Christensen reviews ups, downs of past eight years
GLENWOOD SPRINGS,Colorado – Though he admits he could have done without the two economic downturns that served as bookends to his eight years on Glenwood Springs City Council, Mayor Bruce Christensen is proud of the chapters he’s helped to author in between.
He’s also not quite ready to close the book on his civic involvement, though he’s happy to take the role of everyday citizen in working to move unfinished goals forward.
Christensen, 65, officially leaves his city council position this Thursday, an eight-year stint that has included three terms as Glenwood Springs’ appointed mayor. The city charter limits council members to two consecutive four-year terms.
“When I started in 2003, the new Super Wal-Mart had just opened in Rifle, and our city sales taxes had taken a $100,000 dive per month,” Christensen recalled.
While that paled in comparison to the 2008 national recession and a more than 20 percent decline in city sales taxes that marked his final two years on City Council, Christensen believes Glenwood Springs has weathered the storm quite well.
“The economic issues have been somewhat frustrating,” he said in a recent interview with the Post Independent. “But we have been able to work through all that without any major service reductions.”
Eight years ago, the Glenwood Meadows shopping center, which brought Target, Lowe’s and other national retail stores to Glenwood Springs, hadn’t even been built yet.
Ironically, Christensen had been involved in an effort to implement a city open space program in the mid-1990s that, had it not failed, likely would have included the Meadows property as one of the first acquisitions.
“Now, I see the benefit of having a big commercial generator out there, and that we really needed that,” Christensen says today. “But, that’s not to say we don’t need to continue to work on better diversification of our economy.”
Prior to being elected to City Council, Christensen had been a member of the Glenwood Springs River Commission since 1992, filling a seat held by the city’s only other recent three-term mayor, the late Ted O’Leary.
It wasn’t until he and wife, Patti, moved from the Four Mile area into city limits in 1996 that he became more directly involved in city issues, including the 1998 comprehensive plan review and the downtown plan.
Two years into his first city council term, in 2005, he was appointed by his fellow council members to become mayor. Glenwood Springs, unlike some municipalities, has an appointed, rather than elected mayor’s seat.
“It’s very awkward to have to go behind the scenes to pick a mayor,” he said, adding he’d prefer to see Glenwood’s mayor be elected by the citizens.
Soon after taking that ambassadorial role for the city, he sat down with the mayors of Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen at the time. That led to the formation of the local Mayors’ Forum, which now includes the mayors of eight municipalities, from Aspen to Parachute, who meet on occasion to discuss common issues.
“Because of that, we began to see that we had a lot of commonalties and started to approach them in a cooperative way,” Christensen said.
One of the places where that came into play was at the table of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board, where Christensen was Glenwood’s appointed representative.
“Particularly with that group we have been working a lot more toward a common vision, rather than the competition that existed 10 years ago,” said Christensen, who recently served as chairman of the RFTA board.
“I personally argued strongly for the trail to be paved along the old railroad corridor, based on the immediate public benefit that would provide,” he said.
Christensen has also been a strong advocate for building Glenwood’s trails system. One of the final links in that system is being completed now – the Atkinson Canal section from South Glenwood to the Sunlight Bridge.
“I also think we’ve done a great job on public transit in Glenwood over these last eight years,” he said.
Among city council’s other accomplishments in recent years that Christensen said he’s proud of include efforts to rebuild some of the city’s streets and other infrastructure, and the new wastewater treatment plant that’s under construction.
“We also tried hard for about six years to establish an independent tourism board, and finally got that done last year,” Christensen said. “That was extremely challenging, but I hope it’s something that stays in place.
“I look at it as a benefit to the city in terms of marketing and promotion when you have citizen perspective, as well as the (tourism) industry,” he said.
The city’s recent purchase of a key piece of downtown property that could serve as the future home for the new library and a public parking structure was also a long-time goal finally realized, Christensen said.
While Christensen believes the city has accomplished much during his time on the council, he admits there have been some disappointments as well.
“No.1, we have not done anything with regard to traffic calming downtown,” he said. “There are things we can do to help the traffic situation, but it keeps getting caught up in the debate over a new highway. Hopefully, that will change.”
The recent council resolution aimed at steering any future highway re-alignment away from the confluence area, though not identifying a specific preferred alignment, was an important statement, he added.
“I also feel like we haven’t gotten anything done in talking to the Union Pacific Railroad about the wye property,” he said of the railroad spur that would play a roll in any future redevelopment of the confluence area.
Other loose ends include the ongoing evaluation of a performing arts center, and some further tightening of the city’s sign codes, which Christensen believes are needed.
“I’m also somewhat frustrated that Glenwood Springs has not done as well a job as some other local communities in obtaining GOCO grants,” he said of the state grant program for parks and recreation projects.
Christensen said he would consider seeking appointment to one of the volunteer city boards or commissions, perhaps transportation or tourism.
“But I think my career in elected office has ended with this one,” he said.
As the long-time executive director of Mountain Valley Developmental Services in Glenwood Springs, Christensen also spent several years on the Garfield County Human Services Commission. Now that his time will be freed up, he also plans on involving himself more on the state level regarding services for the developmentally disabled, as he had done before being elected to City Council.
And then there is Christensen’s passion for bicycling, which the former Ride the Rockies participant also plans to add back into his routine.
“I lost a lot of time on the bike the last couple of years, so it’s time to get back out there more,” he said.
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