Ten years ago, I sold my Colorado Springs house near the Powers corridor and traded shopping at big box supercenters, noshing at Texas Roadhouse and hitting afternoon matinees for a cozier neighborhood, less square footage and a walkable community.
There’s a certain charm to living in the heart of the Springs, and it’s drawing a range of dwellers. Developers are responding to the interest, and residential buildings are on the rise in the core of downtown (roughly St. Vrain to Rio Grande and Wahsatch to I-25) over the next few years. A contingent of residents already has been putting down roots and enjoying the pros and eccentricities of urban living. Within the next year as more people move into new apartments and lofts, the population downtown is looking to more than double in a short time. Those of us who are already there are the biggest cheerleaders for growth and ready to welcome new neighbors. So what’s the draw?
“We pretty much live within the block where our loft is,” says 28-year-old Elizabeth Selby. “And anything else we need, like the YMCA, is within an eight-block radius.” She and husband, Blaise, moved into the Giddings Lofts in 2014. They had already been living in a downtown neighborhood near Colorado College but found themselves constantly riding their bikes to the city center to visit friends, participate in arts events or grab coffee (several friends opened downtown coffee shops).
Blaise recently got out of the Army and now drives to the InterQuest area for work every day. But Elizabeth has been without a car for more than six months. An oil painter, she walks to her studio a block away. Grocery runs or church on the east side are the only reasons she has to wait for the wheels.
Before they bought their loft, the Selbys hadn’t been able to find a house downtown within their price range. Then they learned that the upper floor of the Giddings Building was transforming from office space into residential studios and lofts. It was an ideal, less expensive option without the headaches of yard maintenance, trash service or snow shoveling. As they consider the future possibility of children, they only have to look down the hall. Their neighbors have a baby, so the Selbys figure they could make it work too, if and when the time comes.
Elizabeth says they’ve gotten to know many interesting folks just by walking their basset hound around the block each day. “Living down here naturally makes us more involved in the downtown community,” she says. “And I’m very involved in the arts community and specifically with First Fridays. Downtown has its own arts culture that’s eccentric and exciting; you can’t find the same arts scene anywhere else in the city.”
At least eight galleries, the Pikes Peak Center, the Mezzanine, Cottonwood Center for the Arts, and Rocky Mountain PBS all sit within the city center, with the Fine Arts Center, Bemis School of Art and Edith Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center just a few blocks to the north. You can find everything from watercolor lessons, opera and poetry slams to lecture series, workshops, festivals, painting nights and Lunch Beat dance sessions, not to mention the exhibits, art openings, First Fridays and theater productions. Plus the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Colorado Springs Chorale, and the Colorado Springs Conservatory perform often at downtown venues.
The arts was one of the motivating factors for Wylene Carol, 75, to move into the Daniels Lofts in 2001, when few residential options existed in the downtown core. She represents artist Floyd Tunson and works part time managing the building she lives in. She had always wanted to live in an open loft for the big ceilings, raw materials and plenty of space for artwork.
Wylene says she sees four distinct advantages to living in the heart of the city:
1) convenience to shops and services—her dentist is across the street and the spice shop is downstairs
2) arts and culture
“Here’s an example,” she says. “My car, which is a 1999 vehicle, has under 50,000 miles on it, which is only because I need to drive to get groceries. I walk everywhere and anywhere. The streets and the parks are my gym.”
Though Wylene loves living alone, she has friends in her building and others across the street. Plus, shop owners remember her clothing sizes. Restaurant servers know her by name. And she’s one of a number of downtown residents who created an informal coalition to protect and improve their neighborhood.
“Since 2008, when it was hard for businesses to stay open, the Downtown Partnership, the boards of BID [Business Improvement District], DDA [Downtown Development Authority] and Community Ventures [now Downtown Ventures] all worked in concert with the notion to make downtown a vital place economically and socially,” Wylene says. “Those boards have brought downtown to life.”
Of course, it’s not all perfection being an urban dweller. Wylene points out that square footage is more expensive, and she wishes that more businesses, besides bars and restaurants, would stay open at night. And there is that urban noise to get used to: early morning garbage trucks and traffic, weekend carousers from the clubs and bars—just more hustle and bustle in general.
Some downtown residents actually like the noise. Simon Penner, a 45-year-old commercial real estate broker who is moving from the Giddings Lofts to the newly constructed Bijou Lofts, intentionally opens his balcony door to hear the bustle on the streets. And he can’t think of a single thing he misses from living on the east side of the city, not even the grocery store. He says he would still need a car to load up a full shopping run even if the store were closer.
The only disadvantage he observes about living in the city center is that residential spaces are smaller—and he would love to see more people move to the area. “I think there’s a misconception that downtown is unsafe or that you’re going to be hassled,” Simon says. “I’ve never had any issues with bars or the homeless or feeling unsafe.” (Elizabeth and Wylene both echoed that sentiment.)
As an outgoing, social kind of guy, Simon says this part of the city is ideal. When Simon moved into the heart of downtown, he noticed a shift in his lifestyle from acquiring things to spending time with other people. “I like the smaller mom-and-pop shops; the easygoing, neighborhood-oriented feel; and how people—business owners and developers—are more approachable and accessible,” he says.
For many of the same reasons, Dave Brandt, 53, and his girlfriend, Carolyn Larson, 50, love being in the heart of the Springs. Dave moved to Blue Dot Place in 2016, and Carolyn joined him in December. They both prefer the walkability, convenience to restaurants, breweries, arts, culture and diversity to living anywhere else in the city.
She works in auto sales; he works from home as a photographer and for a real estate data company. She last lived in Fruita, Colorado; he moved here from the Los Angeles area. She’s an extrovert; he’s a “recovering quiet guy” who confesses that he becomes more outgoing every day just by living downtown.
Dave began connecting with the arts community and downtown a few years ago while showcasing his photography in galleries in Monument, Manitou and Old Colorado City. “Living down here, I see the arts scene progressing more,” he says. Since then Dave has joined the Downtown Partnership, helps with a local photography meetup group, co-organizes exhibits at the Plaza of the Rockies and has helped with First Fridays. “Originally living in Monument, I was not aware of how much was going on downtown,” he says. “We absolutely love it.”
Carolyn can’t get over the convenience: She walks to her hair stylist, nail salon, dinner, bank, post office, gym, you name it. In fact, every resident I talked with mentioned the ease of walking to anything they need, except for a grocery store. Living downtown seems to naturally equal daily exercise. Besides walking, residents seem to do more of certain activities simply because of location: eating out, talking to strangers and meeting diverse people.
These downtowners are part of that diversity. They’re the ones revitalizing the heart of the city. And they’re pleased to see new neighbors on the way. As the population grows in the heart of the city, so will the reasons to love it and move in.