|By Rich Laden, The Gazette, Colorado
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 13, 2006 - A Missouri hotelier who plans to develop a north-side Colorado Springs hotel is interested in building another in southwest downtown, which could launch the area's redevelopment.
"I am seriously considering it, yes I am," John Q. Hammons said Monday in a telephone interview from his Springfield, Mo., office.
Hammons, who said in March that he plans a 320-room hotel and conference center as part of the InterQuest Marketplace project east of Interstate 25 and the Air Force Academy, said he's in talks to develop a 220-room hotel on the former site of the Colorado Springs Utilities gas department, southeast of I-25 and Colorado Avenue.
The land is north of America the Beautiful Park; the gas department's administration building would be razed, although a separate operations building would remain.
Hammons' downtown hotel would be an important component of what city officials, the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority and private developers now are calling a first phase of southwest downtown's redevelopment.
Future hotel sales and property taxes would provide a revenue source the Urban Renewal Authority could use to pay off bonds issued for other improvements in the area.
The 100-acre southwest downtown redevelopment area, mostly southwest of Colorado and Cascades avenues, was designated by the City Council as an urban renewal site in August 2001.
Since then, however, redevelopment has lagged, except for construction of the city's America the Beautiful Park.
Springs real estate giants Classic Cos. and Nor'wood Development Group have spent millions to buy land in the area; they plan a mixed-use residential and commercial project called Palmer Village.
But a hotel and convention center that would have anchored their project ran into public and political opposition and were abandoned last year.
Earlier this year, the Urban Renewal Authority, private developers and city officials started discussing ways to boost southwest downtown.
They now have come up with a "statement of intent" -- a plan that spells out initial redevelopment projects, methods of financing and responsibilities of the parties involved.
The plan would be nonbinding. Yet, it would give the city, the Urban Renewal Authority and private developers -- all of whom would have to spend money on planning, design and the like -- an idea of what's being envisioned in the initial phase.
"The next steps involve a lot of time and effort and money," said Urban Renewal Authority consultant Chuck Miller. "So if you have a statement of intent where everybody agrees this is what we're going to work for, there's a bigger comfort level when everybody is going to spend money."
The Urban Renewal Authority is scheduled to consider the plan when it meets Thursday. The City Council, however, still would need to give its OK. The council likely would consider the plan in two weeks or in July.
In addition to the 220-room hotel, the plan envisions:
--100,000 to 125,000 square feet of office space in a new building. Renovation of the gas operations building might yield office space for Springs-based National Governing Bodies; some of those amateur sports groups currently have offices at the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in central Colorado Springs.
--Housing that would include 150 rental units and 30 to 35 for-sale units.
--A 600-space parking garage that would provide parking for the hotel, office building, America the Beautiful Park and other downtown uses.
--Relocation of a railroad switching yards from the area.
--Construction of a pedestrian bridge to span remaining railroad tracks and to link the park with southwest downtown.
But several unanswered questions remain.
A parking garage could cost $9 million, Miller said. While the Urban Renewal Authority could chip in $1.5 million from its bond issue, the remainder would be left to the city's parking system, which is funded with parking revenues and not tax dollars. No decisions have been made on the parking system's role, however.
Other issues: artist groups that occupy the gas department administration building would have to be relocated, while a plan to relocate the railroad switching yard still must be approved, Miller said.
The first phase redevelopment plan also calls for the Urban Renewal Authority to buy the gas department property from the city, which had bought it from Springs Utilities and still owes $4 million on the purchase.
Urban Renewal would have to pick up that cost. The authority then would resell a portion of the land to the Palmer Village developers, while donating the gas operations building to the governing bodies.
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Copyright (c) 2006, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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