This article was published in the Glenwood Post Independent. By John Stroud.
Glenwood Springs has been recognized by the state of Colorado for its four-year, $18 million-plus effort to spruce up its downtown.
Downtown Colorado Inc. on Thursday announced that the Glenwood Downtown Development Authority, the city and four other public entities had won the governor’s “Best Group Effort” Award for Downtown Excellence.
In addition to the Glenwood Springs award, the city of Rifle won “Best Adaptive Reuse or Rehabilitation” for the renovation of the New Ute Events Center (see related story).
Glenwood’s award recognizes the coordinated effort to complete a series of projects that resulted in a new downtown library, improved public parking and the recent street and sidewalk enhancements along Cooper Avenue and Seventh Street.
Several restaurants also jumped on board, taking advantage of the expanded sidewalk areas to invest in outdoor dining areas.
In addition, the developers of the 711 Grand building that now houses two new restaurants, Smoke Modern Barbecue and The Lost Cajun, contributed money to alleyway renovations between Colorado and Grand avenues.
“This award is the validation and recognition of the work of dozens of people and many organizations over several years, each of whom contributed to a visionary, synergistic process that has changed the fabric of Glenwood Springs for a permanent and positive result,” said Charlie Willman, DDA board chairman.
The DDA is a tax-funded district established in 2001 that takes in the historic downtown core area. It uses money from special tax increment financing to invest in public improvements, including beautification, pedestrian access and connections to parks and river trails.
Leslie Bethel, executive director of the DDA for the past four years, said the larger series of projects began with a meeting to discuss how best to keep the Glenwood Springs Branch Library downtown after the Garfield County Public Library District embarked on a multiyear effort to build new libraries throughout the county.
Initially, the library district had looked at moving the Glenwood library from its old downtown location at Ninth and Blake somewhere outside of the downtown core.
The DDA and the city invited library officials along with representatives from the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and Colorado Mountain College to discuss some alternatives. The outcome:
• The city’s first multi-level parking structure at the corner of Ninth and Cooper, with capacity for 149 cars.
• A new main administrative building for CMC at Eighth and Grand, which also houses the chamber offices and downtown Visitors Center.
• A new, much larger 14,000-square-foot library at Eighth and Cooper with an additional 10,000 square feet of CMC expansion space on the second floor plus an underground 65-space parking area for CMC employees that serves as public parking after hours.
“It really just goes to show that what we can create together is so much bigger and better than what we can do by ourselves,” Bethel said. “It’s extremely rewarding to be recognized for an effort and a significant amount of money spent during a downturn in our economy.”
The streetscape project along Cooper and Seventh was also made possible by a significant amount of funding from Garfield County.
Longtime Glenwood Chamber director Marianne Virgili noted that the DDA itself grew out of chamber committee discussions in the late 1990s.
“It’s so gratifying to see the fruits of the labors of so many different organizations and businesses be recognized,” Virgili said. “It’s been a really worthwhile project, and I think the downtown has really turned around as a result.”
Glenwood Springs City Councilman Todd Leahy, who has been an avid supporter of the project since its inception, credited Bethel and the DDA board for taking the lead to see the projects through to completion.
“I’m just extremely proud of our DDA and the partnerships they have been able to put together, and to be able to pull it off during what were some pretty difficult economic times,” Leahy said.
“I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg for what’s coming,” he said in reference to additional public improvements that are being planned as part of the state’s Grand Avenue bridge replacement project.
All of this year’s Downtown Excellence award winners will be recognized at a special reception with Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sept. 11 at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins.