Connections key to development of confluence area |

Connections key to development of confluence area

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A large parking structure fronting West Seventh Street may not be the best use for what will be an important corridor to help draw people to a future confluence development, planning consultants advised city officials last week.

An evening workshop last Wednesday invited citizens to revisit the city’s 2003 Confluence Strategic Plan.

The workshop was followed by a summary report to City Council on Thursday, where consultants identified several key points in creating an extension of downtown at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers.

It’s an area that could be home to new shops, restaurants, civic attractions and riverfront parks.

But, creating some type of connection to draw people to a western extension of the downtown will be key to making it work, a team of consultants working with the city and Downtown Development Authority said.

Seventh Street in particular, from beneath the Grand Avenue bridge to the confluence itself, “is a pretty big deal in all of this,” consultant Jim Charlier of Boulder said.

“It’s an area that’s been waiting for somebody to make it happen,” Charlier said.

Another “two or three” retail storefronts in that stretch could make a big difference, he said.

The upcoming April 2 Glenwood Springs city election includes a ballot question that could play into that future discussion.

Ballot Question A seeks voter permission to eventually sell city-owned property at the corner of Seventh and Colorado.

Garfield County is interested in buying two city-owned parcels at that corner. The county may eventually combine the parcels with adjacent county holdings in order to build a multi-level parking garage.

If that happens, Charlier said, it may make sense to locate the parking structure farther up the block toward Eighth Street, preserving the more commercially viable parcels along Seventh.

The need for more parking could also be satisfied in the confluence area, he and other members of the consulting team suggested.

City Councilman Todd Leahy said the ballot question is merely a starting point.

“The vote, if it’s favorable, just allows us to have that discussion with the county,” Leahy said.

The ballot question does not commit the city to sell the property to the county, or anyone for that matter, he emphasized.

Without voter approval, though, it would be difficult to even start the conversation, Leahy said.

Critical to any development at the confluence, City Council members agreed, would be to extend Eighth Street west across what’s now the Union Pacific Railroad “wye,” to the existing Eighth Street bridge.

That will eventually involve negotiations with the railroad, as well as the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which owns the former railroad corridor extending to the south.

The March 20 public workshop was attended by more than 40 people, who spent about three hours going over the existing Confluence Strategic Plan.

The meeting was hosted by the Sonoran Institute, which has been hired by the DDA to update the plan.

Three key themes came out of the workshop, said Clark Anderson of the Sonoran Institute, who heads up the consultant team.

One was to create places for public gatherings, which can include a combination of parks and public facilities, such as concert venues.

Connections to the river, including trails and park space, was also important, Anderson said.

Thirdly, “people wanted to see the area add to the vitality of the community,” he said. “That can be new small businesses or civic places.”

The potential for urban-style housing at the confluence was also discussed, Anderson said.

However, economic models suggest single-story commercial is more viable for the short term, where the housing market isn’t there yet, he said.

The workshop also included some discussion about how the confluence area might accommodate a future Highway 82 bypass, Anderson said.

However, the conversation was “re-framed” to include north-south city street connections in general, rather than a bypass specifically, he said.

City Council remains on record that any future bypass should avoid the heart of the confluence area, although areas farther to the south and west of the Roaring Fork River remain in play.

A three-day confluence planning “charette” in May will be used to update design concepts for the confluence area and to work on economic models for development.

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