GRIT column: Beautifying main street
The phrase “main street” is a very American concept. It started in Europe, but really took off in our country for good reason.
At 3.806 million square miles, America is the third largest country in the world in terms of surface area (Russia and Canada are No. 1 and 2 respectively). Native Americans lived in tribes, and when settlers moved across the country they didn’t exactly spread out evenly.
They popped-up in groups, living with each other, congregating together as almost a type of defiance at how large this land actually is. They had centralized locations that served as meeting and trade areas. They had main streets.
This idea of a small-town community has laced itself through our culture. When you picture a visual behind the term “main street,” what do you envision? I envision a cross between Stars Hollow from “Gilmore Girls” and Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
They contain historic visual appeal, locally owned businesses and the majority of people know each other. I certainly think Rifle falls into that category.
Disclaimer: Of the four transformation strategies of the Main Street program — economic vitality, design, promotions and organization — design is the one I understand and deal with the least. However, I am willing to admit what I don’t know. So I asked for help. I emailed Helen.
If you don’t know Helen Rogers, that’s a shame. Helen wears many hats, some of which include part-time manager for the Downtown Development Authority, project director for Visitor Improvement Fund, Rifle Farmers Market board member, planning and zoning chair, and a founding member of New Ute Theater Society. She’s lived in the community for more than 10 years, and runs an interior design business.
Due to her experience and all her connections, she was the obvious choice to contact. We were advised in our pre-orientation with AmeriCorps to find a connection outside of the workplace that could help us to understand the culture and history of the area we moved into. Helen is my main connection.
National Main Street outlines its design aspect as involving elements that relate to walk-ability, public art, visual merchandising, adaptive reuse of older and historic buildings, more efficiently designed buildings, and transit. Rifle has been addressing a lot of those things, some in the Greater Rifle Improvement Team (GRIT), and some outside of it.
In general, investment in these areas works to beautify a community and make it more appealing for potential businesses and more enjoyable for the general public.
According to Helen, a lot has happened in Rifle in the last few years design-wise. Major projects include the Ute and Brenden Theaters. Neither of these were technically GRIT projects, but they are great examples of collaboration in the community when it came to an opportunity to grow the city.
GRIT projects include the patio for the Ute and the re-purposing of the Second Street lot where we now host the Farmers Market.
But design improvements don’t have to be major. The DDA offers a facade paint improvement reimbursement of $200 per 25 linear feet to property owners in the DDA district, and a two-thirds reimbursement of up to $500 for building signage.
For the last few years, DDA and VIF have both gone in on the flowers for downtown, the murals that keep appearing, and the benches and trash cans that can be found along Third and Fourth streets. Banners featuring special events can be strung up at the designated poles along Railroad Avenue and Third Street. Even just Christmas lights at a certain time of the year down at eye level along the streets can change the whole landscape.
There are always upcoming projects, too. Replanting the curb extensions are planned for Fourth Street, and the new design will contain vegetables instead of the regular landscaping plants. Helen and other residents would like to see improvements, and some curb extensions could stand to be a little more user friendly. A Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage Tourism display is headed for the area in front of the Henry Building. And of course, the boat ramp construction and trails will begin this fall.
Design isn’t just limited to government entities, residents like you and I can always lend a hand. The Renew Rifle Spring Cleanup is in a little more than a month on April 23. It’s a rather gratifying feeling to help out and see the physical change that occurs, so join us.
Cathleen Anthony is a member of the AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America branch and the assistant for the Greater Rifle Improvement Team. She can be reached at 970-665-6496 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Motorists and passersby could see a refreshed gateway to Rifle along Interstate 70 in the future.