Past, present, future

Change accelerates on Steamboat's main street

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As change takes shape and becomes reality on Lincoln Avenue this year, the Steamboat Pilot & Today plans a series of stories that will illuminate the history of Lincoln Avenue, take a close look at its present condition and attempt to peer into the future.

Change is no stranger to the 10 city blocks on Lincoln Avenue that make up the heart of Steamboat Springs' historic commercial district. However, 2006 promises to bring concentrated change that Steamboat's "Main Street" hasn't seen for decades.

Buildings occupying corner lots on the south side of Lincoln at Sixth and Seventh streets are poised for demolition to make room for substantial new buildings. For better or for worse, they will change the streetscape for decades to come.

It's no coincidence that a group of community leaders is working hard to establish a national Main Street program here.

The Nite's Rest Hotel at Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue will be torn down early this year to make way for a mixed-use commercial and residential project called the Alpenglo Building, and a block down Lincoln Avenue, the Harbor Hotel may give way to a larger mixed-use project that would extend down Seventh Street to Yampa Street.

Tracy Barnett, executive director of Main Street Steamboat Springs, said the goal was not only to reinvigorate the downtown commercial district but also to conserve the qualities that make Steamboat, Steamboat. She also is a former Lincoln Avenue restaurant owner.

"Downtown Steamboat will be forever changed the minute the Nite's Rest comes down and leads the parade of demolitions/redevelopments," Barnett said. "It is these projects that were the impetus for starting a Main Street project in the first place.

"With redevelopment looming on the horizon, our sense of place and community character could be under siege. Steamboat is very proud of our inclusive, eclectic, humble history."

Arianthe Stettner points out that there are also changes in the works at either end of Lincoln Avenue. A former City Council member, she is active in Historic Routt County, a nonprofit that strives to preserve historic buildings.

On the west end of town, at 13th Street, Stettner pointed out, the East Routt Library District has received voter approval to raise funding for a major addition to the Bud Werner Memorial Library. And at the east end of town, there are tentative plans to expand Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center. The swimming pool and recreation facility encompasses the geothermal Heart Spring, which is as emblematic of Steamboat as any landmark in town.

Historic Routt County is most interested in the architectural qualities that make buildings significant. But Stettner points out that associated with every building are untold human stories -- stories of people falling in love, people on journeys and people struggling to achieve their dreams. She recalls hearing the story told by a former owner of the Harbor Hotel, who proudly hosted soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division. The men from Camp Hale visited Steamboat and skied Howelsen Hill during the buildup to their service in World War II.

Steamboat City Council member Towny Anderson spent his professional career in the preservation of historic communities. He thinks preservation is economic opportunity that drives change and provides the impetus for preserving the historic landmarks that embody the character of a community.

There is an increasing sense in Steamboat, he said, that there is a link between the downtown streetscape and the character of the community -- some people have even described it as the heart and soul of Steamboat.

"There is a growing awareness of downtown as one of our primary assets -- that it's an economic driver and one of the reasons people live here," Anderson said.

Attitudes about the buildings that line Lincoln Avenue will change as people begin to perceive them as essential to the local economy.

Change is ongoing, he ag----reed. The challenge is to channel the impetus behind the current redevelopment efforts so that they leave the character of downtown intact.

"We need to steer that energy and investment in a way that preserves the integrity of the place," he said.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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