Nelson Harvey
Special to the Citizen Telegram
Rifle, Colorado CO

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April 4, 2012
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City hunting for new businesses at Rifle Creek Plaza

Since the multiplex Brenden Theatre opened in downtown Rifle late last year, city officials and members of the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. (EDC) have stepped up efforts to market several vacant parcels adjacent to the movie house in Rifle Creek Plaza.

The goal: to attract mixed-use development and retail businesses that could spur a wholesale revitalization of the downtown core.

According to a marketing document circulated by the EDC, the city is working to find lessees or buyers for three parcels on the city-owned Rifle Creek Plaza site. Two of them, located in the northern section of the site bordering Third Street, measure roughly 6,000 square feet apiece, while a third larger parcel, measuring 20,834 square feet, is located in the southeast corner, near the intersection of West Avenue and Highway 6.

"There has been some interest, but because discussions are ongoing, we are keeping that confidential," said Michael Langhorne, president of the EDC board of directors. "Once a contract or lease was signed, we would go public with that information."

The EDC marketing document strongly encourages mixed-use development, combining ground floor businesses that create pedestrian traffic with a mix of commercial, office and residential uses on the upper floors. Building heights on the parcels would be limited to six stories, according to the document.

"[Rifle Creek Plaza] should serve as a high-activity commercial and entertainment spine that attracts a regional market," the document reads. "[A] high level of focus should be placed on ground floor retail, restaurant and entertainment uses that utilize surrounding sidewalks."

Assistant City Manager Matt Sturgeon, who is collaborating with the EDC to market the parcels, said he expects interest in the site to pick up once landscaping improvements are completed this spring. The city will also pursue a broad campaign to spread awareness about the available real estate.

"We will likely reach out to commercial brokers in the area, and talk with local restaurateurs," he said. "I've heard that there is interest from the restaurant side, but haven't heard of any formal inquiry."

Langhorne of the EDC said he is also hoping for marketing guidance from several facets of a "Transit-Oriented Development" study currently under way in Rifle that is being funded by a grant of $806,000 from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

One aspect of that study is an economic analysis of the downtown area currently being conducted by the Denver-based firm Economic and Planning Systems. The analysis will identify several business types that could succeed at the Rifle Creek Plaza site, and elsewhere downtown.

Andy Knudtsen, who is leading that analysis, said a final version will likely be released within six to eight weeks, but he will share preliminary findings with city officials before that.

Langhorne said he also hopes to learn more about the community vision for Rifle Creek Plaza through several upcoming public outreach initiatives connected with the study, including a weekly "Design Academy" held Thursdays through May 10, and a weeklong design charette to take place April 16-20, culminating on the April 20 with a community open house.

The city obtained the Rifle Creek Plaza site in 2006 through a swap with the Valley Lumber Co. Valley Lumber, which had previously operated a lumberyard there, agreed to relocate to a city-owned parcel in north Rifle. This gave the city an opportunity for redevelopment in the downtown core.

Jim Charlier, president of Charlier Associates, the consulting firm overseeing the city's "Transit-Oriented Development" study, said the vision for Rifle Creek Plaza has been fairly consistent among all stakeholders.

"You step out of the movie theatre on a night in June, and people are hanging out," he said. "There's an ice cream parlor, there's a pizza parlor. Everyone has the same vision for that site. That kind of clarity tends to encourage developers."

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The Post Independent Updated Apr 4, 2012 04:49PM Published Apr 4, 2012 04:48PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.