Started barely six years ago, the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation is jam-packed, triggering an ambitious expansion plan that will cost $ 68 million for infrastructure and redesign of part of the downtown area.
While the American Olympic and Paralympic Museum and Weidner Field sprang up in the southwestern part of downtown, and bars and restaurants lined Tejon Street with apartments popping up all over the heart of the city , not much happened on the east side of the heart.
But this sector could soon take off with hundreds of apartments under construction or in the pipeline, a parking lot under construction and plans taking shape for vacant housing. Gazette building and the former Saint-François hospital.
Now, a proposal from the Catalyst Campus, located in the historic Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe rail depot and related buildings, will further strengthen the east and southeast sides of downtown, said its founder Kevin O’Neil.
Owner of The O’Neil Group Co., O’Neil is an entrepreneur with interests in residential and commercial real estate development and aerospace and cyberspace technology. He also says he is trying to integrate a community development component into his projects, and the Campus Catalyst expansion will do just that.
“We are a community builder instead of a developer,” O’Neil tells the India. “We are trying to improve and clean up the neighborhood. We see a lot of transient behavior there.
The city council was to be informed on August 23, the day the India went to press, but City Council Chairman Tom Strand is excited about the project, and Councilor Bill Murray says via email: “This proposal could help the city expand its technological footprint, which is still weak by compared to most cities.
Catalyst Campus features program areas, executive offices, research and development facilities and meeting spaces. These include the Catalyst Space Accelerator, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directorate of Space Vehicles, which promotes commercially augmented technological progress. It has hosted nearly 50 companies around the world and secured more than $ 48 million in follow-up funding from government and private investors. Another is Space CAMP, a software factory focused on the development and deployment of Space Force mission applications for the fighter.
Nestled at the confluence of Pikes Peak and Colorado Avenues on the east side of downtown, the campus has gradually overtaken its facilities, leading O’Neil to propose the creation of two metropolitan districts and a business improvement district. totaling 15 acres.
If approved, the Catalyst BID would be one of the city’s 16 business improvement districts; two more are awaiting approval, according to city records. The city has about 46 metropolitan districts and approvals for 16 more are pending.
Catalyst Districts would tax up to 50 vintages on property tax bills to fund expansion and 10 mills for operations and administration. Districts could also adopt a public improvement charge, which is essentially a sales tax.
O’Neil plans to add executive office suites, research and development labs, residential units and, perhaps, a parking garage, increasing the footprint from 220,000 to 1 million square feet.
The work includes upgrading utilities and high-speed fiber to the east side of downtown, an initiative that would benefit surrounding properties, he said, as well as the continuation of the Legacy Loop public trail.
O’Neil said former President Donald Trump’s decision to locate the headquarters of the new space force at Peterson Air Force Base in Huntsville, Ala. – a decision contested by businessmen and local officials – did not will not hinder the development of the aerospace contingent in Colorado. Springs, and the Catalyst Campus plays a key role in this regard.
“We see new programs evolving every day,” he says. “You can’t all go to Huntsville when we’re the space capital. We have the industrial base. With the current workforce working under Space Force that would be redirected to Huntsville, we believe 75 percent of those employees will not be leaving Colorado Springs. We’re fine anyway.
It is because the demand is so great. “We are full and our request is to build something new for customers here and others who want to settle here. “
While the proposal asks for permission to issue up to $ 90 million in bonds to fund the project, it estimates the actual cost to be around $ 68 million. O’Neil says that, assuming Council approves the service plan and the creation of the districts in mid-September, he hopes to market the bonds in November and begin construction next year. (O’Neil admitted he would buy some, if not all of the bonds, although he expected other investors to step in.)
The districts would cut a strip through the old rail yard and stretch from Colorado and Pikes Peak Avenues in the north to Costilla Street in the south, and from Wahsatch Avenue in the west to Shooks Run in the east. It wouldn’t immediately integrate into the adjacent Transit Mix site, although O’Neil says he’s working on buying it. O’Neil’s project would lead to the old Gazette St. Francis Building and Hospital, which are located in the 23-acre GSF Business Improvement District and GSF Metropolitan Districts 1 and 2, controlled by Norwood Development Group.
These three districts plan to issue up to $ 100 million in debt to fund utilities, two parking garages, improved drainage, parks, streetscapes, landscaping and public art. . The redevelopment would bring in townhouses, apartments, a hotel, retail and office space and other commercial uses. Districts have formed and an election is slated for this fall to exempt BID income caps imposed by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
Chairman of the Strand Board says the formation of subways and business districts has been an effective tool across the state, in terms of funding, as they create a source of income that allows development to be self-financing.
He notes that the Catalyst campus is “exploding,” so an expansion makes sense and would provide space for defense contractors and create jobs for local college graduates with technical degrees.
UCCS and Pikes Peak Community College recently adopted programs to nurture graduates of the high-tech and aerospace industries, and on August 20, the US Space Force and the University of Colorado announced a new partnership program.
City Councilor Murray said that regardless of the location of the Space Force, O’Neil’s plans could help the city expand its technological profile while, combined with Norwood’s plans, “help anchor that side.” from the city “.
But the project won’t necessarily solve the city-wide lack of cheap broadband, which has made the city a “postal mail destination,” says Murray. That said, he is in favor of the creation of neighborhoods.
Strand says the project and other new developments will force the city to further study its ability to provide municipal services, from transit to police protection.
“In terms of public safety, I am concerned about the Colorado Springs Police Department as we are about 100 less sworn officers than we need,” he says, adding that 80 recruits will be starting an academy this month. this.
“It’s going to create more demand, more businesses, more people, more business, and I’m very worried about that,” he says. While the fire department is “well positioned” in the city center, Strand questions transportation, from the suitability of roads to public transit.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “We’ll have to look at this. ”
From the City of Champions The sightseeing package has started to take hold in recent years, bringing the Olympic and Paralympic Museum to the southwest side, along with Colorado College’s nearly completed football stadium and Robson Arena, the downtown area has seen a boom.
Several new tax districts have been created, particularly near the museum, to finance offices and apartments in height. The city renovated Vermijo Avenue to encourage pedestrian traffic, and the city recently won a $ 1.6 million grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation that is intended for Phase 1 of a project to beautify the street. Tejon Street from Colorado Avenue to Boulder Street. The first phase will focus on two blocks going from Colorado to Kiowa.
Despite the closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have opened, bars are buzzing and apartments are growing like weed. Multi-story apartment buildings have been built or are underway throughout the city center, bringing thousands of units to what was once a housing shortage, despite the Citywalk built in 1962 at 417 E. Kiowa St .
333 ECO Apartments in Colorado and Wahsatch have opened in the past two years, while Pikes Peak Plaza Apartments are under construction on three acres at the northwest corner of Prospect Street and Pikes Peak Avenue, including a multi-story parking lot. .
Now, O’Neil’s plans will advance development in this neighborhood.
“We have been following the plans of the O’Neil Group company closely for a long time,” Downtown Partnership CEO Susan Edmondson said via email.
“With O’Neil Group, it’s a win-win because not only are existing properties going to be improved and new spaces built, but with it all comes a highly talented workforce – high paying jobs and growing businesses. growth. This is an incredible opportunity for Downtown, ”she said.
Edmondson adds that his agency planned the transformation a few years ago, thanks to O’Neil’s investment. She says some 1,500 apartments in the downtown southeast quadrant – all east of Nevada Avenue – have recently been completed, under construction, or about to open. She estimates that 3,000 units are completed, under construction or under construction next year across the city center.
Greg Dingrando, public information officer for the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, said at least 1,000 apartments have been built or licensed since 2016.
“What we see now is the east side of Colorado Springs [Downtown] becomes the cool place, ”says O’Neil. “The number of vertical apartments is more than anywhere else in the city center. The [Catalyst Campus] is doing its part to bring that economy, those jobs and the quality of the streets there. If you go there and see what we’ve been up to over the past five years, you would be amazed.