New Glenwood city manager settles in
A hectic first day on the job Monday for new Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa concluded with a walking interview around downtown amid the hustle and bustle of a major bridge construction project and the usual busyness of the summer tourist season.
“Oh, are you the one from Pennsylvania?” asked 15-year-old Isabelle Brintnall, one of the guides working with the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association’s new wayfinding program to help tourists get around downtown during the construction.
“I might need a little help with that,” Figueroa quipped during a brief exchange with the young helper.
The city’s potential as the new Grand Avenue/Highway 82 bridge and pedestrian connection across the Colorado River take shape was one of the things that prompted Figueroa to leave her former position as assistant borough manager in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for a career opportunity in western Colorado.
Despite the challenges of living with a massive construction project and its inherent disruptions for the next two years, Figueroa said she has been impressed with the community’s effort to make the most of it and create redevelopment opportunities that she believes will benefit Glenwood Springs in the long run.
“Obviously, this is a huge project and anything that can be done during the construction to mitigate the impacts by working with all of the community partners is important,” Figueroa said. “I do believe there will be a wonderful result in the end.”
Figueroa arrived in Glenwood Springs last week with her family, husband Dylan and their 9-year-old daughter, Tessa. They found a place to rent temporarily on Blake Avenue, but will be looking for something more permanent once they settle in, she said.
Their first few days included driving to visit the neighboring communities and get a better feel for the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County.
“You can just see how special a place Glenwood Springs is to this valley, and in many ways is kind of the heart of the area,” Figueroa said.
Joining the walking tour was Leslie Bethel, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, who was eager to welcome Figueroa aboard.
“This community does have a real team approach, and I think it will be really exciting to have a fresh set of eyes help us think through some of the things we have in mind,” Bethel said.
Figueroa, 39, was hired last month by the Glenwood City Council to succeed former longtime city manager Jeff Hecksel, with whom the council decided last year to part ways after he had been at the helm for 11 years.
Serving in the interim manager’s position for the past six months has been Andrew Gorgey, the former Garfield County manager and county attorney.
In addition to meetings with city staff on Monday, as well as with Gamba, Councilor Kathryn Trauger and City Attorney Karl Hanlon, Figueroa said she looks forward to speaking more with Gorgey to get a better understanding of all that’s happened during a very busy time for the city.
“Staff has also been very supportive and excited, and I am looking forward to working with all of them,” said Figueroa, who will oversee a city staff of nearly 350 full- and part-time employees.
Figueroa brings a community development background to her new job. Before her most recent stint as borough manager in Carlisle, she was in charge of community development and strategic planning for the city of Sarasota, Florida. She also served as a management analyst in the city manager’s office in Salem, Oregon, and as the assistant to the city manager in Sarasota.
She was born in New York, but grew up in St. Augustine, Florida.
That community development background is expected to come in handy as Glenwood Springs pursues a variety of redevelopment efforts around the bridge project, including new pedestrian areas along Seventh Street and under the new bridge as it comes into downtown, as well as the confluence area west of downtown.
Sixth Street, which is ripe for redevelopment after Highway 82 is taken off the two-block stretch extending west of the Hotel Colorado and Hot Springs Pool district, has an enormous amount of potential, Figueroa said.
“This is a very unique setting, and it’s obvious the DDA and the businesses and citizens have worked really hard to make this more than your average bridge project,” she said. “One of the things that really strikes me is the amount of work that went into the pedestrian bridge, and how it will string together the downtown and eventually the confluence area.”
The key to seeing that effort forward will be to maintain that same level of communication with the Colorado Department of Transportation, “and growing stronger community partnerships.”
Figueroa also has some background working on affordable housing issues, primarily in Florida, and has offered to bring some ideas to the table as Glenwood Springs grapples with a shortage of middle-income housing.
She is set to attend her first City Council meeting as the new city manager on Thursday.
That meeting will include work sessions related to prioritizing projects for the next round of Garfield Federal Mineral Lease District grants and an update on the planned Eighth Street connection. The regular session includes an update on the city’s development code revision and possible action on adjusting EMS, parks and school impact fees to help spur housing development.
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