Vacant retail properties in Colorado Springs: What can be done about them?

Vacant retail properties need solutions in Colorado Springs

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Vacant shopping centers, strip malls and big-box stores continue to be scattered across Colorado Springs, which critics say can decrease surrounding property values, become eyesores and serve as examples of neighborhood blight.

But the only requirement for owners is to maintain their properties by keeping them clean, removing trash, repairing damage or vandalism and removing graffiti.

City officials said there’s no deadline for owners to make a final decision on whether to sell their properties, find new tenants for them or demolish them.

In previous years, a struggling economy and the city’s population shift to the northeast gradually led owners to move out of their properties.

Some of the city’s most visible examples are the Rustic Hills shopping center at Academy and Palmer Park boulevards, a vacated Sam’s Club near Academy and Fountain boulevards, and a former diner at the corner of Cimarron and Sierra Madre streets.

"Rustic Hills has been vacant for at least a decade," said a neighbor walking through the parking lot Thursday. "Some other nearby vacancies have been filled but this one just stays empty."

Rustic Hills has two separately owned sections; one half is completely vacant and the other has several tenants.

At another property where a former grocery store is in a shopping center, the center is locally owned and maintained but the owner of the vacant store lives in Denver.

"And he’s shown no interest in doing anything with it," said the manager of a nearby business.

City officials said supply and demand will ultimately decide the fate of vacant properties, but incentives such as urban renewal projects also motivate owners to share efforts to revitalize their retail spaces.

"Until owners decide what to do, they sit on their properties and keep paying taxes," said Bob Cope, a city economic developer. "Some of them can afford to continue to do that. Some can’t. But they won’t invest in anything that isn’t financially feasible for them."

Cope said at some point, it will make more sense to redevelop vacant retail property instead of moving farther out, extending infrastructure and building new construction.

"The retail vacancy rate is under 10 percent," he said. "That’s pretty healthy. But much of it needs work and isn’t ready for occupancy."

Jeannie Orozco, of the Council of Neighborhoods and Organizations, said city officials, owners and citizens need to gather and talk about the best ways to utilize vacant retail spaces.

"We’ve continued to build instead of using those spaces," she said. "We need to stop causing our own plight. When you build a new building, tear one down or renovate an existing building."

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