Guest opinion: Build on success — implement downtown plans
As we near completion of the new Grand Avenue pedestrian bridge and completion of the vehicular bridge is in sight, the city should maintain this positive momentum by implementing the confluence area plan, as well as the soon to be completed plans for Sixth and Seventh streets. Continued coordination through an implementation plan will be key.
Thanks to the high level of expertise of city and Downtown Development Authority leaders, along with CDOT and other agencies, the pedestrian bridge is looking to be an enduring jewel for the city. The vehicular bridge with its attention to sensitive design detail at the bridgeheads will also be a welcome addition.
There has been some discussion in the community of redoing the confluence area plan or perhaps holding a national design competition to create a new plan for this area. No doubt these suggestions to start fresh are rooted in a genuine desire to pursue what’s best for the city. However, based on my experience, I do not believe more conceptual planning or a design competition would be a good use of limited civic resources, nor would it produce optimum results. Every city has a limited amount of collective civic energy (not to mention funds) to plan and implement.
In the past 18 years, four plans have been developed for the confluence area. The last of these began in 2014 and will be complete in the next couple of months. It is a plan of very high quality and is based on sound planning and urban design principles. It was developed with significant community input with multiple community meetings. There are many interrelated parts to this plan, any one of which impacts the others. As we move forward, we can refine and adjust the plan as circumstances require.
A national design competition, though at first blush appealing, has some downsides. It would require funds to create and manage as well as funds to compensate competitors. A jury of experts, not likely to be familiar with local values, would be needed. To be fair to competitors, communication with competing teams during the competition would be uniform, minimal and formal, not allowing for feedback as urban design relationships are discovered during the design process.
The community would see the plans only at the end of the competition. The risk of plans being over budget, unimplementable, and in conflict with community values would be significant (though the plans would likely be of merit to the jury).
In contrast, an open collaborative process allows for ongoing feedback among city officials, the community, the designers and developers. Adjustments in the plan, in keeping with basic principles, can be made to accommodate for changing circumstances, which are inevitable. The new pedestrian bridge, with its significant coordination involving many elements including pedestrian and bicycle circulation, many utilities and aesthetic considerations, is an excellent example of how this type of process can work well.
The best route ahead is not to spend limited time and resources on more general planning (or a national competition), but to proceed with a detailed implementation plan and specific strategic implementation when and where circumstances permit. Items to address would include identifying specific parking projects on both sides of the Colorado River, making sure all downtown plans are coordinated and assembling key development parcels.
Glenwood is on the cusp of enormous opportunity that should not be delayed or squandered.
John Burg is a resident of Glenwood Springs as well as a retired city planner with 40 years of experience in Minneapolis and Sarasota, Florida, where he was in the lead role of urban design and downtown development.