The reconstruction of Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street connects Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s recently completed United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum to the historic Tejon Street, Downtown Colorado Springs’ most active north-south street. The street-section was narrowed from 140’ to 120’ and includes a one-block barrier-free “festival street” – designed for pedestrians as well as large outdoor community gatherings and festivals. Approximately 75% of the width of the street has been dedicated to pedestrians, with a 31’ treelined pedestrian promenade anchoring the north edge of the roadway. With this large-scale street reconstruction, utilities were relocated and upgraded to accommodate the influx of dense urban real estate expected on fronting parcels. Pivotal to the project’s success was the “right-sizing” of the right-of-way to accommodate a new promenade, reducing the scale of the city blocks, providing a pedestrian oriented street experience, and addressing traffic and circulation needs around Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street to support the growth and development of the Park Union Neighborhood.
Purpose and Approach
Vermijo Avenue was one of several key downtown Colorado Springs streets with a 140-foot-wide right of way (compared to 80-100 feet for most other urban streets). Other east/west downtown streets were primarily used as arterials and through streets; however, at only six blocks long, Vermijo Avenue did not have the traffic demand to merit multiple lanes of vehicular traffic. Its additional right-of-way width has historically been underutilized and disconnected from adjacent uses. The US Olympic & Paralympic Museum was the catalyst or the “spark” that led the city to initiate the project to re-envision this area as a multi-modal, quality urban environment, fulfilling this long-awaited infrastructure goal for Downtown. Three blocks of Vermijo Avenue and three blocks of Sierra Madre Street were revitalized through this project.
The reconstruction of Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street connects the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum to the historic Tejon Street, Downtown Colorado Springs’ most active north-south street. Vermijo’s street-section was narrowed from 140’ to 120’ and includes a one-block barrier-free “festival street” – designed for pedestrians as well as large outdoor community gatherings and festivals. Approximately 75% of the width of the street has been dedicated to pedestrians, with a 31’ tree-lined pedestrian promenade anchoring the north edge of the roadway. Eventually active uses such as building entries, cafés, outdoor patios, and retail storefronts will engage Vermijo Avenue as private development along the street occurs. With this large-scale street reconstruction, utilities were relocated and upgraded to accommodate the influx of dense urban real estate expected on fronting parcels.
Pivotal to the project’s success was the “right-sizing” of the right-of-way to accommodate a new promenade, reducing the scale of the city blocks, providing a pedestrian oriented street experience, and addressing traffic and circulation needs in and around the project area.
The project team and stakeholders collaboratively authored design goals through a series of charrettes, and curated six key principles for a successful project.
- Flexible: The street was designed at a human scale for both year-round, day-to-day use and special events of various sizes. The curbless festival street can be closed to vehicle traffic for large events, and the pedestrian promenade can be used for more intimate gatherings. The street is also equipped to accommodate seasonal and event-related features such as temporary street art displays, offering a flexible and changing experience.
- Destination: Designed as a destination unto itself – a place for visitors and the community to socialize and gather – while linking other popular cultural and recreational destinations such as the Pioneers Museum, US Olympic and Paralympic Museum, and America the Beautiful Park.
- Sustainable: The street is designed as a premier sustainable “green” street, establishing a new standard within the Park Union District and a demonstration of innovative sustainable forestry and green infrastructure strategies for the region.
- Timeless: The timeless design as a signature street deploys successful urban design principles, while using enduring and durable materials.
- Catalyzing: The significant investment in public infrastructure will spur further urban revitalization. As a result of this project and associated public realm improvements, new developments have been added or are already underway, part of a $1.8B mixed-used urban redevelopment effort to occur over the next 20-years.
- Unique: The streets were designed to have a unique and memorable sense of place. This was achieved through the use of attractive, inclusive, and sustainable design solutions, including seasonal botanical features and large event accommodations for regional festivals.
Role: Landscape architect
The landscape architect was a subconsultant to the engineer and played a key role on the design and execution of project. The landscape architect led the vision for design of the space to feel comfortable for both large events and daily usage. The landscape architect procured all granite pavers, and established the paving pattern; procured trees during the design phase to create a 3-block forested urban promenade; oversaw installation of the trees in structural soil cells; selected a native and xeric plant palette to reduce water usage; and selected all street furnishings.
Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Streets were key infrastructure investments, providing new linkages between the new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, the iconic Pedestrian Bridge and America the Beautiful Park on the west, and Shooks Run Trail and small urban parks to the east. Together, these improvements create seamless, beautiful and functional connections between the neighborhood, civic amenities, parks, an urban trail network, and the re-emerging southwest downtown district, which is being energized by dramatic regional growth.
With no single agency or individual able to fund the entire project, a Public Private Partnership between the State of Colorado, City of Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Private and Non-Profit Partners was formed to seek funding opportunities and guide the implementation vision. The collective resources of the PPP made funding the project vision possible. The PPP worked extensively with numerous boards, commissions, councils, committees, and enterprises to procure project funding. By sharing the project vision and the long-term benefits of the project to the key funding partners, the project received nearly 100% support from more than 100 elected officials and voting members required to authorize the use of funds.
Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability
Building a Green Street: The design and engineering team established a goal to establish a premier “green street”, setting new sustainable standards for the City. The team deployed over 17,000 square feet of innovative Silva Cell technology to ensure the success of the trees and manage water quality. In addition to providing necessary soil volume, the Silva Cells are also utilized in key areas to treat storm water run-off and snow melt. By diverting water thru oversized planting areas and strategic Silva Cell inlets, water runoff is treated on site before continuing to Fountain Creek and Shooks Run. Vermijo has become a premier green street that sets the standard for the district to be a leader in sustainable practices.
The Museum, Bridge and improvements to Vermijo and Sierra Madre streetscapes are pivotal to the successful revitalization of the Park Union neighborhood to a vibrant mixed use neighborhood. The project brought together a diverse coalition of public and private entities to create a unique new destination. This forward-thinking pedestrian-oriented streetscape connects major urban, cultural and recreational assets and serves as a catalyst for upcoming development in the neighborhood. The functional, flexible and beautiful street was designed to host events of all sizes, while also serving as an attractive oasis for everyday use, highlighted by its signature canopy of trees and sustainable landscape features.
- 8 – Fairview Norway Maple
- 14 – Common Hackberry
- 9 – Sunburst Common Honeylocust
- 87 – Skyline Honey Locust
- 23 – Red Oak
- 12 – Redmond American Linden
- 35 – Accolade Elm
- 30 – Norway Spruce
- 3 – Eastern Redbud
- 9 – Smoke Tree
- 27 – Trumpet Creeper
- 66 – Blue Mist Shrub
- 159 – Isanti Redosier Dogwood
- 20 – Compact Burning Bush
- 29 – Little Lime Hydrangea
- 33 – Creeping Mahonia
- 460 – Gro-Low-Fragrant Sumac
- 4 – Smooth Sumac
- 12 – Arctic Fire Dogwood
Annuals / Perennials
- 349 – Magnus Purple Coneflower
- 46 – Hybrid Cranesbill
- 87 – Peters Purple Bee Balm
- 234 – Walker’s Low Catmint
- 373 – Little Spire Russian Sage
- 326 – Black Eyed Susan
- 152 – Cardonna Perennial Salvia
- 114 – Sage
- 77 – Sage
- 31 – Autumn Joy Sedum
- 152 – Blue Gramma
- 243 – Tufted Hair Grass
- 67 – Blue Oat Grass
- 321 – Prairie Junegrass
- 82 – Pink Muhly
- 77 – Switch Grass
- 164 – Little Bluestem Grass
- 807 – Praire Dropseed
- 144 – Panchito Manzanita
- 61 – Mugo Pine
- 14,200 SF – Western Wheatgrass
Documents and Media
Planning Docs (if applicable):