Opinion: A time for change in downtown Grand Junction
WHY WE LIVE HERE
Free Press Opinion Columnist
Prior to 1962, Grand Junction’s Main Street looked like every other Main Street across the West — four lanes blazing straight through from east to west with parking on both sides. There was almost nowhere to sit, which was OK because, with no shade trees, it was too hot to sit anyway.
There had been no capital improvements made to the city center in 21 years and that, along with the start of urban sprawl, lead to shopping centers popping up outside of the downtown shopping district. Merchants and property owners were worried about the loss of commerce, and in the late 1950s a committee was formed to come up with a solution. They listened to the community, addressed the major concerns, and the result was Operation Foresight — the redesign of Main Street to be the center of commerce, as well as a major attraction of our community.
Completed in 1962 — with its serpentine street pattern, planter boxes full of shade trees and flowers, and plenty of benches and seating — Operation Foresight put Grand Junction on the map as a “forward” looking town that was able to grapple with the fact of change and do something about it. It was done without any outside help, designed by a local committee and paid for by property taxes.
Operation Foresight reduced traffic accidents, increased sales volume for merchants and brought national attention to Grand Junction as an All American City. Paul Harvey even did a segment on it for his popular radio show, “The Rest of the Story.” In 2010, on the 50th anniversary of Operation Foresight, the city launched Operation Uplift in order to update the original design. As a result, we have an idyllic downtown shopping park that is a huge source of pride to area residents. We should be thankful that we had the city leadership needed to take those necessary steps back in 1962 and again in 2010 to keep our downtown relevant.
An effort by the downtown Grand Junction Business Improvement District (BID) to include more genres of music in the Art & Jazz Fest — now the Art & Music Festival — lead to an entire redesign of the festival this past spring with four stages and three bars spread out up and down Main Street from Third to Seventh streets. Two of the smaller stages were strategically placed to make use of our shady breezeways. Patrons could walk up and down Main, catch a wide variety of music, sample food from local food trucks, enjoy a beer from multiple bars and shop for art and jewelry. A committee of local music lovers juried the music selection, local concert promoter Ron Wilson helped with the new layout, and three local breweries, as well as Central Distributing, worked together to provide festival goers with a wide variety of tasty beverages. Like Operation Foresight, it was a great team of people working together in the hopes of making the festival a major tourist attraction for years to come. Was it perfect? Of course not. Was it a step in the right direction? Absolutely. Change takes time and the evolution of the Art & Music Festival has just begun. Next year, we hope to do a better job promoting our wonderful artists and vendors as well.
In response to public feedback that the Downtown Grand Junction Farmers Market had turned into more of a street fair than a farmers market, the Farmers Market is undergoing a makeover as well. Patrons complained of the large number of service-industry providers and the lack of actual farmers and local products. As a result, vendors are now limited to those selling food or products grown or made in the local region, as well as a limited number of nonprofits. The only exception to these are our sponsors. We currently have 12 farmers at the Farmers Market. But due to the sheer size of our market, four city blocks, it is understandable why patrons feel there is a lack of produce.
BID reached out to farmers for years in an attempt to attract more, however many of our local farms are wholesale only and/or are able to sell all of their produce at their own retail establishments. Contrary to popular belief, there is always room for farmers at the market and we welcome any farms that would like to be a part of it. We are incredibly lucky to have the wonderful farmers that we do have with a beautiful array of delicious fruits and vegetables. We hope you’ll come down and shop. The market runs until Sept. 25.
Additionally, Main Street merchants have long complained that they are shut out of the market by the wall of vendors set up along the sides of Main Street. As a result, the layout and design of the market was changed, placing “clusters” of vendors in the center of the street facing out towards the merchants, which opens up our sidewalks and benches to public use and provides a steady flow of traffic past our Main Street merchants. While the actual physical rearrangement was difficult in the beginning, the response from Main Street businesses and patrons has been overwhelmingly positive; and, as a result, more merchants are staying open late on Thursday evenings to take advantage of the crowds.
The evolution of a community is healthy.
Change is inevitable.
It takes time, patience, and people working together to get to something that works for most of the people.
Sometimes we have to take a step back and try a different approach if our ideas don’t create the results we hoped for. Operation Foresight kept our downtown alive. Our festivals and markets make this a better place to live, work, and play. As we become more of a global village, we are exposed to new ideas that we may never have before considered. The independent nature that has always existed here now has the ability to do more than ever thought possible.
We can be a major tourist destination. We can be a draw to entrepreneurs. It’s why we live here.
Robin Brown owns West Slope Events, a local event management company that specializes in promoting the Grand Valley as a fabulous place to live, work, and play. You can reach her with your fabulous event ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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