Merchants press for under-bridge amenities sooner, not later
Several downtown Glenwood Springs merchants want to see the city proceed with public improvements beneath the new Grand Avenue bridge and along Seventh Street as the massive construction project is being completed, rather than waiting a year or two.
Already suffering at “ground zero” due to the impacts of the construction and the current detour of Colorado 82 traffic that’s in place, several business owners pleaded with City Council Thursday night to make the improvements a priority.
“We were down 31 percent in August compared to last year, and September is on track to be just as bad,” Carol O’Brien, manager at the Book Train, said.
“We’re here to ask you, please, complete these improvements as expeditiously as possible,” she said.
Other businesses throughout Glenwood Springs have reported losses this summer ranging from 30 to 50 percent compared to last year, when the $126 million bridge project was just getting underway.
Krissy Clary, co-owner of the CO Ranch House restaurant, pointed out that the city recently approved a sales tax rebate incentive for the Glenwood Meadows shopping center in its attempt to fill the former Sports Authority retail space.
“Yet, I’m seeing no support for locally owned businesses,” she said. “We’re not asking to be subsidized, we just want the city to follow through with the plan.”
The Colorado Department of Transportation does plan to restore the previous streetscape work that was done on Seventh and add some basic aesthetic amenities under the new bridge.
In addition, the city and the Downtown Development Authority have been working on a master plan for the three block stretch of Seventh Street from Blake to Colorado that calls for a pedestrian-centric design with public gathering places, landscaping and park areas to complement the outdoor dining areas along Glenwood’s unofficial “restaurant row.”
The centerpiece would be a public plaza underneath the new bridge as it comes into the downtown area that could be used for festivals, markets, concerts and other types of special events.
The city was awarded $800,000 in grants from the Garfield Federal Mineral Lease District and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs last year to help begin the project. City Council has maintained that it is committed to some level of matching funds to get the project off the ground.
But the entire project is likely to come with a price tag of several million dollars, depending on final designs, and will most likely need to be phased in over multiple years, council members advised at the Thursday meeting.
“I appreciate how hard the city is being hit by all this, but it’s not just focused on downtown,” Councilor Shelley Kaup said, adding the downtown project has “ballooned out of scale with what we can spend … and still be fiscally responsible.”
As council begins its budget planning for 2018 in earnest next week, there are multiple redevelopment and public safety projects that will be competing for limited funds, she said.
Topping the list are the city’s plans to replace the 27th Street bridge and continue engineering work on a rebuild of south Midland Avenue, other council members pointed out.
That’s in addition to continued work on the Sixth Street redevelopment master plan, and the next steps in planning for the massive South Bridge project for which there is no identified funding, they said.
“We have a lot of issues to address, and we’re in the middle of our budget talks now,” Councilor Todd Leahy said. “We need to have a good, honest discussion and work through our process.”
Others at the meeting urged council not to take its eye off public safety and infrastructure needs.
“Our downtown is incredibly important, but there is only a limited amount of money,” said south Glenwood resident Sarah Gordon, pushing for the city to turn its attention infrastructure needs on the south end.
“We will continue to go out and support our downtown businesses without flowers and benches, and I believe the rest of the community will, too,” she said.
Council members urged the business owners not to view it as an us vs. them, either/or proposition, and said the downtown improvements will eventually come to fruition.
In the meantime, “We have no intention of leaving that as an asphalt wasteland under the bridge,” Councilor Kathryn Trauger said.
Council did agree to a second request that came Thursday night to use up to $4,500 in city discretionary funds to help defray advertising and printing costs for the “Detour to Relaxation” business punch card campaign to help boost downtown businesses during the detour.
Riviera Supper Club and Piano Bar co-owner Jonathan Gorst initiated the campaign where a minimum purchase at participating businesses in the downtown core will go toward a voucher to soak at the Iron Mountain Hot Springs.
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The idea has been kicked around to make the ban on smoking downtown 24 hours rather than the current daytime hours only until 10 p.m.