Published in The Gazette | February 1, 2015 | Written by Rich Laden
Read more on The Gazette website: http://owl.li/JocIS
Polaris Pointe, a Colorado Springs retail center formerly known as Copper Ridge at Northgate, was pitched to city officials several years ago with the promise it would be more than just another place to shop.
Backers said the 2 million-square-foot complex would bring big boxes, smaller retailers and restaurants to the Springs’ north side – including upscale stores. Their presence would keep area shoppers from trekking to trendy Denver-area retail centers, which means sales tax dollars would continue to funnel into local government coffers.
They also promoted Polaris Pointe, southeast of Interstate 25 and North Gate Boulevard, as a tool to help fund an extension of Powers Boulevard to connect it to I-25. By designating the 200-acre property as an urban renewal site, backers told city officials, shopping center tax revenues could be used to accelerate the Powers work – a state project that the Colorado Department of Transportation said it couldn’t afford.
Saying they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to provide a funding source for the sorely needed Powers project, City Council members in May 2010 unanimously approved the retail center and urban renewal designation.
Nearly five years later, efforts to deliver on Polaris Pointe’s ambitious expectations remain a work in progress.
No doubt, it has attracted new retailers to the area. Bass Pro Shops, the outdoor equipment and apparel giant, opened more than a year ago and is Polaris Pointe’s marquee name.
“I think we’ve done an extremely good job,” said project developer Gary Erickson of Colorado Springs. “The market is just coming out of a five- to six-year recession. This project is working much better than I ever dreamed.”
But Erickson’s plan to bring higher-end stores to an enclosed mall on the south half of Polaris Pointe is less certain because it’s linked to the Powers extension, which would run through the heart of the retail development.
Retailers like the mall’s location, Erickson said, but they want the access that Powers would provide. But the Powers extension is likely several years away because it still lacks funding.
“If you’re talking about creating a major retail center, which was always part of the project, you’ve got to have access,” said Jim Rees, the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority’s executive director. “You’ve got to have good access off I-25, and especially off I-25, and hopefully connect the rest of Powers through for major retailers to be interested. That’s one of the issues that he’s (Erickson) trying to struggle with right now.”
Hotel, water park on the horizon
As part of its approval of the project, the City Council required Erickson to have his first anchor in place by this year and a second by 2018 or risk losing the project’s urban renewal designation.
Erickson beat the initial deadline easily. Bass Pro Shops opened its first Springs-area location in November 2013 at Polaris Pointe. Other newcomers include Bourbon Brothers Southern Kitchen – a new, locally based restaurant chain – and the Springs’ first C.B. & Potts, a popular restaurant and brewery that has six locations in the state.
Another major project on the horizon is a previously announced hotel and water park. Last month, Erickson said he and a partner expect to break ground in May and open the 60,000-square-foot water park and 165-room first phase of the hotel in summer 2016.
“I think he’s on track for doing what he said he was going to do,” said Jay Carlson, a retail specialist and principal with Front Range Commercial in Colorado Springs. “Bass Pro Shops was a huge coup. It brought something new to Colorado Springs and will stop people from going to Denver.”
Don’t expect all Polaris Pointe retailers to be new to the area, Erickson said. Already, there are some familiar names on the way, including Sprouts Farmers Market and Ace Hardware.
Still, he said, he has brought enough newcomers so far, and the combination of Bass Pro, the hotel, water park and other retailers and restaurants will continue to attract more users.
“I think we’ve done exactly what we presented,” Erickson said.
Yet some of the more sought-after names that were mentioned five years ago – such as Nordstrom, American Girl and Cheesecake Factory – are still not on board.
That’s to be expected, Carlson said. Large, regional shopping centers take years to develop, he said. National retailers typically have several criteria they check off – including population growth, household incomes and the location of their existing stores and competitors – before they put a city such as Colorado Springs on their expansion list.
Also, many retailers move cautiously coming out of a recession, especially in a market such as the Springs where home construction nosedived, Carlson said.
“The whole east side of Powers Boulevard was supposed to be built out in homes, and those things have been delayed because of the market,” he said. “And the retailers look at that. They’re not going to put a store there in advance of the rooftops.”
High-end retailers want the road
The quest for upscale retailers, as well as plans for an enclosed mall, hinge on the Powers extension, and that’s more problematic.
Powers must be built or funding must be in place for retailers – especially high-end stores – to come, Erickson said.
“We’ve talked to all of them,” he said. “All of them love the location. All we need to do is get Powers funded and announced.”
But it will take time, and the cost will be high.
CDOT estimates a six-lane Powers extension between Colorado 83 and I-25 will cost $175 million, or $160 million if only four lanes are built, said Mark Andrew, a CDOT resident engineer. Those figures include full-access interchanges at I-25, Voyager Parkway, Flying Horse Club Drive and Colorado 83.
Erickson, however, said he has discussed a less expensive alternative with CDOT – four lanes and without the full Colorado 83 interchange. His estimated price tag for the work is $85 million to $90 million.
Whatever the cost, securing funding remains the biggest challenge.
Tax revenue already generated by Polaris Pointe, along with anticipated revenue in the next two years, could support a $25 million bond issue, Erickson said. Rees, however, said it’s too soon to say how big of a bond issue shopping center tax revenues could support. At the end of 2014, Urban Renewal Authority records showed those revenues totaled only about $751,000; Erickson said $1 million more will be added this year, with $2.5 million more projected for 2016.
But the Polaris Pointe tax money won’t be enough, and CDOT said it still can’t afford the Powers project anytime soon. Barring any changes in funding sources, such as a new state road initiative or a federal gas tax increase, CDOT will have no money for the Powers extension for at least the next 10 years, Andrew said.
Optimism for changing priorities
At the local level, the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority estimates it will earmark $31 million to $32 million for the Powers work, said Rob MacDonald, the RTA’s board secretary and administrator. MacDonald also is executive director of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, which oversees local transportation planning.
But Powers isn’t scheduled to receive funding from the RTA until a series of voter-approved, higher-priority projects is completed. As a result, the RTA’s portion of funding for the Powers work could be at least six to seven years away, MacDonald said.
Still, Erickson remains optimistic.
Although CDOT said it doesn’t have money for Powers, budgets and funding priorities can change, he said. In any case, Erickson said, local funds must be committed before CDOT will act.
“Without matching money, they don’t even talk to you,” Erickson said. “So we’re going to get some matching money and start pushing their button.”
For now, a Powers technical advisory committee – composed of representatives from the developer, CDOT, Urban Renewal Authority and the city – has been formed and could start meeting this month. That group could launch the Powers work by authorizing traffic and engineering studies and looking at relocating utility lines. CDOT, meanwhile, already has spent funds to grade the Powers right of way between I-25 and Voyager, Erickson said.
If some people don’t believe Powers will be extended, Erickson said there were many who also thought Bass Pro would never be built. The retailer wound up investing $33 million to construct a 117,000-square-foot store, he said.
“Will it happen tomorrow, or in two years, or three years or four years?” Erickson said of Powers. “I think it’s going to happen sooner than later.
“It’s all timing,” he added. “I feel confident that it’s all going to come together in a few years.”
Read more on The Gazette website: http://owl.li/JocIS