Our view: Stay focused and push ahead on confluence plan

Part of the old Glenwood Springs sewer plant.
John Stroud / Post Independent |

Standing at the site of Glenwood Springs’ old sewer plant, just south of the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, it’s pretty easy to make two observations:

1. You can hear the Roaring Fork roar and you can’t hear the traffic on Grand Avenue, about five blocks to the east. It’s a peaceful spot in the middle of town, with the Rio Grande Trail running just across a line of trees that screen the sewer operation somewhat from view. Close your eyes and you can imagine the long-standing vision for a vibrant riverfront area with restaurants, public space and new housing.

2. It’s a mess, a weedy, derelict industrial location. With your eyes open, you might fret about mosquitoes breeding in the rainwater pooling in the old sewage tanks or about the daunting task of reclaiming the land and making it a gem for the town that stretches the town core to the west and creates new amenities.

“This is our most valuable piece of property,” says new City Councilman Steve Davis, a strong advocate of the confluence vision.

The area is 22 to 25 acres, stretching from the confluence across from Two Rivers Park south beyond the current Glenwood Springs Elementary School grounds. Developing it into public space, needed housing, and new office and retail space will be a multi-step process that won’t happen in one grand swoop.

Among the things that must occur:

• The city must, through negotiations that involve it, Union Pacific Railroad, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the Colorado Department of Transportation, develop a way to make a new, permanent Eighth Street connection to Midland Avenue that fits the concept of a walkable, pleasant area around the confluence. That connection, planned right now as a temporary passage during reconstruction of the Grand Avenue bridge, can help improve flow from downtown to Midland and can free up the existing Seventh Street to be a pedestrian-, bicycle and commerce-friendly part of the confluence development. This is difficult and urgent, with CDOT’s project planning bearing down.

• A land swap between the city and the Roaring Fork School District giving the city land closer to the confluence and the Glenwood Springs Elementary School land to the south would bring the parcel together more completely. Glenwood residents will vote Sept. 8 on authorizing the city to negotiate obtaining what’s now Vogelaar Park and RFSD getting what’s now the city’s recycling center and storage facilities between 10th and 11th streets. A second vote would be needed if the city later sought to sell its new parcel for development.

• Demolition and reclamation of the sewer plant. A few employees still work on the site, but they can be moved. The city must get rid of the eyesore and old infrastructure. This is perhaps the least complicated step — no negotiations required — and putting it off will likely add costs. Places like this allowed to linger let blight to take root and spread. Demolish it and plant grass this year.

Regarding the Eighth Street connection and talks with RFTA and UP, the city is involved with other entities that have closely held interests and tough lawyers. Without doubt, this is a complex and contentious negotiation. The UP doesn’t want to give up its easement in the “wye” area to use for rail car storage, and RFTA’s core mission is tied to preserving the rail corridor that now is the Rio Grande Trail.

The rail corridor is another extremely complex issue, and the talks about Eighth Street illustrate the difficulty of resolving any piece of contention along the 30-plus miles controlled by RTFA. However, this is an area where the city, with its new council, which has decided to retain City Manager Jeff Hecksel and, thus, existing staff, must not give up.

For its part, as a local institution, we call on RFTA to consider these negotiations through the lens of the greater public good and find a way to be flexible and solution-oriented rather than being a rigid obstacle.

On the school front, Glenwood Springs Elementary is a step away from winning a $9 million grant to remake the historic school under a plan that includes the land swap. Like most things to move a community forward and make it better, the plan would cost money and require voter approval to raise the remaining $18 million or so needed for the project.

After years of sitting on a shelf, small steps toward developing the confluence are taking place. More can be done this year with demolition of the sewer plant. We believe that this City Council won’t drop the ball and will keep pressing, keep pushing the small steps that eventually will complete the big vision, perhaps within four or five years.

Imagine all the American cities that would drool to have two powerful, pretty rivers coming together about a half-mile from their center of commerce. Glenwood Springs has that. With steady determination, the city can make that area into both a pleasant place for locals to live, relax and have better access to their rivers — and be another draw for an already-charming place to visit.

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