EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Board of Commissioners Tuesday approved spending the remaining $562,000 of the $30 million Westside Avenue Action Plan, an improvement project along West Colorado Avenue between 31st Street and Manitou Springs.
The money reimburses construction workers for upgrades already completed along that stretch, although some final steps -- such as pouring concrete for sidewalks -- continue.
The project started in 2016 to install new street lighting, landscaping, curbs, sidewalks, improved drainage and a bridge over Fountain Creek in an area called "No Man's Land" because it had long been neglected and deteriorating.
Most of the work was finished by fall of 2018 but the project lasted longer -- and costed more -- because of delays tied to removing large boulders, old utility lines and rail lines, a used tire dump and acquiring property.
The construction seriously decreased business for merchants along the corridor, only to be followed by the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So was the project worthwhile? Will it deliver on its potential to revive the economy in that area? And have businesses recovered?
Farley McDonough, owner of Adam's Mountain Cafe, watched as her restaurant filled with lunch customers Tuesday, and said this is her best year for business since 2015, before construction began.
"We were just starting to come back in 2019," she said. "Then the pandemic hit. I almost closed for good in January until I got federal aid. I still have to close some days because I don't have enough employees. Things probably haven't improved as quickly as people would like, but I think they will gradually. It looks so much better than it did five years ago."
McDonough is no stranger to abrupt changes. She moved her restaurant from Manitou Springs because of flooding after the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.
Meanwhile, up the street at the Days Inn, general manager Terry Vallieres reflected on the eventful past five years.
"During construction, there was a water main break and we lost water. No laundry, no showers. It was a mess getting in and out of our parking lot. Then, we had to lay off everybody during the pandemic. I'm still having to fill in now. But the business is coming back. We've sold out on rooms every day since mid-May. We're doing a lot better."
Vallieres also said that several hotels and motels are now under new management or ownership.
"They just couldn't make it through the construction or the pandemic," she said. "But there's a Holiday Inn Express being built next to us. So I think we'll see more businesses coming in."
Joseph Hopfe, a Manitou Springs native who moved to New York briefly, has returned and is impressed by the improvements.
"It's walkable and rideable," he said. "I think it's great. I'd like to see more places to eat and shop along here, but I'm hoping that will come."