Fruita’s downtown plan to take shape over next year
Special to the Free Press
Fruita has long fought for autonomy; and as plans for downtown development ramp up, residents and business owners hope it will continue to separate their community from Grand Junction’s urban identity.
To do just that, the City of Fruita hired engineering consultants — Logan Simpson Design, Inc. (landscape architecture) and Olsson Associates (engineering and design firm) — to develop streetscape improvements that are pedestrian-friendly and appealing to residents, business owners, tourists, and locals that may drive in from surrounding areas. Extended curbs, planters and outdoor seating areas are changes expected with the renovation. It’s referred to as the Downtown Master Plan.
To read more about Fruita’s mountain-bike scene, click here.
This isn’t the first time Fruita has improved the downtown area. In the 1990s, a similar renovation took place to make more outdoor spaces.
“For many years the main goal of our City Council was to realize the full potential of a strong downtown,” City of Fruita’s community development director Dahna Raugh said.
More recently Downtown Colorado Incorporated (http://www.downtowncoloradoinc.org), a nonprofit that helps communities revitalize downtown and other commercial areas, conducted a study to identify Fruita’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Conclusions from the study suggested improvements like filling empty storefronts, painting buildings, and installing new signage to capture motorists. A Community Advisory Board was also appointed to determine how to create a downtown that people would want to visit.
“As our mayor says — create a place that people want to loiter,” Raugh explained.
The small city depends on tourist dollars, especially in the spring and fall months when mountain bikers take advantage of the milder weather. Tom Hinman, Aspen Street Coffee owner and 10-year resident, said 60 to 70 percent of his business is tourist-based.
“As a resident here in Fruita, I think we deserve this,” Hinman said. “For the business side of me, I think it will help; but as a resident it’s even more important.”
According to Raugh, events like the Fruita Fall Festival and Mike the Headless Chicken Festival bring in people from all over, boosting the local economy. Upgrading electrical systems (part of the Downtown Master Plan) will be a way to accommodate more event booths at such events.
“We hope any improvements made to downtown will be a bonus and help all of our festivals be bigger and better for everyone to enjoy,” Raugh said.
IMPROVEMENTS & BUSINESS GROWTH
Four vacant commercial properties currently litter the downtown area, and Fruita’s mayor, Lori Buck, hopes the face-lift will help spark new interest in owning a business in Fruita. The Business Incubator Center, which focuses on small business growth in Mesa County, also recently opened a second location in Fruita City Hall. Buck isn’t sure yet how the Grand Junction-based nonprofit’s presence will help more homegrown businesses transition into those empty retail spaces, but she remains hopeful.
“It’s kind of a chicken-in-the-egg thing — do we bring people to the storefronts or the storefronts to the people?” she said.
As for the south side of Fruita, some of the newer business owners are wondering how the city can help them, too. Signage was a small step the city took in an attempt to point travelers to their location.
“Unfortunately we can’t solve all the problems of the city by just focusing on downtown,” Raugh said.
Buck, who grew up in Fruita, said she takes great pride in its evolution as a community.
“Twenty years ago, living in Fruita wasn’t considered cool, but now it’s a place that people really want to be,” she said. “Creating an environment that people want to be in, to hang out, new entertainment opportunities — that’s the ultimate goal — to keep people in Fruita and spending money.”
The city applied for two grants to help pay for the project, and if those are approved, along with the money set aside in the budget, the first phase of construction will begin in summer 2015, which is typically a slower time for Fruita businesses.
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The 27th Street Underpass Bridge project design has reached 30% completion, with a final design expected to be completed by August.