Amid worries about big-box retail and dire predictions about the future of Lincoln Avenue without courtrooms and lawyers, it is heartening to step away from the theoretical and divisive and see instead the burgeoning commercial development occurring in downtown Steamboat Springs.
The changes afoot, in terms of the development and the renewed community focus on downtown revitalization, have the potential to provide substantial economic and quality-of-life benefits to residents and visitors alike.
What has made this transformation possible has been the heavy involvement of local businesspeople whom own their commercial real estate and are personally invested in revitalizing downtown.
In the new Ski and Bike Kare building, for example, Harry Martin and Mike Parra have set the architectural bar at a new high and filled a prime commercial space left empty too long. In moving Cugino's to its new location on Eighth Street, owners Jeff and Danielle Hubler are adding to the Main Street commercial mix and performing a long-overdue remodel on a 58-year-old building that some saw as an eyesore.
Interestingly, both projects include a residential condominium component, smaller-scale versions of the mixed-use trend that a trio of major redevelopments -- Waterside Village, River Walk and the Nite's Rest Motel project -- also are embracing. Such developments, which will combine ground-floor commercial space with residential condominiums, encourage residential and commercial uses that form a solid foundation for a more vibrant downtown experience. Developers also are looking at creative ways to bring little-used alley frontage into the commercial mix.
Even as these individual projects blossom, some area business owners collectively are undertaking a Main Street Project focused on organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring of downtown Steamboat Springs.
Yes, there are potential drawbacks to this new era of commercial development. Some residents will lose their affordable homes to make way for River Walk, for example, but that does not mean the property should not be redeveloped with an eye toward reasonable and mixed-use housing alternatives. Instead, it adds urgency to the need to establish affordable housing elsewhere in the community.
Steamboat Springs' entrepreneurs are creating their own opportunities for success and are striving to maximize our downtown commercial district.
We think local government must help rather than hinder these efforts if we want to ensure a versatile and family-oriented downtown area for decades to come. Money may not be available for major capital-improvement projects such as burying utility lines, but there are many other, smaller ways -- preventing regulations from creating undue hardships on growing shops and restaurants, for example -- in which businesses can be given the incentives to grow and thrive.