No man’s land?
Avenue segment east of Manitou finally getting spotlight

       Some call it “no man's land.”
       It's the 1 ½-mile segment of Colorado Avenue roughly between the Red Rock shopping center and the Loaf 'n Jug in Manitou Springs.
       According to Kitty Clemens, Manitou's economic development director, much of the segment was built up before Highway 24 went in, during the pre-1960 years when the avenue was the only road through the Westside and Manitou.
       In the decades since, it has become a kind of forgotten area, possibly because it lacks any special historic value, possibly because it has not proved vital to any major business interest, neighborhood or civic entity and possibly because it spans three civic jurisdictions - Manitou, El Paso County and Colorado Springs - each of which can conveniently claim that the problems aren't all theirs. Private improvements have occurred here and there, but the street itself hasn't changed. There are no sidewalks (except for a crumbling stretch in front of the Eagle Graphics printing business), no curb and gutter and virtually no landscaping. In some places, neither side of the avenue has space for pedestrians.
       “It's kind of a dangerous piece of road right there,” commented Doug Corrien, general manager of the Garden of the Gods Campground, which is near one of those locations.
       The delicate question is what, if anything, to do about the situation. Should government step in, or should improvements countinue to be left to the private sector? The Manitou Springs Economic Development Council (EDC), believing that a prettier avenue would enhance the town's visitor appeal, has decided to at least examine the situation more closely. A public meeting is scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4 at the Manitou Springs City Hall, 606 Manitou Ave., with further discussion anticipated at a Manitou City Council meeting Tuesday, Aug. 16.
       The concept has the support of Manitou Springs Mayor Marcy Morrison, who refers to the appearance of the east Manitou area as “a third-world country.” She would like to see sidewalks at least on the north side, as well as aesthetic touches.
       The Manitou meetings are an attempt to fill the requirements of an EDC grant application to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Clemens said. The goal is to obtain an $82,500 grant that would pay a consultant to do a “technical analysis” of the segment's needs, from the bypass over Manitou Avenue down to Safeway. Her hope is to get this information back by the end of October.
       “Once we know the deficiencies,” she said, “the next step would be to go to elected officials, to say, 'Now we need a redevelopment plan.' ”
       It's not crystal clear, with the balkanized government jurisdictions, how such a plan would come about, but of late there has been some interest. At the request of District 3 Commissioner Sallie Clark (a Westsider), the County Transportation Department recently did an inventory of needed upgrades in its portion of the avenue (3419 to 3715 W. Colorado) and listed items totaling more than half a million dollars.
       “I'm trying to get an effort going with Colorado Springs, the county and Manitou Springs,” Clark said. “I'd like to put together an integrated plan that could pool our resources.”
       The avenue segment within Colorado Springs is inside the Westside Neighborhood Strategy Area, qualifying it for curb, gutter and sidewalk improvements under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. However, this has never translated into upgrades over the years; nor has it helped that 25 years ago the Westside Plan ordinance called for “a design theme on West Colorado Avenue from 31st to 37th Street to improve traffic flow and encourage new development.”
       Still, City Council member Jerry Heimlicher said he likes what Clark is talking about and would even favor an “unprecedented” joint meeting of the city, county and Manitou, to discuss the matter. “I'll support anything to make that area more attractive and friendly to residents and tourists alike,” said Heimlicher, whose district includes the Westside.
       The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) could have a say-so in any improvements. That part of the avenue is the business route for Highway 24. A study of the Highway 24 corridor, including public meetings, has been occurring this year, and CDOT's initial recommendations are expected at the next meeting in September.
       Another possible player is the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, which could bring in the power of eminent domain. Although the authority has not worked outside the city before, City Urban Redevelopment Director Jim Rees said he thinks it might be possible if city interests could be demonstrated.
       Not everyone thinks urban renewal is such a good idea. The concern begins with the premise of the EDC grant request: that “blight” must be proven in order to obtain the grant. Although Clemens pointed out that the blight identified for the grant is only in the “public infrastructure” - such as the lack of sidewalks - and that property values could soar in the wake of any street upgrades, she recognizes there may be interim uneasiness among people who dislike owning parts of a so-called “blight area.”
       One such person, Terry Anderson of Health Quarters Ministries in the 3600 block, asked, “Why would anybody want to improve their property if the government is going to take it away?” He also fears that an urban renewal project could mean the demise of many small, old motel complexes that line the road, which in turn could impact the many lower-income people who have found affordable housing in those units.
       A check of Colorado Springs police statistics over the past two years indicate that, despite the government neglect and the older buildings, there is not a high rate of crime in the avenue segment. According to annual police reports for 2003 and '04, burglaries and simple assaults were down in 2004, and narcotics-related incidents were up just one (from 22 to 23). No meth labs were busted there in those years, nor so far this year.
       Aimee Cox, a Manitou Springs volunteer leader, favors the public improvements but questioned the whether the results could price out the area's modest businesses. “It's the kind of thing that can lead people to think we only want Manitou to be for wealthy people,” she said.
       But this is not to imply a lack of support for avenue improvements. A random Pioneer survey of business people there showed strong support for public upgrades. This includes Ted Geber, part owner and manager of the Mel-Haven Lodge, in the 3700 block. The Mel-Haven's front includes a high stone wall that goes right up to the street on the south side of Colorado Avenue. He said he would be willing to have that wall cut back to allow a sidewalk. “A sidewalk would be very nice to have,” he said. “The guests ask about it.”
       The Alpine Motel, located on Manitou Avenue next to Crystal Hills Boulevard, is one of the many small motels in the segment. However, that is going to change. Owners Casey and Zuzana Malec are planning to tear down the old, 25-unit building and erect a new, $2.2 million, 46-room Comfort Inn in its place. “When we first came to town, we said we didn't want to be like everyone else,” Zuzana Malec said, “but the times are changing.” Nowadays, because of the increasing control of national chains over the motel market, it's not even possible to get financing for a project of such size “unless you're going to become a franchise,” she said.
       She favors improving the avenue because she thinks it would help all businesses, including the remaining smaller motels. “So many motels can't make money because of the conditions here,” she said. “They're just desperate to survive.”
       Sue Coulter, who has owned the Wildwood Animal Clinic, in the 3400 block, for 23 years, said she “definitely would be for it (an avenue upgrade). This is a little pocket here. Things have gotten better on both ends, but we've got a ways to go in this part. It would do nothing but help my property values.”
       Also in favor is Corrien, although, he noted, “We're talking about some serious dollars.”
       Clemens does not dispute that statement. Other public blight issues being cited for the grant are the poor street layout, the platting of some of the lots (too small to be useful in modern times) and the whole area being in the flood plain.
       “It's an engineering nightmare,” she said. “That's why a redevelopment plan will be expensive. I keep stressing to people that we don't have money for anything now but planning.”
       Asked why the grant-proposed study area goes beyond the Manitou Springs city limits, Clemens said she thought it would be good to allow consultants “to look at the broader picture,” if they decide that's pertinent. “It gives us more flexibility.”
       Her vision is to see “the whole area revitalized.” What happens now, she said, is that when visitors “get off the highway anywhere along there, they see an area that looks a little distressed. And they might say, 'Maybe we should go back to I-25. This doesn't look so good.' ”

Westside Pioneer article