Garfield County weighs in on Glenwood confluence planning
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Adequate parking, less housing and perhaps a new look at including a convention center in the mix are things the Garfield County commissioners would like to see in what’s still a preliminary conceptual plan to redevelop the confluence area west of downtown.
Commissioners got their first look during a Tuesday work session at the work-in-progress from consultants who are working with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the city of Glenwood Springs to update the city’s 2003 Confluence Plan.
The latest conceptual drawings and design principles are the result of input from a multi-day community design charrette in late May, and a goal-setting workshop held in March.
For the near term, the city is already in the process of doing the engineering and design work to connect Eighth Street from the point where it now ends at Vogelaar Park west of City Hall to the Eighth Street bridge across the Roaring Fork River.
That will depend on negotiations with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the Union Pacific Railroad to somehow cross under or over the railroad “wye” spur that runs through that area.
But the long-envisioned Eighth Street link could serve as the backbone for a larger re-development vision for the four-block-long confluence area that would include other new street and trail connections, riverfront parks, new commercial and residential development, and possibly new civic buildings.
“We’re in the process of shopping the confluence plan around to different groups and organizations to see if it reflects where the community needs to be going with this,” said Clark Anderson, Colorado program coordinator for the Sonoran Institute, the lead consultant on the confluence plan update.
The project is being funded by a partnership between the city, the DDA and the Sonoran Institute, which obtained grant funding from the Gates Family Foundation to cover most of the costs.
“We will continue to make refinements to the plan with the feedback we get over the summer,” Anderson said.
An action plan is expected to be presented to the city and DDA in August or September, he said.
Back to the future
County commissioners suggested that the updated plan should include a component that was in the first plan 10 years ago, a combined convention and performing arts center.
“What we really need is a convention center big enough to handle 300 people,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said. “A convention center would add people to the area who would go out and visit the downtown restaurants, and complement the hotel rooms we have, especially in the off-season.”
City planners and elected leaders have moved away from considering a large civic center in the confluence area, since the city’s appointed performing arts center committee began looking more seriously at building a facility at the existing community center site.
But a convention center would be different than a performing arts center, Jankovsky and Commissioner John Martin agreed.
A convention center makes sense, “If you’re looking to make this into more of a resort area and to attract tourists,” Martin said.
“It is expensive, yes, but over time something like that usually pays for itself,” added Martin, who was also critical of a high-density residential development that’s currently in the conceptual plan where Vogelaar Park baseball/softball field now exists.
“More housing is just going to drive urban needs, not commercial needs,” he said. “I just don’t see it helping the downtown by putting more housing there and stacking people three, four stories high. That’s just crowding things.”
Vogelaar Park is actually part of the Glenwood Springs Elementary School campus, although the city has an agreement with the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 to use it for city recreation leagues.
As envisioned in the latest confluence plan concept, the city would seek a land swap with the school district for the park land, in exchange for city property south of the elementary school that could be converted to playground space.
School district officials have said they are open to the idea of a swap, but also expressed concerns about the potential for high-density residential development in the downtown area that would likely add hundreds of new students to an already overcrowded school.
“We have heard that same concern about the housing from other groups,” Anderson said. “I can already forecast that is something that’s going to change.
“A mix of downtown housing choices is still a desire with the plan, but [the density] shown there now is a little over the top,” he admitted.
Another concern for county officials is to ensure that adequate parking is provided for in the development plan to serve the county and city government complex between Seventh and Eighth streets.
One suggestion for new commercial development in the plan would involve an extension of the downtown business district west along Seventh Street toward the confluence area.
But that would mean doing away with some of the government services and public parking areas behind and across the street from the county courthouse building.
“To do anything like that, new parking would have to be constructed first,” DDA Executive Director Leslie Bethel said.
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