Tracy Barnett, manager of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, is applying for a grant that would designate downtown Steamboat Springs as a creative district. The district would include galleries, venues, museums and other cultural centers like the Rehder building, which houses the Steamboat Art Museum.

Photo by John F. Russell

Tracy Barnett, manager of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, is applying for a grant that would designate downtown Steamboat Springs as a creative district. The district would include galleries, venues, museums and other cultural centers like the Rehder building, which houses the Steamboat Art Museum.

Steamboat, Hayden bid for state funds to promote creative districts

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— Early this week, Steamboat Springs and Hayden became two of 49 cities across Colorado vying for grants to establish and promote “creative districts” to help revitalize downtown economies and drive cultural tourism.

The grant opportunity comes from Colorado Creative Industries, a recently formed division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

With the 2011 passage of HB11-1031, the state Legislature sent a clear message that the arts can be a large part of economic development by allocating funds to cities looking to expand creative industries.

“Because of that bill … it means the state is planning to put money toward the arts,” said Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett, who is leading the creative district effort in Steamboat.

Barnett said she turned in an application Monday for a grant to designate downtown as a creative district. The grant application form describes creative districts as communities or neighborhoods that “attract creative entrepreneurs,” “revitalize and beautify communities” and “provide a focal point for celebrating … a community’s unique identity.”

“The idea of using the arts and culture as a marketing tool and making Steamboat a destination for the arts is a great way to bring people to the community not only as visitors but as jobs,” Barnett said. “Cultural districts have been proven to be drivers for tourism and for creating jobs.”

The grants will be awarded in three categories. Two applicants will be chosen as creative districts and offered $15,000 each. Five will be deemed “prospective” and earn $8,000 each, and eight will be chosen as “emerging” and receive $2,000 each.

Barnett and Tammie Delaney, who is leading the Hayden effort, think their applications will be considered as “emerging” because there’s no structure yet in place for a creative district in either town.

“Our premise is really, how do we get things together so we can make steps toward that,” Delaney said.

On Thursday night, the Hayden Town Council unanimously endorsed the grant application Delaney submitted.

“That’s the support we really need, is how to get some true tactics together and really get after it.”

She said Hayden’s strong Western heritage, its deep Quarterhorse history and the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Center are assets that help show the small town is ready to take the next step into developing an arts and cultural core.

“As people are coming through, they want something that is truly of that place,” she said. “That’s where I feel like Hayden has some tremendous opportunities.”

Barnett said if awarded a grant, Steamboat also would use the funds to begin the organizational effort: setting up a steering committee, organizing partners across Steamboat and putting together a strategic plan.

Although Barnett said Steamboat has a thriving art culture in place — including a successful First Friday Artwalk she thinks is an asset to the application — she said there is a lot of work to do in bringing all the aspects of Steamboat’s creative culture under one common umbrella.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Barnett said. “But it’s another tool in the revitalization toolbox. It’s awesome that the state realizes there’s all this out there.”

She said she doesn’t feel that Steamboat and Hayden are competing. She said a regional effort led by the Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage Tourism initiative has shown that building partnerships among communities is key.

“All of the communities in Northwest Colorado are banding together to try to get people to this corner of the state,” she said. “And I think we can collaborate.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com

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