Downtown Colorado Springs remained on a billion-dollar roll last year.
The value of apartments, hotels, restaurants, offices and other projects completed, launched or announced for downtown over an eight-year stretch swelled to more than $2 billion in 2021, jumping by roughly $400 million from the previous year, according to the Downtown Partnership's seventh annual State of Downtown report released Thursday.
The advocacy group's report, a compilation of data and highlights of downtown development and other activity, underscores the growing bullishness in the area by local developers and out-of-town investors, said Susan Edmondson, the Downtown Partnership's president and CEO.
Their downtown interest comes in spite of the uncertainty created by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, which led to financial disaster for some stores and restaurants that closed their doors and still dogs others two years later.
Investors, developers and businesses, however, are being attracted to Colorado Springs because of its booming population, quality of life and job growth, among other factors, civic leaders have said.
Downtown, meanwhile, was designated by state officials as a federal opportunity zone, which makes tax breaks available to investors who fund projects inside the zone’s boundaries.
"I think what this is showing is that despite the pandemic challenges, the interest in investing and doing business in downtown maybe has never been stronger," Edmondson said of the latest increase in the area's investment. "Both for large developments and for small businesses, as well."
A big plus for downtown has been investment and development that's taken place or is planned across multiple residential and commercial sectors, Edmondson said. The growth and health of one sector contributes to the growth and health of another.
Apartment construction and attractions such as the Weidner Field multipurpose stadium that opened in 2021, for example, will help spur the addition of new businesses.
Employers who see residential projects going up might want to locate downtown, where some of their potential workers want to live and embrace an urban lifestyle — the ability to walk or ride to restaurants, coffee shops and bars.
"More and more, we're going to see the interplay between new residential and what that means for bringing employers downtown," Edmondson said. "That sort of office and residential interplay is going to get stronger and stronger in the next few years, I believe.
"And people who want an urban environment," she said, "they may not even be in the office five days a week, but they want that ease of when they do go into the office, making that accessible by bike or by car or by foot."
But downtown, like other parts of Colorado Springs, has its share of problems.
Despite the development boon, the skyrocketing costs of lumber and other building materials and supply chain woes are making it difficult for builders to complete projects, Edmondson said.
At the same time, some downtown businesses continue to struggle financially because of pandemic-related woes, Edmonson said.
Some likely have borrowed money and have debt on their books as they tried to make it through the last two years, she said. Those businesses face greater competition from an influx of newcomers to downtown.
"Our small businesses really continue to need support because they haven't even gone one full year outside of the pandemic yet," Edmondson said. "A year ago, we were just barely, barely beginning to have closer to normal operations for our small businesses.
"When people see a busy Friday or Saturday night at their favorite restaurant, they need to remember that maybe the Tuesday lunch hour was really slow because fewer people are working in their offices downtown," she said. "Our small businesses are really doing well considering the circumstances, but let's not pretend that it's not really still tough for our small businesses."