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Concept of ‘creative district’ still evolving

Nelson Harvey
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE, Colorado – How do you establish the boundaries of a “creative district” in a town where art is everywhere?

That’s the question faced by Amy Kimberly and others working to create a state sanctioned creative district in Carbondale.

Kimberly, the director of the Carbondale Council on the Arts and Humanities (CCAH), has been working for several years toward defining Carbondale’s



creative district, and she met Thursday night with the Carbondale Planning Commission to discuss ways of working support for creative industries into an upcoming rewrite of the town’s zoning code.

As recently as last year, discussions of such an arts district in Carbondale were primarily focused on the downtown area, Third Street and the nonprofit hub Third Street Center.



But as creative businesses have gained footholds in other parts of town in recent years, Kimberly said that picture is beginning to change.

“We do know that we want to connect all of these different areas, through art and signage,” she said. “We may say, ‘lets keep our downtown as the creative district, and figure out ways to draw people to these other areas from downtown.'”

Those other areas include places like Dolores Way, home to businesses like Board by Design Woodworking, Fold Community Kitchen, and Tylerware bowls, or Wheel Circle, where the new Studio of Arts and Works (SAW) artist collective is located.

The creative district concept originated in Colorado in 2010, with the passage of legislation merging the Colorado Council on the Arts, the Office of Film, Television and the Media and the Arts in Public Places program into the newly formed Colorado Creative Industries Division.

That division makes grants to help communities establish creative districts, and bestows upon those districts official designation.

The districts are defined as areas that serve as economic hubs for creative businesses and organizations, and the definition of “creative” is broad. Qualifying industries could include artists, local food producers, restaurants, graphic designers, architects, or a wide swath of others.

Additional markers of a creative district, according to the state definition, are frequent arts and cultural events, street beautification efforts, and even local tax incentives encouraging new businesses to locate in the area.

Although CCAH partnered with the town of Carbondale to apply for a planning grant from Colorado Creative Industries in 2012, their application was unsuccessful. Kimberly said she plans to apply for the next round of funding in 2014. The establishment of an actual creative district, she said, likely remains a couple of years away.

Among the successful grantees last year was the North Fork Valley, an agricultural region 60 miles south of Carbondale that is establishing the “North Fork Creative District” with a focus on art and agriculture.

That district would include a broad geographic area, including the towns of Paonia, Hotckiss, Crawford and Delta. Kimberly said Carbondale could easily take a similar approach, including more than the downtown core under the “creative district” umbrella.

“We are following what other communities are doing,” she said. “And the state is still learning the best way to do this thing.”

In the coming months, the Carbondale Planning Commission will begin a rewrite of the town’s zoning code. The code governs what uses and activities are permitted in different areas of town, and it’s being overhauled to incorporate the recommendations of Carbondale’s recently-updated comprehensive plan, a document that broadly outlines the town’s goals through 2031.

Gavin Brooke, an architect and a member of the Planning Commission, said the code rewrite may involve changes to downtown zoning that could make it easier for artist’s studios to locate there.

“We are seeing businesses like Board By Design in other areas of town partly because the downtown zoning doesn’t allow the craft level manufacturing that they do,” he said. “I don’t think it’s only zoning, there are also significant real estate issues” of price and availability.

But Brooke said there may be some zoning changes necessary to insure that the downtown remains hospitable to artists.

That hospitality has limits, as Planning Commission chair Jeff Dickinson noted, “You wouldn’t necessarily want a blacksmith on Main Street.”

Still, a slightly lighter use may be desirable.

Before the zoning rewrite, Brooke said his commission intends to hold a series of public workshops this spring to zero in on what he calls “the downtown story.”

“We wanted to give our downtown area a little more definition of what makes it unique, it’s reason for being,” he said. “That way, we can consider how to encourage development that supports that.”

At this point, no date for those meetings has been set.


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