going in) and the elimination of the traditional full access from 21st Street. Because of city traffic-safety concerns, only right-in, right-out access would be allowed at 21st. The plans also note that curb, gutter and sidewalk would be built on the currently dirt property perimeter along both 21st and Bott.
One issue that could develop is the stoplight at Bott and 21st. Engel said it's important to leave that light, so as not to discourage shoppers coming and going from the center. Meanwhile, long-range city plans have called for the light to be moved south on 21st to Broadway Street, with the T-intersection at Bott disallowing lefts from Bott onto northbound 21st. Traffic Engineering Director Scott Logan said the light at Bott would definitely remain for now, adding that moving it to Broadway won't occur until the major highway expansion at 21st Street (now foreseen no sooner than the year 2026). But Logan left open the option for a limited-left scenario at Bott, pending staff review.
Engel said that in Griffis/Blessing's phasing the interior conversion of the 22,645-square-foot, two-story roundhouse (including restaurant space), would occur first. After that, over a span of time that he cannot yet predict, Phase 2 would be a new 3,560-square-foot bank and restaurant building at the southeast corner of the property; and Phase 3 would be a new 7,500-square-foot retail and restaurant building near the northwest corner.
Dave Harris, owner of the Ghost Town tourist attraction just to the west, said he has no objection to his longtime neighbors (both businesses have operated there since the early 1950s) improving their property. He also praised Griffis/Blessing, a national firm with a local office, as an “honorable” developer and said he appreciates that the flow between the adjoining parking lots will continue. However, he has a concern that the Phase 3 building could block westbound highway motorists' view of Ghost Town. He said he is hopeful this can be worked out in the review process.
The roundhouse, where the train engines were housed and worked on, dates back to the start of the Midland Railway in 1887. For many years, its main focus was the transport of gold ore from the Cripple Creek mines. The service ended in 1949, when the nearby Golden Cycle mill closed and the tracks were taken up. The railroad's route through the Westside later became that of Highway 24; meanwhile, the roundhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Westside historian Mel McFarland, a member of the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) board who has written two books on the Midland trains, said he was pleased to hear that the roundhouse will be preserved in the new project. The OCCHS has been concerned because, despite the historic listing, no tax credits have ever been taken out on the building, leaving it vulnerable to change or even demolition.
McFarland also mentioned a couple of historical notes about the property. One is that six of the former roundhouse doors are still on view, having been recycled into the big wooden Van Briggle sign off 21st Street. There has also been a phenomenon in the parking lot regarding the old roundhouse turntable (which allowed crews to back an engine into any of the building's bays for service or storage): Despite being paved and repaved numerous times over the years, McFarland noted, a crack in the circular shape of the old turntable has always reappeared through the asphalt. He wondered if this phenomenon would continue even with the planned redevelopment.
Westside Pioneer article