Concrete Couch undergoes new (green) beginningBy Lily Reavis
The Southeast Express
The lot at 1100 S. Royer St. in Southeast Colorado Springs sat undeveloped for years. The combination of a busy train track as the primary neighbor, lack of an on-site water source and recurring urban camping around the property made the land undesirable to developers.
On April 12, however, the lot was bought by Concrete Couch, a community-building nonprofit based in Colorado Springs. (In the interest of full disclosure, we note that the Concrete Couch is the fiscal sponsor of the Southeast Express. This relationship in no way affected our reporting on this story.)
For the past 25 years, Concrete Couch has worked to bring communities in the Pikes Peak region together through public art. The organization operates under seven core values, including, “getting dirty is liberating” and, “people who feel valued contribute more.” Founding Director Steve Wood believes that the new lot has potential to bring the community together.
Concrete Couch purchased the lot for a mere $200,000 — a steal for 5.67 acres just blocks from downtown — renaming it the “Concrete Coyote.” The organization is currently renovating the lot into a community park, complete with a walking trail, music venue and public art space. Eventually, Concrete Couch will move its headquarters from Vermijo Avenue to the campus, located in the Hillside neighborhood at the intersection of South Royer and East Las Vegas streets.
“We have always had a host organization provide us with free office space, but as we grow we do need our own space that we can count on and
modify as needed,” said Wood.
The Southeast Express is committed to disclosing potential conflicts of interest, real or presumed, in its reporting. In the interest of disclosure, we note that the Concrete Couch is the fiscal sponsor of the Express. This relationship had no impact on our reporting or editorial voice.
Until December 2018, the lot was occupied by an estimated 100 urban campers. The property’s owners at the time asked city officials to assist in relocation and cleanup. Police gave two weeks’ notice before city staff came in with bulldozers, demolishing the campsite.
Concrete Couch leaders had hoped that the site could serve as transitional housing before its new headquarters opened, Wood told our sister paper, the Colorado Springs Independent, late last year. During a June tour of the property, Wood encountered a camper on the property. While asking him to vacate the premises, Wood offered a meal and fresh water in return for the camper’s help with cleanup.
Today, Wood wants the Concrete Coyote to become a public park, built by and for community members. Since the purchase of the lot, he has spent every weekday morning renovating the land, joined by volunteers, interns and Concrete Couch staff members. The organization hired several summer interns to help renovate the land, providing them with a small stipend for their work.
Each morning, the crew would set out to accomplish construction on different areas of the Coyote site. As well as developing the park, Concrete Couch plans to build an office, a caretaker’s apartment, a storage garage and public bathrooms on the lot.
“This is major stuff for us,” said Wood. “We did not start out to find and develop a community park, but the land which we have bought really lends itself to that endeavor.”
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A fresh start
In the early weeks of construction, Concrete Couch focused on building tree-friendly retaining walls on the northeast side of the lot. The area had become known as the “719 Incline” from the stone stairs that snake around the tree planters. The stairs lead to the top of a hill, providing one of the best views of the Coyote lot.
Another section of interest is what teacher Becky Pontz nicknamed “The Theater.” The area is on another hillside slightly south of the 719 Incline. Concrete Couch team members dug out a flat amphitheater-like platform with two rows of seating halfway up the hill.
Pontz hopes that the organization will use the space for live music and movies. She suggested that a white sheet be hung for films, but maintained Concrete Couch’s philosophy that the space should really be used for whatever the community wants to see.
“We don’t want it to seem like we’re directing,” Pontz said, “We want it to be collaborative.”
Concrete Couch is also focused on building a walking trail that will run the length of the park. On June 11, the organization started the trail project, allowing interns and volunteers to take part as they desired. Some team members got to work, digging out debris from the proposed trail site; a few began by collecting trash off the ground; and others set about building a retaining wall into a hill that the trail will pass.
“There’s no right or wrong way to do it, everyone’s learning,” Wood said. “It can always be modified.”
He emphasized that the lot has potential for exploring Concrete Couch’s core values. He hopes that the Coyote will allow the community to create the experiences, opportunities and infrastructure it desires “in a more intimate, organic way.”
“We have a tremendous method and we relish sharing it, and at the same time there is a lot of space for us to learn from the people and organizations that we work with,” he said. “That’s our working concept in a nutshell, sharing resources and working together for the common good.”