This is the second of a four-part series looking at downtown Glenwood Springs and issues local businesses are facing. Part I: Downtown optimism Part II: Businesses in the spotlight Part III: After the Grand Avenue Mall fire Part IV: Puzzled over parking_______________________________
The story of downtown Glenwood Springs is in fact a multitude of stories. While it’s impossible to tell them all, here are some accounts of change and challenges downtown that help to tell the larger story of what’s happening in the city’s central core.
A dream of almost 20 years is finally coming to fruition at the site of the old Glen Theater building on the 800 block of Grand Avenue.Brick by brick, Ken Melby is constructing an office and retail building, which he hopes to open by the end of the summer.”That would be a big deal,” said Dennis Bader, owner of the Flower Mart and vice president of the Downtown Business Association.That’s because the prime piece of downtown real estate has sat unused for decades. Melby bought it in 1987. He said it had been given to Colorado Mountain College, which decided not to do anything with it because of the theater’s dilapidated state.The building had to be torn down. “There was nothing to salvage,” Melby said.He said he had to wait to build there until rental rates in Glenwood Springs had grown high enough to justify the construction costs.He said he is working on signing up tenants, but has none that he can name at this point. But Melby believes that downtown, while it has its flaws, has a good future, as reflected by the interest he is getting from potential tenants.”I’ve got people that want to be downtown, they don’t want to be in … outer Glenwood,” Melby said.
Gran and Glenda Farnum have a simple wish – to keep their family printing business, more than a century old, in Glenwood Springs.They’re hoping they’ve found a way to do so – without too many headaches from the city.The Farnums already got caught up earlier this year in the city’s moratorium on development in south Glenwood. They were looking at moving their print shop from South Grand Avenue to a new site on Airport Road.In the end, Glenda Farnum said, that plan was done in not by the moratorium, but by soil issues that drove the development costs too high.Now the Farnums are under contract to buy Max Stanton’s building at 1526 Grand, on downtown’s fringe. It was formerly the home of the Rock’n Star Ranch western retail store.The deal has yet to close. And whether the Farnums can make the location work also depends on approvals from the city. The Farnums would have to build a 2,800-square-foot pressroom behind the existing building.They also would like to save a spruce tree out front. But they and Stanton fear a city requirement for a new sidewalk could kill the tree.To Stanton and the Farnums, dubious city rules make it hard for not just trees but small businesses, and causes businesses to look to other communities such as Silt, New Castle and Rifle.Andrew McGregor, the city’s community development director, said that by their nature, development approval processes are time-consuming and expensive, and developers complain about them. While he knows Glenwood is sometimes compared unfavorably to other towns, he said he also has heard that downvalley communities’ requirements are becoming “more strident.”While Glenwood’s requirements can create difficulties, the city tries to be fair and reasonable, he said. And that includes responding to concerns about saving trees he said the city is looking at what might be done to protect the tree where the Farnums hope to move.They also hope they can contribute to a downtown that continues to survive, despite recent challenges.”It’s still there, isn’t it?” said Glenda Farnum. “I’m hoping it will stay there. … We want to be in Glenwood. We don’t want to be in New Castle or Silt right now.”
As a new downtown business owner, Steve Beham is benefiting from walk-in traffic in a way he didn’t before.The owner of the Bayou Cajun Restaurant & Bar, which was long located in West Glenwood, moved his business downtown last year.”The beauty of being downtown is our clientele has gone from 70 percent tourists to 70 percent local. When you have a couple thousand people within walking distance it definitely is a benefit,” he said.The change has helped to give him steadier year-round revenues, compared to the peaks and valleys associated with a primarily tourism-based business.The Bayou was known for its outdoor deck in West Glenwood. Beham said no longer having a deck has helped to emphasize that his restaurant isn’t necessarily a family-oriented place. While he welcomes all comers, his targeted clientele is the person who will run up a cocktail tab by night’s end.Beham has a similar vision for downtown Glenwood.”I would like to see Glenwood be more than just a family town,” he said.But so far, Beham’s hopes of seeing Glenwood develop a true nightlife, with live music, have gone unfulfilled.”Karaoke’s the best we can do. Everyone I know goes to Carbondale. I know I do,” he said.Beham’s own plans to liven up Glenwood at night met resistance from John Buxman, owner of the adjacent Springs Theatre, who feared the noise would threaten his business. Attempts by City Council to revise its noise ordinance failed to resolve differences between Buxman and Beham, and revealed wider-spread conflicts that arise in a downtown where late-night noise from entertainment can bother residents and hotel patrons trying to sleep.Beham moved downtown with the help of city economic incentives created by City Council. Although first put in place for him, the program offers rebates of city development fees paid by any new or relocating business. But Beham thinks the city has failed to promote the program.”I think they kept it a secret, truthfully. I don’t know many places that took advantage it,” he said.That could soon change. Because the city can’t selectively offer the program, it is available to businesses at the new Glenwood Meadows, which opened last year and is competing with merchants downtown and elsewhere in the city. City officials are roughly estimating that Meadows merchants ultimately could be eligible for $1 million or more in rebates.
Bob Boyd’s challenges as a downtown business owner have little to do with downtown, and a lot to do with simple arithmetic.Boyd and his wife Sandy own Glenwood Sewing Center, where colorful quilts adorn the walls and bolts of cloth dot the sales floor. Industrywide, fabric prices haven’t increased for six years, Boyd said. That means the Boyds have had to hold the line on their prices as well.Meanwhile, the cost of health insurance has increased 20 percent a year, he said. And the Boyds face increasing competition from Internet-based sources.Their circumstances may differ in some particular details from those of other small businesses, but their overall plight may be quite similar.”I think it’s a matter of the overall environment for small individual businesses is just terrible, and not just locally but generally,” Boyd said.It’s hard for the Boyds to pay themselves and their employees enough to meet living expenses, he said. What, he asked hypothetically, is the business to do when one of them needs $1,000 in dental work?”Where do you get $1,000 out of a little shop like this?” he asked.Despite his difficulties, Boyd thinks downtown is a good place for a small business. He also considers downtown rents to be more reasonable than those in some other parts of town.But he wouldn’t mind seeing local residents support downtown businesses more. He said his store has a base of devoted customers, but it’s not large enough.”I think a lot of the locals have been very apathetic to (downtown businesses). I don’t think they care if they have them or not,” he said.
Dwayne Romero’s goal for the future of the Tamarack Building at 10th Street and Grand Avenue is to make more of its past.Romero, an Aspen investor, recently bought the building for $1.95 million from Cushman King, a longtime downtown property owner.”Tamarack is interesting to me. Just like Glenwood Springs, the building itself carries its own character and identity,” Romero said.Romero hopes to reinvigorate the building and play up some of its history, while also tending to some maintenance needs, he said.He said the building had been home to a Packard dealership, and had a gas pump on the corner, which explains the unique building design that left the corner of the lot free for vehicles to pull in and out.Today it is home to such tenants as Blizzard Internet Marketing and the Noone Law Firm. Romero said the building also currently has three small, vacant office suites.Romero, a West Point graduate who served as an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley nine years ago and has lived in Carbondale, Snowmass Village and Aspen. He has served as development manager for Klaus Obermeyer’s mixed-used development in Aspen, which he said is a few months from completion.Romero is investing in downtown at a time when merchants there are anxious about what impact the new Glenwood Meadows commercial development might have on the city’s core. But he’s one of those who believe the retail and residential growth being created by Glenwood Meadows is a positive.”That … I believe will help to continue to grow the overall economy, so it should be in the long run good for all,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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