Editorial: Make the most of the confluence

A rendering of potential confluence development from Community Builders.
Provided |

A nascent proposal to turn Glenwood Springs’ confluence area in to a water resources park severely undervalues a rare developable patch of land in town.

The area immediately southeast of the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers holds the potential to help dramatically change the character of downtown Glenwood. Developing the confluence correctly can elongate downtown to the west, creating a walkable area of commerce and residences.

If you visit the spot, now the city’s derelict sewer plant, and use your ears, you’re charmed by the sound of a mountain stream — and can’t hear Grand Avenue traffic. Yet you are only four blocks from the Grand Avenue bridge and equally close to Two Rivers Park.

It’s as if decommissioning the sewer plant has revealed a missing puzzle piece that, when it’s put in place, reveals a picture of Glenwood Springs as a relaxed and relaxing riverfront mountain town.

Residents generally curse Grand Avenue traffic and noise, for good reason, and many have hoped for a bypass someday that moves the traffic away from downtown. With modern construction costs and limited public money, that has become an unaffordable pipe dream, but the solution is at hand: Expand downtown, with the growth moving away from the infernal traffic.

Instead of a pretty place challenged by traffic, Glenwood can become an accessible place with a much higher quotient of peacefulness.

The confluence is such a prime spot that it’s easy enough to understand why the water museum supporters want their project to be there.

Their idea, the PI’s John Stroud reported last week, would involve creating the park and repurposing some of the old sewer plant infrastructure for educational exhibits and hands-on water science features.

Supporters envision gardens and landscaped areas showcasing different types of habitat and how they relate to water.

And the Frontier Historical Museum, currently cramped and all but invisible to visitors, would love to join the project.

We’re not criticizing the supporters for making a well-intentioned suggestion, but we can’t see how this is the best use of the area.

It wouldn’t generate tax revenue, wouldn’t create needed residences and wouldn’t invite visitors to new ground-level restaurants and shops.

Combined with prospects north of the Colorado River when the new bridge moves through traffic off of Sixth Avenue and away from the Hotel Colorado and Hot Springs Pool, a good mixed-use confluence development creates myriad opportunities.

We can easily picture a large and charming downtown that crosses the river on what will be an attractive new pedestrian bridge to a walkable Sixth Street with craft beer, a variety of food and activities leading to the old U.S. 6 motel strip, plus the confluence to the west of our present downtown.

The existing business strip along Seventh Street and Grand north of Eighth will remain strong, a traditional hub of tourism and dining.

The right confluence development, environmentally sustainable with permanent residents helping create a critical mass of foot traffic and commerce, will enhance the character of town. Could that include gardens and landscaping, even a small stage and performance venue? Certainly.

Very often, development proposals are pie in the sky. What’s happening in Glenwood now and how that can be leveraged within the next five years is real, and capitalizes on our natural assets — two mountain streams joining just west of the current downtown.

The Colorado rolls by, fly fishermen work the Roaring Fork, rafts dot the rivers, Amtrak passes by twice a day and traffic is moved off the riverfront by the new, straightened Eighth Street.

Failing to seize the moment is how the town, years ago, got the Midland Avenue we know today instead of a true bypass. Let’s not make a similar mistake now.

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