Main Street to apply for certification

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Almost 18 months into the process, the board of directors of Main Street Steamboat Springs is preparing to take formal steps toward becoming a certified Main Street community. And, it plans to ask local governments for more funding assistance.

"We've been taking small, incremental steps," board Chairman Tom Ptach said. "(Consultant) Kent Burnes told us that it would be three to five years before we saw tangible results. So we're about halfway there."

Main Street is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation that helps communities revitalize their historic commercial districts. Typically, Main Street communities have struggling downtowns with empty storefronts.

Steamboat experiences churn among its retailers and restaurants, resulting in some empty storefronts. But almost no one would say its historic commercial district is struggling.

Main Street Executive Dir--ector Tracy Barnett said the push to create Main Street Steamboat sprang in late 2003 from the rapid growth of new commercial districts on U.S. Highway 40 and a firm conviction that it's the downtown that represents the heart of the community.

"We were afraid we were going to lose our downtown," Barnett, a former Lincoln Avenue restaurateur, said. "We can't afford for that to happen. Generally, if the heart is healthy, then the rest of the body is, too."

Barnett said Main Street Steam--boat has sent a letter of intent to the Colorado Community Revitalization As----sociation affirming its plan to meet an Oct. 29 deadline to formally apply for Main Street status.

CCRA administers the Colo--rado Main Street Program. Acceptance should open a lot of doors and allow Steamboat to bring notable Main Street experts to town to help further the Main Street process here, Barnett said.

"CCRA is excited that we're applying because we will be the first true ski resort in the state in the Main Street program," Barnett said.

Ptach said one of the criteria for acceptance to CCRA is that Main Street Steamboat demonstrate three years of projected funding for the program. Toward that end, Main Street Steamboat already has applied to the city for $60,000 of funding in its 2006 budget. It also intends to apply to Routt County for an undetermined amount.

Barnett said the city of Steamboat Springs provided Main Street Steamboat with $30,000 in funding for 2005.

"The city has given us tremendous support in addition to the funding," Barnett said. City Councilwoman Nancy Kramer is on the board and is the chairwoman of the design committee. City Manager Paul Hughes and County Commissioner Dan Ellison are ex-officio members of the board.

Barnett said a recent survey of downtown businesses has resulted in 50 new members, bringing the total to 106.

"We still have a long way to go in that area," Ptach said.

The board of directors all along has intended to apply for formal Main Street status, Ptach said, and looked at it closely in October 2004 (applications are taken only in October). However, it was determined last fall that there was more work to be done.

"With the results of our membership drive and the decision of the Downtown Business Association to roll its membership into ours, we're in a better position in terms of the strength we need," Ptach said.

The board is making a push to sign up property owners as well as businesses.

A community survey intended to gauge residents' perceptions of the downtown experience has been completed but has not been formally tabulated. Jim Cook, a member of the board, recently committed Colorado Group Realty to a donation of $2,500 to fund tabulation of the data. Ultimately, it will be used to inform the creation of a new brand for Main Street.

Ptach said projects such as the new farmers market represent the most visible portion of Main Street Steamboat. A great deal of work has taken place behind the scenes.

The Organization Committee has been the push behind the membership drive, and the Economic Restructuring Com--mittee has carried out an inventory of commercial space in the downtown core that will serve as a basis for managing the mix of retail and office businesses for maximum benefit.

The Promotions Committee is without a chairperson at this time, and there has been a resulting loss of momentum.

The Design Committee, in particular, has made tremendous strides, Ptach said. The committee recommended changes in parking regulations that were adopted by the City Council. Although the regulations ruffled the feathers of some people in the downtown area, Ptach thinks they are necessary to improve the downtown experience. Another goal is to work with the city to establish a high-frequency shuttle between the Stock Bridge Transit Center and Howelsen Hill. The intent is to make it more convenient for downtown workers to park farther away from their jobs, leaving parking spaces for shoppers and diners.

Ptach said Main Street Steamboat remains committed to the philosophy that "Downtown needs to be loved and valued by our local population first." When that bond is strengthened, he said, there will be residual benefits for tourism, as well.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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