Despite the pandemic, growing trends for downtown Colorado Springs

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COLORADO SPRINGS — The 2021 State of Downtown Report was released Wednesday night by Downtown Partnership.

In a typical year, downtown experiences about 12 million visits but in 2020 visitation dropped nearly 42% with a little over 7 million visits. However, the city says visitations are picking up.

“More and more people are making their home in downtown Colorado Springs in order to enjoy it’s vibrancy,” Mayor John Suthers said. “We have an exciting year ahead with new downtown stadium and a new indoor arena opening, the new finishing touches are being done for the America the Beautiful Park to the Museum.”

2020 saw a 20% increase in land use permits. There were 677 building permits for downtown Colorado Springs which is 8% of citywide. Downtown is less than 1% of city landmass yet noting 12.6% of permit valuations at $158 million, according to Downtown Partnership.

Courtesy: Downtown Partnership

Colorado Springs downtown is not seeing boarded-up storefronts like many other cities downtowns. Over 90% of downtown storefronts are locally owned. Downtown boasts the largest concentration of independently owned restaurants in southern Colorado. More than 100 days of indoor dining was closed in 2020 and limited occupancy bars and restaurants experienced a 35% decrease in sales compared to statewide was a 40% decrease.

Food and beverage sales tax generation downtown grew 31% from 2015 to 2019 compared to just 19% citywide, but downtown in 2020 dipped below 2015 levels. The biggest concerns right now for restaurants are hiring and staffing. They are also seeing the Monday through Friday lunch rush non-existance anymore. Restaurants hope the downtown workforce will return. The downtown restaurants are looking forward to the new venues like the Ed Robson Arena and Wiedner Field to bring in new customers to grab food before or after the events.

“The vibe is clear, people are excited about dining out again and we are thrilled about that the last year has felt more like being in the foodservice business and not in the hospitality business,” Owner of Rasta Pasta Rebecca Taraborelli said. “We want to do so much more than just selling our food to people, we want to give people the full dining experience.”

Taraborelli said they are very hopeful for the next year and are bracing for an extremely busy summer. Local independent restaurants are concerned about the affordability of leasing downtown and worried they’ll have to compete with big chain restaurants that would buy up the properties in downtown Colorado Springs rather than downtown Denver because it is cheaper.

New businesses in Downtown Colorado Springs

There were a lot of firsts for downtown in 2020 such as CO.A.T.I. – Colorado Springs first food hall, 3E’s Comedy Club – first comedy club and Icon’s – first gay piano lounge, and Bread & Butter Market – first grocery store in over a decade. 2020 also saw the revitalization of the Historic Depot Square with three restaurant concepts.

Retail held steady with just a 4% decrease in sales and just a 3% drop in sales during the essential holiday shopping season and the city said this is a testament to the loyalty of locals for the independent boutiques and brands.

For retail real estate, the vacancy rate stood at 5.2% at the end of 2020 which was on par for citywide figures. It was the first year however that asking rents downtown surpassed city-wide averages. Asking rents for downtown have increased from $2 in the first quarter to $18.60 per square foot. Downtown Partnership said this upward trend can be attributed to new retail opportunities. Storefronts that were available during 2020 have been quickly snatched up. Downtown ended 2020 with 20 new storefronts opening which outpaced closures for the year. In 2021, nearly 30 businesses were opened or announced.

Downtown Partnership said trends show Colorado Springs is outperforming other cities in tourism. The biggest attraction opening last summer that gained national attention was the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum.

“The new Broadmoor Manitou Pikes Peak Cog Railway, as well as the Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center, will be opening later this Spring, and when you combine those two iconic attractions along with the new Olympic Museum that opened last year the Flying W that reopened, we’ve got a great nucleus of things to offer to people,” CEO of Visit Colorado Springs Doug Price said.

Website traffic on Visit Colorado Springs is up 71% in March compared to March of 2020 and is up 5% from March of 2019. They have a tool called the trip planner where people can set up an itinerary and that was up 35% in March over a  year ago. Price said Southwest Airlines is a game-changer for the city of Colorado Springs, which started flying to the Olympic City last month.

The citywide occupancy rate at hotels fell 54%, it was 70% a year prior which is the lowest level since the 1980s. The downtown hotel occupancy rate fell 56.5%, which is down 82% from the year prior. Despite the decline in hotel stays, Colorado Springs ranked 7th in the country for the highest hotel occupancy in 2020. Three new hotel properties opened downtown. The number of hotel rooms has doubled in a four-year time frame, according to Downtown Partnership.

To view the rest of the report click here.

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