COLORADO SPRINGS – For the first time in two decades, a proposal to build new high rise buildings in Colorado Springs is being considered.
The O’Neil Group, founded by Kevin O’Neil – who grew up in Colorado Springs, is asking to build two structures, one a 25-story residential building, the other, a 10 to 12-story office building. According to the plan, the buildings would be connected by a four-story parking garage with an amenity deck to include dog runs, pools, and other attractions.
“We’ve got to continue to work on our downtown,” said O’Neil. “We’re about building up our downtown and we feel this is our contribution to the community. And we see this as a necessary growth plate that will actually see other buildings spurred, other activities, other things supported.”
O’Neil says there are around 30 other investors behind this project.
If the plans are approved, the residential apartment building would become the tallest building in Colorado Springs. The commercial building would be the city’s sixth tallest.
Last week, the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority took the very first step on the project, instructing its staff to research the feasibility of the current plans. Per its website, CSURA’s main function is to “facilitate development of balanced, sustainable environments where people live, work, and come together as a community.” The group headed up by an executive director, who is governed by a board of 13 members.
Right now, nine board members support the project, one is opposed, and another – Tom Strand, who also serves as president for Colorado Springs City Council, abstained.
“I wasn’t excited about it.” Strand said. “You know, I don’t want us to be like Denver. I don’t want us to have huge skyscraper buildings everywhere.”
The proposed residential building would be only 10 to 20 feet taller than the city’s current tallest building downtown, the Wells Fargo Tower, O’Neil said. That’s because residential floors are shorter than commercial ones.
The Wells Fargo Tower, built in 1990, is 247 feet. The residential building O’Neil proposed is just more than 258 feet; his office building would stand at just over 164 feet.
O’Neil said, at one point, they considered making both buildings taller. But Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and his wife, Janet, suggested O’Neil keep the new buildings in line with the existing downtown skyline.
“We will see just another staggering affect of up and down, up and down,” O’Neil said. “A good visible skyline, something we took into account to build these buildings.”
And, despite conjecture, there is an area of downtown Colorado Springs that is zoned without height restrictions.
That plot of land sits on two separate CSURA districts. Money generated from properties there are funneled into improvements within those areas.
“The Urban Renewal Authority had already felt that these areas were ripe for development,” said Jariah Walker, executive director of the CSURA. “The whole southwest downtown area has always been a vision of making it something special and helping lay the groundwork to get something built.”
And an economic analysis for Colorado Springs shows the development is sorely needed.
Tatiana Bailey, PhD, director of the UCCS Economic Forum, created that analysis. Through it, she found apartment vacancy in the city has reached historic lows.
Coming out of the pandemic where work-from-home changed the structure of the typical work week, many cities are struggling to fill office space. Bailey found Colorado Springs has been insulated from that trend.
“It’s one-fifth the vacancy rate of the national average,” Bailey said. “Part of that is because we didn’t over-build before, like some other cities.”
O’Neil’s proposed office building would be the first Class A – the most desirable office property – high rise built in the city in two decades.
And, he says, he’s feeling the squeeze for space. More than ten years ago, during a period of depression, O’Neil brought more activity to a struggling downtown, where foreclosures threatened some of the city’s major office spaces.
One Space and Satellite was the start of a trend for O’Neil — He bought the company and relocated it to Colorado Springs.
“We realized that our downtown was struggling,” O’Neil said. “The Gazette building was in foreclosure and had been for two years, and we thought that would be a great marriage, where we would actually bring back this company and grow it and fill up that building.”
Now, with nine commercial buildings in his portfolio, he is intent on focusing that growth.
O’Neil is starting up, what he calls, the Evergreen Investment Fund, a fund that ‘goes on in perpetuity.’ Its goal is to buy more companies – namely in the engineering and defense industries, and relocate them here, to the Olympic City.
“We realized that to bring them here, we have to offer them the same environment that they potentially came out of, and our community needs some refreshing downtown,” O’Neil said.
Jariah Walker says O’Neil is one of a few natives looking to invest in a city that’s on the cusp of a renaissance.
“I think it’s really special when you have developers that are from here that want to invest in [Colorado Springs],” Walker said. “I think you see that with Kevin O’Neil, I think you see that with Norwood [Development Group]. I think you see that with Dean Weidner too. I mean these are major player who love this community and they want to give back.”
Walker is tasked with the “due diligence” of this project – which means closely examining whether O’Neil’s proposals align with the CSURA’s goals and intentions for those areas of the city. Another vote, down the road, will determine whether or not the project will move forward, with help from the CSURA districts.
A Colorado Springs spokesperson says, the project has not been submitted to the city yet, though they expect the application this month.
In a CSURA meeting last week, a potential groundbreaking date in September was mentioned, but the project would also need the blessing of Colorado Springs’ Planning Commission as well as city council before and digging can begin.
Strand says he has been told by city’s planning director that the project, as proposed, meets all requirements and restrictions. He says main concern is maintaining the look Colorado Springs – and not blocking views of the Front Range.
“We’re growing every day and people are moving here, not only from other parts of Colorado, but all over the country and, so, I think it does meet the idea of another city that is emerging and growing,” Strand said.