Businesses getting no relief in No Man’s Land

       Homeless campers are no longer an issue, but problems with crime and crumbling infrastructure persist in the Westside's “No Man's Land.”
       Mike Crepeau, owner of the San Ayre Motel, commented during a series of interviews and e-mails between late August and this week that in the two years since he helped found the Avenue Merchants' organization (intended to help address such problems in the area of Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street), “nothing has changed.”

Which government entity has responsibility for this median's weeds on Colorado Avenue just east of Columbia Road? Colorado Springs, because the median is near the north side of the street, which is within city limits? El Paso County (which is responsible for the unannexed land on the south side of the avenue), because the median is south of the north side? The state, because the median is in the right of way, which it's responsible for? Manitou Springs, because its city limits are nearby? In any case, the weeds haven't been mowed for months.
Westside Pioneer photo

       He thanked Colorado Springs Police and El Paso County Sheriff's deputies for what they've been able to do, but decried the lack of patrol cars in the area for anything except 911 calls. He was also irked that authorities can't do more to check on dubious individuals who live in some of the older motels up the avenue and who are regularly seen trespassing, panhandling, getting drunk, acting belligerent or hanging out near the creek and are suspected in many of the frequent burglaries at avenue businesses and nearby homes.
       Crepeau himself has been threatened and so have his motel guests, he said.
       Dramatizing the problem early this month was the arrest of an alleged drug dealer in front of the Safeway store in the Red Rock shopping center. Crepeau said this was part of a continuing problem outside Safeway, with low-lifes hanging around in front for hours at a time, and said he has worked with the store manager on security issues. However, the store has been unable to get the necessary support from Safeway regional headquarters in Denver, Crepeau said.
       Seeking to follow up, the Westside Pioneer phoned the store and spoke to the manager, who said he could not comment and referred the call to Safeway's public affairs office in Denver. A phone call to that number resulted in an answering machine, on which the Pioneer left a message the morning of Oct. 18. No response had come back by press deadline Oct. 20.
       The “no man's” monicker was stuck on the avenue area several years ago, in part because of its numerous old buildings (including about 20 motels) and a jurisidictional puzzle in which most of the land south of the avenue is in El Paso County and the land north of it in Colorado Springs. The road itself is maintained by the Colorado Department of Transportation as US 24-Business, and the Manitou Springs city limits is just past the Garden of the Gods RV Park off Columbia Road.
       The area along the avenue from 33rd Street west to Manitou's highway overpass was found to be “blighted” in a study by the City of Manitou Springs five years ago. This allowed the town to set up an urban renewal authority. Such entities are allowed by law to offer what's known as tax increment financing to make redevelopment more attractive to the private sector. However, according to Manitou Planner Dan Folke, “we have not had a project yet” that seeks to take advantage of it.

Three apparent trespassers walk past La Unica restaurant (right) heading toward Fountain Creek (unseen beyond trees).
Courtesy of Mike Crepeau

       At a recent meeting with City Police and County Sheriff's representatives, members of the Avenue Merchants were told that authorities would look for ways to have officers come to that part of the avenue, even if it's just driving home from work. However, the officials also stated that crime rates are actually higher in some other parts of the city, which dictates where law enforcement typically is concentrated.
       Last February, Avenue Merchants members and other west-of-31st-street business owners/managers had met with local authorities in the parking lot outside Walgreen's in the Red Rock Center last February. Many of the same problems with crime and riff-raff were recounted at that time, not just by Crepeau but by other merchants in the area.
       Crepeau believes the area ought to be a high priority for local governments because it is situated between two historic districts (Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs), and tourists drive it regularly.
       Grants to fix the No Man's Land infrastructure (including a new bridge at Adam's Crossing and drainage, utilities and street upgrades) have been sought without luck over the past six years by the governments of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and El Paso County.
       The most recent request - by those three entities combined - is for a $300,000 planning grant from CDOT. That request, which would hire a consultant next year to detail west-of-31st infrastructure needs, seems to have a good chance, County Commissioner Sallie Clark said this week.
       However, Crepeau is skeptical about why basic public needs can't be addressed in the meantime, such as aging avenue pavement, weeds and about 15 streetlights being out. In addition, because of uncertainties about the No Man's Land future, the segment between Ridge and Columbia roads was deleted from this year's extension of the Midland Trail. And, two years ago, the avenue west of 34th Street was left out of a project to upgrade handicapped access to bus stops because it lacks sidewalks. “Every day we wait for the big capital improvement project, but nobody does anything about a street situation that continues to deteriorate,” Crepeau said.

Westside Pioneer article