Vibrancy projects moving closer to implementation
Times Staff Writer
Small steps may help build momentum.
That is the hope of Gunnison city leaders, as they plan to bring safety and "vibrancy" to downtown.
After months of soliciting community feedback and building support, Gunnison Vibrancy Initiative (GVI) representatives last week presented to the public ideas for modifying streetscapes within the Central Business District and promoting greater economic activity.
GVI was launched by the Downtown Leadership Committee — a group organized by the city comprised of business and community leaders. The group has traveled to other Colorado municipalities and has been brainstorming ways to bring more energy — and, ultimately, economic vitality — to the community.
GVI is funded through a grant from nonprofit Community Builders and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
Last week, city leaders, consultants and community members met in focus groups designed to elicit feedback from stakeholders representing diverse interests. The groups — such as truck drivers and other transportation users, or emergency response members — were asked to share their thoughts on downtown improvements. Additionally, consultants examined challenges — such as zoning regulations — that are impeding economic development. That information was compiled and a list of projects with illustrations was presented to the public for its consideration last Thursday night.
Goals, strategies and projects
Four goals with corresponding strategies and suggested projects were presented. The first goal is to "create a vibrant and authentic downtown that reflects our strong sense of place." Strategies under this goal include forming gathering spaces, hosting events, promoting activity along streets and beautification.
Goal two — making “downtown streets safe and easy to use" — included strategies such as pedestrian and bike safety, including at the intersection of Main Street and Tomichi Avenue, and slowing traffic by changing physical design of streets.
Goal three addresses economic development by supporting "a healthy downtown business environment that strengthens our economy." Strategies included a collective downtown initiative for later business hours, expanding and strategically planning events, co-branding between Western State Colorado University and the city and improving IOOF Park so it can host events.
Finally, the fourth goal focuses on strengthening the downtown by improving the connection between Western and the downtown community. Strategies include physical changes to either East Georgia Avenue or East Ohio Street, "co-branding" and plans for events which include students.
Potential projects under each goal were presented based on information gathered from the focus groups. Yet, some of plans fulfill more than one goal, said City Manager Russ Forrest.
One idea, intended to enhance safety downtown, would be the installation "bulb outs" at the intersection of North Main Street and Virginia Avenue. The trial project could lead to changes at the intersection of Main Street and Tomichi Avenue, Forrest said. Additionally, enhancements aimed at improving connectivity between downtown and Western via East Ohio Street and East Georgia Avenue would not only be considered a safety improvement but would fulfill goals two, three and four.
Improvements to East Virginia Avenue near IOOF Park and South Main Street were offered as a means of improving the vitality of downtown. Those streets would be used by traffic during the day and shut down for special events.
Regulations under the ’scope
Also, sidewalk regulations may be adjusted to reduce a required six-foot walkway to five feet. Such a reduction could give some businesses enough space to offer “café” seating on the adjacent sidewalk. “Parklets” and public art could be added as well.
Additionally, policy could be modified by City Council to address parking requirements in the B1 district, just north of downtown — allowing restaurants and other businesses to open in that zone. Zoning and development parameters could be changed to allow taller buildings to be constructed, allowing more housing downtown.
Representatives from Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) participated in some of the planning sessions last week. City leaders plan to meet with CDOT officials in the near future to examine confusing traffic signals at Main Street and Tomichi Avenue to formulate a better sequence.
Forrest said the ideas presented to the public Thursday night are all familiar to CDOT staff, and that many challenges had been resolved through previous work sessions with the agency's staff.
City leaders say implementation of some projects could begin in the next year. Projects most likely to materialize would be "bulb outs" at the intersection of North Main Street and Virginia Avenue, as a test project for potential changes at the intersection of Main and Tomichi, said Forrest.
Community Builders Executive Director Clark Anderson called improvements to IOOF Park a "quick win" to gain public approval and to build momentum.
"What we want to focus on is practical, doable projects that we can 'try on,'" Forrest told the Times.
Transportation consultant Jim Charlier said the "enemy" of a proposed plan is big or sudden change.
"What you want is incremental change that seems like you're in control of … and you make changes when you need to and (make) course corrections as you go," Charlier said. "You need one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake because you want to control the pace of change."
Council has earmarked $82,382 in the proposed 2018 city budget for “strategic planning,” which could include the identified projects. City leaders are eyeballing another $121,000 — money from the general fund which in past years was used to supplement recreation improvements at the Gunnison Community Center — for downtown projects.
“The Council is waiting to obtain more specificity prior to appropriating funds to those projects,” Finance Director Ben Cowan told the Times.
(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at email@example.com.)