Steamboat Springs When the nonprofit Urban Land Institute brings a team of development experts to Steamboat Springs this summer to assess how best to unleash the potential of Yampa Street, the people who have the biggest stake in the outcome will be in for an intense brainstorming session.
City of Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs told a small gathering of business and property owners at Sweetwater Grill this week that in his experience with the Urban Land Institute, the panel members who come to Steamboat will be carefully selected for the appropriate background and their ability to build consensus.
“They are dedicated to creating great places,” Gibbs said. “I’ve found them to be a great catalyst for bringing people together and getting things done.”
Gibbs promised that the team from the Institute would engage Yampa Street stakeholders and the broader public before producing its report.
He reminded the group at Sweetwater Grill that the community has developed a series of reports, beginning in 1984, that share a common theme: how to make the commercial district on Yampa Street more pedestrian and bicycle friendly while doing a more effective job of maximizing the built-in amenities of the Yampa River and Howelsen Hill.
“A lot of people already know Yampa Street is the next great place,” Gibbs said. “We need to talk about how we can actually move forward.”
Gibbs’ remarks came a week after the city advanced a two-pronged plan that would remove city police and firefighting facilities off Yampa Street, where they don’t contribute to the liveliness of the area, and then sell the existing building to generate funding for public improvements to the street. The plan hinges on the willingness of city voters to approve a finite property tax to pay for a new public safety facility on the city’s west side. The tax would go away once bonded indebtedness on the construction cost was retired.
Crossing the Divide
Gibbs said the July visit to Steamboat will mark the first time the Urban Land Institute has worked on Colorado’s Western Slope. During his tenure as the planning implementation manager in Denver, Gibbs said he worked with the Institute on five projects, including rehabilitation of the Platte River Valley and Confluence Park and revitalization of the Five Points neighborhood.
In another case, he said, the clarity of thinking a team from the Institute brought to a project on the 16th Street Mall saved the granite streetscape that sets the pedestrian mall apart. Gibbs explained that several years after the mall was originally built, the granite paving already was deteriorating and RTD was leaning toward replacing it with concrete.
“The ULI said, ‘You have a treasure here and no one will ever do it again. Don’t mess it up,’” Gibbs recalled.
The result was that a way to re-set the granite was found and, at the same time, high-speed communications lines were installed.
A certain amount of unglamorous underground utility work also is likely to begin the revitalization of Yampa Street, city Public Works Director Philo Shelton told the group at Sweetwater Grill.
Water and sewer lines there are in good shape, Gibbs added, but the lack of storm drains has created chronic problems with puddling during the spring snowmelt and after summer monsoon rains. There also is an opportunity to bury the power lines that run down Yampa Street and in the process remove the utility poles to create more room for sidewalk improvements, Shelton said.
Shelton said the underground work on Yampa Street is expected to cost $1.9 million.
Billy East, of Sweet Pea Market and Cafe, asked if money is being set aside for that work.
The city collects a $200,000 annual fee from Yampa Valley Electric Association that can be applied only to the undergrounding of utility lines.
Steamboat Realtor Jim Cook, who is a member of the Urban Land Institute but wouldn’t be eligible to work on the group’s Yampa Street team because of his ties to the neighborhood, asked Shelton for a preliminary cost estimate on completing the improvements described in the 2009 streetscape plan produced by Britina Design Group. Shelton said he wasn’t close to developing a cost estimate to the detail of pavers and streetlight poles.
Asking the right questions
In Steamboat, Gibbs said he expects the Urban Land Institute team that comes to Steamboat to be given a set of questions created by a steering committee of Yampa Street stakeholders. Likely questions include how to fund the improvements and phase them to minimize disruption to existing businesses. The visitors also are likely to be asked what kinds of new businesses would complement those existing businesses.
Institute team members are apt to have expertise in achieving the right balance of vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic, Gibbs said. And they’ll propose solutions to opening up public access to the river.
The city also needs to learn if its zoning and planning regulations are appropriate for supporting Yampa Street.
“I strongly believe our zoning should be there to support a vision,” Gibbs said.
Cook said removing some of the existing surface parking areas along Yampa Street is almost certain to be an element of its revitalization.
“The worst thing in the world is to leave surface parking lots” because they subtract from the vitality of the district, he said.
Gibbs concurred and said in other cities, if a commercial district is sufficiently attractive, people find a way to get there.
“A parking problem is a great sign of vitality,” Gibbs said. “So we’ll have to help find that parking” elsewhere.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com