Editorial: Convert Glenwood’s old library to shared workspace
When elected officials, candidates and business or government leaders meet with the Post Independent, we always ask about their ideas for economic development in western Colorado.
The question has no easy answer, and we like to hear how much real thought these leaders and would-be leaders have put into this critical issue.
A heavy manufacturing operation that employs hundreds of workers is highly unlikely to locate where remote mountain life means difficult logistics for supply delivery and product shipping.
Extractive energy, while it will remain an important employer for the foreseeable future, is cyclical and takes its employees and their communities through difficult downturns. That’s setting aside the important and contentious health and land use issues that come with fossil fuel development.
The growing recreation industry is a key source of jobs and helps diversify the region’s economy, but many of these jobs tend to not pay enough for the workers to live close to their place of employment. That exacerbates our housing, transportation and child care struggles.
Construction — such as the Grand Avenue bridge, the Roaring Fork School District’s capital plan and numerous private projects — is providing good economic fuel now. But construction depends on the underpinning of the economy being strong — taxpayers must feel flush enough to support bond issues, and private developers must see a healthy market.
So the question remains: How do we find new sources of employment, of wealth, that have the potential to grow?
Many leaders include in their solutions the idea that supporting entrepreneurial endeavors is critical in the information and “gig” economy.
It is in this context that we endorse the GlenX proposal to convert Glenwood Springs’ old library to a “coworking space” that will support entrepreneurial and freelance workers of all sorts.
An oft-cited 2010 study by Intuit estimated that by 2020, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be independent workers.
The GlenX proposal calls for shared workspace rented at different rates for such workers. It would have sponsors and partners, and would provide small business development resources. The nonprofit’s plan would be to build sustainable revenue this way and then branch into business incubation.
The proposal (attached to the online version of this editorial) to the City Council has the support of Colorado Mountain College, the University of Denver, the Small Business Development Council and local leaders, including Glenwood Caverns and Iron Mountain Hot Springs owner Steve Beckley.
It has a commitment of $500,000 from a donor for restoration of the old library at Ninth Street and Blake Avenue, which is necessary before the building gets any new use. This is a huge opportunity for the city to convert a nonperforming asset to a community resource.
Developing businesses and businesspeople in this fashion holds the potential to spawn successful small enterprises and for Glenwood to lure entrepreneurs.
It’s not some wild-eyed notion. Colorado already has 27 such operations, nine on the Western Slope. The Harvard Business Review found that coworking spaces spawn satisfaction and sense of community and meaningful work.
The setting allows a critical mass for brainstorming and for developing leaders with the support of mentors and programs such as Roaring Fork Leadership, which would locate in the space.
It fits the idea that our future leaders and growth can come from people from here who know the region and its challenges, rather than hoping to import professionals and businesses.
It’s incumbent on us to note that GlenX, should its proposal be approved, has a civic obligation to be proactively inclusive of our region’s large Latino population, whose engagement and leadership is crucial to building sustainable communities in the 21st century.
GlenX also has included in its proposal language to provide space for veterans and for seniors, both of which we support.
The relationship with seniors should be heavily leveraged, creating an environment where a college graduate with an idea can reach out to a retired engineer, accountant or serial entrepreneur. In addition, many people of traditional retirement age are independent workers looking for contract jobs who might need use of a desk a couple of days a week and could benefit from center programming.
We are heartened by the thorough nature of the GlenX proposal and by Yampah Mountain High School teacher Mike Lowe’s clear articulation of the vision. We’re encouraged to read that the board of directors would include representatives from the county, city, chamber of commerce, local business leaders and major partners. We are too often reminded of the need for clear-eyed oversight of civic nonprofits.
If the council approves the plan, the project also needs an executive director who has the proven chops to execute the plan with professionalism and polish. Having ideas and enthusiasm isn’t enough.
This is the only serious proposal to the city for use of the old library. Neighbors have expressed some concern about parking and traffic, but it’s hard to see this as bringing bigger crowds than when the building was a library before the Ninth and Cooper parking garage was built. It’s also hard to see how having an empty, decaying building on your block is good.
The council should approve the plan. If it doesn’t, then it should take bids to demolish the building and put in housing.
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