Published by The Colorado Springs Business Journal | Nov 15 2012 | Written by Amanda Miller
Plans are afoot to replace aging storefronts along the 400-block of South Nevada Avenue with a mixed-use development of apartments and retail.
Bob and Karen Elliott, through their company, Downtown Development Group, bought four lots, 408, 410, 412 and 414 S. Nevada Ave. during the El Paso County Public Trustee’s foreclosure auction Oct. 31.
They paid $335,150.
“I was surprised the bank didn’t bid it up from there,” Bob said. “They were owed more than $800,000.”
Downtown Development Group is best known for building the Two Eight West luxury condominiums along Monument Valley Park at the north end of downtown. That development is still under construction and houses 16 units, all over 2,000 square feet with private garages and priced between $700,000 and $1.4 million.
Bob said his latest plan is to build on Nevada using the new form-based code, retail on the first floor and four stories of apartments above. That would allow for a masonry first floor and wood construction above, which would keep costs down.
The lot is situated so there could also be ground-level parking behind the building so he wouldn’t have to build a parking structure, he said.
He’s been on the lookout for downtown property at a good price for more than a year, he said, because apartments have been a good idea that long.
As discussions about downtown revitalization have hit a fever pitch, the need for residential development has been a common theme.
“I couldn’t be more sincere in saying that I believe residential development is the No. 1 need downtown,” said Hannah Parsons, interim director of the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership and a Realtor who focuses primarily on downtown properties. “It’s absolutely essential for a downtown renaissance.”
Downtown advocates commissioned the Urban Land Institute to send an advisory panel to review past reports, visit the city and interview more than 100 residents about how they would improve downtown earlier this year. The panel, which visited during the week of the Waldo Canyon fire in June, recently released its final report on a downtown Colorado Springs renaissance. One of its top recommendations was for 300 residential units priced around $1,200 a month. The report said the city could certainly support more residential development than that in the long run, but it would be a good start.
The Downtown Development Group project likely isn’t the only apartment development on the drawing board. Chris Jenkins, president of Nor’Wood Development Group said earlier this year that he hoped to be able to announce apartment projects before next fall. Griffis Blessing also owns property and had plans for a mixed-use development near America the Beautiful Park that it put on hold when the economy sank.
The time has come for some action, Bob said.
“I usually fly under the radar,” he said. “But I wanted to speak publicly about this because I think it gives legitimacy to building downtown.”
Bob said he believes he has a reputation in town for following through on plans. Certainty that there will be residential development downtown might be enough for others to take action and announce projects that could spur economic development, he said.
The Elliotts say they aren’t just interested in building apartments. They aim to build community.
They were trying to retire when they moved to Florida in the early 2000s and ended up building a development there. After a lot of good timing, business sense and luck in the Colorado Springs and Florida, they returned to build Two Eight West Monument.
“We wanted to do something more meaningful,” Karen said.
Their interest now is in building something that will create a stronger Colorado Springs, Karen said. With that, comes a desire to include other players in their potential mixed-use project.
“Bob is all about turning it over,” Karen said. “He wants to turn it over to the younger generation. We want to get young people involved wherever we can.”
Because of that, Bob is working closely with Darsey Nicklasson, who owns DHN Planning and Development. She comes from a commercial real estate background and lived and worked for several years in Washington, D.C.
Now, the young mother wants to be a developer. She looks at cities and infrastructure more than the sights when she goes on vacation, she said. And she’s passionate about making downtown Colorado Springs more vibrant. “Across the nation, starting in 2002, there has been a movement of people wanting to get back into an urban environment,” Nicklasson said. “And there is no reason that movement wouldn’t happen here in Colorado Springs.”
She’s been looking for land and investors for a downtown apartment project she could lead for more than a year. That’s how she found the Elliotts. She went to them to learn about their Two Eight West project.
“I’m absolutely excited and completely thrilled to be involved in this with Bob and Karen,” Nicklasson said.
She has gone with Bob to look at the property on South Nevada, which used to belong to Rickie Nelson, with Bob.
There are a lot of unknowns about the property, Bob said. And it will take some time and study to understand what the pitfalls could be. But the lots are well-situated for redevelopment.
Nicklasson said she expects rent for the property could start around $850 and go up from there. It’s hard to say how many units would fit on the 28,000 square foot lot until they plan the project out.
“We’re still very much in the early stages of this,” she said.