Water resources park pushed for confluence
A new idea floating about for reuse of the old Glenwood Springs sewer plant property near the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers would involve an educational museum about the history, science and ecology of Western water resources.
But it could be a tough stream to row against competing development interests for the city-owned portion of the larger confluence area that’s being eyed for major redevelopment.
Jonathon Dunn, who owns the Redstone Cliffs Lodge in the Crystal River hamlet of Redstone, is in the early stages of talking up the water museum concept.
“Glenwood Springs is the first city on the upper Colorado where the river meets sufficient infrastructure to support an expanding tourism market,” Dunn said.
It’s also a center for water management businesses and water law, and the confluence area and old wastewater plant would make a natural home for the project, he said.
So far, Dunn has a small group of supporters, including the new director of the Frontier Historical Society, Bill Kight, and is trying to get the ear of city leaders who have made redevelopment of the confluence area a high priority over the next few years.
The idea would involve creating an educational park and repurposing some of the old sewer plant infrastructure into a “water exploratory” museum with educational exhibits and hands-on water science features.
“We want to make it fun for kids and visitors, and also link it to the school curriculum,” Dunn said.
The main sewer plant building could be used for the museum, and one or more of the circular clarifier tanks could be converted into a virtual reality biosphere that could educate visitors about endangered water-dependent climates around the world, Dunn said.
The grounds could also be developed into a variety of gardens and landscaped areas showcasing different types of habitat and how they relate to water, he said.
Dunn estimates the museum could attract upwards of 150,000 people a year. For any food or other vending services, rather than inviting new businesses to locate there, he suggested outsourcing to existing businesses.
The Frontier Historical Museum could be part of the mix as well, Kight said, especially if the existing Farnum-Holt Funeral Home were to relocate as often suggested in the city’s confluence planning efforts.
Should the city or some other entity decide to acquire the funeral home building, the historical society would be interested in considering it as a new museum location, he said.
“We have so many photos and exhibits that tell the story of Glenwood Springs that we can’t display because we just don’t have the space,” Kight said of the museum on Colorado Avenue.
The historical society has been exploring different locations around town, but the confluence area makes a lot of sense, he said.
As for the water museum, “whatever happens with that would have to include the Ute Indians, who saw the confluence of rivers as sacred,” Kight said. “It’s a good opportunity to tell their story.”
The city and Downtown Development Authority, in working to update the 2003 confluence master plan with the Sonoran Institute and more recently Community Builders, has envisioned a variety of tax-generating commercial and mixed-use development for the area.
While a riverfront parkway is one of the things being discussed and drawn into the plans, it’s been a foregone conclusion that the old sewer plant infrastructure would eventually be demolished.
“There have been several suggestions for different things at the confluence,” said City Councilman Steve Davis, who represents the ward where the confluence is located.
But he doubts any plan that would involve leaving the old sewer plant buildings intact would fly.
“In our discussions with the community, we keep going back to the concept we put together with the Sonoran Institute and DDA,” Davis said of a concept plan that suggested a variety of shops situated away from the river and a public parkway along the water front.
“That would be difficult to do with the old buildings and tanks in place,” he said.
Dunn disagreed, and said the museum would be too costly to build from scratch as opposed to reusing the existing structures. And he believes a park for that area would have greater appeal.
“It would be a shame to lose the longer-term value to the town as a whole to short-term profit,” he said.
So far, Dunn has not made a formal pitch to City Council, but has been making the rounds to different advisory committees and business groups. He has also developed a website outlining his vision. It can be found at http://www.confluencepark.org.
City Manager Debra Figueroa said that $300,000 is currently in the city budget to demolish the wastewater plant buildings and related infrastructure, but that’s not nearly enough to get the job done.
She is currently pursuing an EPA grant intended for reclamation of brownfield properties and redevelopment. If successful, that grant could also leverage funding for additional master planning of the confluence area and the broader downtown planning that the DDA has been working on, Figueroa said.
As for the funeral home, owner Trey Holt said he has gotten inquiries from private interests about buying the property. But no formal offers have been made, he said.
If the funeral home were to relocate in the future, Holt said he would like for it to include land for a new cemetery since the city’s Rosebud Cemetery is nearly full. That would likely mean finding a piece of property outside of town, he said.
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