Downvalley communities ponder bridge impacts
With the Grand Avenue bridge project set to enter its second phase next week, some people in communities west of Glenwood Springs are wondering about possible project-related impacts, including economic opportunities, down the Interstate 70 corridor.
The topic arose earlier this month at a New Castle town council meeting when Councilor Frank Breslin suggested the project, especially in the later stages, could pose an opportunity for the town.
That does not mean trying to go toe to toe with Glenwood Springs for tourists, Breslin said on Thursday, but a coordinated marketing effort centered around “adventure tourism,” such as rafting or horseback riding, could draw some people who do not want to deal with traffic issues as the project ramps up.
“The outdoor adventure thing is the external appeal that gets people to explore here and in the region,” Breslin said. “Then they discover that a town like New Castle has a great restaurant scene, a great music scene … and there’s a lot of potential for businesses.”
In reality, Breslin’s suggestion is the beginning of the conversation, but he said if enough interest is generated and the town can rally together to “share the good news about New Castle’s outdoor culture,” it could pay off.
Count Terry Porter among those who are interested. He runs Porter Ranch, a working hay, cattle and elk ranch south of New Castle that offers overnight cabin stays, horse back riding, camping and other forms of outdoor recreation.
Recreation is “a pretty big deal” in the area — even surpassing other sectors of the economy, Porter said, adding he would welcome the opportunity to join a coordinated effort to bring more people to town.
“As long as they bring their checkbooks,” he said with a chuckle.
However, he added, a city such as Glenwood Springs that thrives on tourism will find a way to continue bringing in as many tourists as it can.
Indeed, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and other groups are hard at work to minimize any temporary economic hits that might result from the disruptions.
The Post Independent on Thursday reported the chamber plans on providing a copious amount of information instructing people on how to navigate in town during construction in the summer. A “survival guide” to help downtown businesses deal with the construction also is in the works.
LOCAL ECONOMIC IMPACTS
As far as tourism, a significant influx in western Garfield County directly resulting from the Grand Avenue bridge project seems unlikely, said Andrea Maddalone, president and CEO of the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce.
For those people, Maddalone said she thinks “Glenwood is the draw,” which highlights the needs for the communities to work together.
“When Glenwood Springs does well we all do well, too,” she said.
However, that is not to say there might not be some economic boost.
Maddalone pointed to the recent rockslide in Glenwood Canyon.
One of the hotels in Rifle noticed an increase in business since the slide, which closed I-70 for nearly a week, and Maddalone added that some friends in Craig said the city was “slammed” as a result of the redirected traffic.
Although the chamber, which has members along the I-70 corridor from Glenwood to Grand Junction, has not engaged western Garfield County businesses regarding the bridge subject, Maddalone theorized that economic shift would likely be at the local level.
Some people in communities to the west might think twice before heading out to eat at one of the numerous restaurants in Glenwood Springs, she said.
Additionally, the desire to reduce traffic is leading some businesses to consider options for cutting down on their employees’ commutes.
Maddalone has talked with some chamber members in Glenwood that are either considering establishing temporary satellite offices or allowing employees to work remotely from their homes.
Satellite offices could mean more occupied commercial spaces, at least temporarily, and people working from home would be more inclined to spend money where they live, as opposed to spending money upvalley during the workweek.
‘Wait and see’ approach
Bob McNutt, owner of Desktop Consulting Inc., is one of those employers engaged in such decisions.
Of the eight employees at Desktop Consulting, located at 1010 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs, six live in an area starting in West Glenwood and stretching as far west as Silt.
While the company believes in personal interaction with customers, McNutt said they are considering changing hours and allowing employees to work remotely when possible.
Although there will definitely be some short-term obstructions and difficulty, some of which are already being experienced, McNutt said it is important to keep the bigger picture in mind, adding that the new bridge will be a huge improvement for the entire Roaring Fork Valley.
“Yes, it’s going to be tough, but I think if we come together as a group and share ideas … I think we’re going to be better of for it in the long run,” he said.
In the meantime, McNutt and the staff at Desktop Consulting are explaining to their customers the need for a temporary reduction in face-to-face interaction.
Working remotely is not always an option, though, and for some people who live in Glenwood Springs and work in western Garfield County, the bridge project represents a good deal of unknowns.
So far there have not been many noticeable impacts, said Dave Lindenberg, interim superintendent for Garfield School District Re-2. Lindenberg, who lives near Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood, typically travels up and down Midland Avenue on his commute.
He is holding out hope that his job, which requires early starts and often late evenings, will help him avoid rush-hour traffic, but it is pretty much “wait and see” at the moment, he said.
Joan Dearmin, administrative director for quality and risk management at Grand River Health in Rifle, lives on Four Mile Road and finds herself in a similar position.
Working remotely is not a viable option, but Dearmin said she does have flexibility with her hours, which is an advantage.
“My plan is when it gets hectic I’m going to change my hours at work and come in either very early or later in the day,” she said. “I think it will be a trial-and-error type of thing.”
The uncertainty is a bit unsettling, and there will be a period of time when people will be unable to go about their normal routine, but Dearmin said she is not going to lose sleep over it.
“I can’t waste a lot of time worrying about how am I going to reduce my stress,” she said. “I plan to reduce it by having a plan, and when I put the plan in place, make sure I can change it.”
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According to the New Castle Police Department’s official Facebook page, a “string of arson-related fires” have occurred in the town recently. Law enforcement believes “the fires to all be related.”