DDA Executive Director Jillian Sutherland and the story of Sixth Street Revitalization
“What is my title?” Jillian Sutherland laughed. “I am the Director of the Downtown Development Authority.”
She’s been living in Glenwood Springs since 2011 when she moved here with her husband and is dedicated to the community.
“I love downtown Glenwood Springs and the community,” she said Sept. 5, eating a sandwich outside of Chomps at noon. Her blue eyes are clear and bright in the shadow of the building.
Sutherland acquired her Master’s degree in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois, and when she moved to Glenwood Springs, began working as a project manager at the Sonoran Institute, a nonprofit organization.
In 2016, Sutherland founded Community Builders with Clark Anderson, her boss at the Institute, doing the same work she’d been doing at the Sonoran Institute, helping communities all across the American West.
“I think after a decade of traveling across the Mountain West, partnering with communities and helping them solve tough issues,” she said, recalling what she did before becoming the executive director. “I was ready to solve tough issues in my own community.”
In 2022, Sutherland took over as executive director of the Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority. She has since then been working on two major projects, namely the Sixth Street Revitalization and North Park Landing.
The building of the new Grand Avenue Bridge in 2017 diverted traffic from Sixth Street and slowed business for its storefronts. This, combined with COVID-19 pandemic regulations in 2020, caused an economic lull for the street.
However, stores have opened back up, making sure Chomps is not alone in their Sixth Street front, and Sutherland said they want to make Sixth Street feel safer for pedestrians and cyclists: the long-term vision Sutherland has is to connect all the parks in the area.
“The next step is finishing up our engineering plans and putting it out to bid for construction in 2024,” she said. “That’s what we’re hopeful for.”
This bidding plan would be more cost effective this way, Sutherland said.
“What’s going to be key is supporting these businesses through the construction period,” Sutherland said, indicating the businesses behind and beside her. “I think working with these businesses and the city to make sure that the community knows to keep coming and shopping with these businesses.”
While this revitalization wouldn’t be happening until 2024, Sutherland wants to make sure that the reworking of Sixth Street won’t stop people from going into Springs Liquor or The Aspenite, because what would be the point of the Sixth Street Project if the businesses they’re trying to support fail?
“They’re going to have parallel parking, two traffic lanes, a protected bike lane, and then wide sidewalks on each side of the street,” Sutherland said, gesturing to the other side of Sixth Street. “Above the bike lane, we’re going to have twinkle lights. Really beautiful lighting.”
She also said that everything in the plan should be executed.
Sixth Street is hopefully going to become a funnel from the nearby hotels, and then to Glenwood Springs’ Famous Restaurant Row. Glenwood Springs is supported by tourism, and spending is important for the city.
However, Sutherland isn’t just designing downtown for tourists and (hopefully) their spending. She wants to make the city more beautiful and livable for the community already here.
“I’m in it for the long haul, making this the best downtown for my neighbors as I possibly can,” she said.
Sutherland and the rest of her organization work for a board of directors, made up of six people. While they work for the city, they’re separate from it. Sutherland described them as “first cousins to the city.”
They aren’t just looking at Sixth Street and the parks for rejuvenation; Sutherland already has her sights further set on the alleys in the north side of the city. But that’s after they start breaking ground in 2024 for the Sixth Street project.
“In my previous positions, I’ve been the gal that helps make the plans, but I haven’t been the gal who helps it get built,” Sutherland said, smiling. “That part’s been fun.”
These projects will be done incrementally, first from the Kum and Go gas station to the Hotel Colorado intersection, then improvements from Pine Street down to the Canyon path to, finally, from Devereux Street to the Kum and Go.
The City secured a $1.1 million grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation, and is partnering with the DDA to fund the rest of the project. The DDA has a specific amount set aside from already established taxes.
When asked about her personal next steps, Sutherland’s eyes lit up as she thought about it.
“I’m involved with the Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon team,” she said. “I did my first triathlon just a couple weeks ago with that team and I’ve loved that, so I’m excited to keep pushing the envelope with my physical abilities.”
She’s also into camping and hiking with her husband, Zac Sutherland. They’re excited to introduce their six-year-old child to those activities as well. Sutherland also referred to herself as a “big yoga nerd,” and that these downtown projects are what she lives and breathes.
Sutherland was also asked what her favorite book was. She recounted that she was part of a book club and had recently started getting into fantasy and science fiction. Sutherland had a hard time picking, but in the end said “Remarkably Bright Creatures,” the debut novel of Shelby Van Pelt in 2022, was her choice.
“It’s a great story about how small town relationships can get you through anything,” she said.
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