A biker navigates Yampa Street traffic Friday night. Stakeholders on the street are meeting weekly to chart a course to revitalize the pedestrian-busy roadway.

Photo by Scott Franz

A biker navigates Yampa Street traffic Friday night. Stakeholders on the street are meeting weekly to chart a course to revitalize the pedestrian-busy roadway.

Stakeholders on Yampa Street jump at opportunity to transform


Reader poll

Do you support the plans for improvements on Yampa Street to make the area more appealing to pedestrians and cyclists?

  • Yes, it will make the area safer for all users. 58%
  • No, I like Yampa Street how it is. 31%
  • I don't know. 3%
  • I don't care. 7%

507 total votes.

— On Yampa Street, grand visions of a transformation have come and gone.

A river walk, waterfront parks, sidewalks and improved lighting on the road that runs parallel to the Yampa River have lived during the past three decades only in the pages of dusty, expensive architectural plans.

There's been no sense of urgency strong enough to spring the plans out of the pages, nor has there been enough political will or sources of funding to kick-start a transformation.

Fast forward nearly 30 years, and stakeholders on the funky, vibrant street sense a major revitalization finally could become reality.

“I think there's more political will to do this now,” Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett said Thursday as she described how she feels there is more energy from downtown stakeholders and willingness from city officials to enact the changes. “We've got all kinds of plans, but we get them, and we put them on the shelf because we don't have any money.”

The planned revitalization of Yampa Street was bolstered Tuesday night by the Urban Land Institute's long-anticipated presentation to the Steamboat Springs City Council outlining years' worth of potential improvements to the downtown roadway.

A panel of volunteer planners from the Urban Land Institute spent a few days in July meeting with downtown business and property owners and studying how Yampa Street could be revitalized.

“Currently, Yampa Street presents an ill-defined public environment with sporadic sidewalks, inconsistent lighting, poor drainage and irregular parking patterns,” the planners wrote in their final report. “In addition, there is little public access to the Yampa River and almost no river views from the street.”

To remedy that, the panel told council it can start making changes such as improving bike lanes and adding more lighting quickly and without significant cost.

As he walked through all of the suggestions, panel Chairman Jim DeFrancia repeatedly highlighted one overriding recommendation in the 20-page report.

“You simply need to get started,” DeFrancia told the council. “It's been investigated. It has been talked about. It has been planned and replanned. It just needs to start happening now.”

At street level, some things already are starting to happen.

Knocking on doors

Sweetwater Grill owner Kim Haggarty said Thursday that she wants to move beyond just talking about improving the street her restaurant resides on.

She plans to start knocking on doors to help make it happen.

Haggarty, who also owns All That Jazz, is one of several downtown stakeholders who meet weekly to discuss how they can jump-start the revitalization effort and ultimately attract more people to the businesses along Lincoln Avenue as well as Yampa and Oak streets.

She said the most pressing task is to go to voters in the downtown commercial district in November 2013 to ask for a property tax that would fund efforts to maintain and market the downtown area.

A request to do just that failed by a mere six votes in 2007. And it again will be a challenge to get it passed next year, Haggarty said.

“It's a tough thing right now because some of the feedback I've gotten is businesses are already paying a lot of taxes,” she said. “They cannot see getting taxed any more right now.”

But she and other downtown stakeholders hope an educational campaign throughout the next year will improve the chances of getting such a tax passed.

The tax would apply only to business and property owners in the downtown business improvement district that stretches from about Third to 13th streets and Yampa to Oak streets.

Proponents of the bid said it could net $53,000 to $106,000 a year with the average business in the district paying an extra $300 to 400 annually.

As they iron out the details of the potential tax increase, downtown stakeholders are looking to learn from the mistakes they made when they tried to get it passed the first time.

Barnett said three things helped contribute to the defeat of the property tax five years ago.

She said it was a mistake to propose a tax without a sunset and one that had the potential to increase. Steamboat voters also were participating in their first mail election, a milestone proponents said worked against them.

“We have to come from the premise that it is an educational process, and we have to engage the stakeholders,” Barnett said about the latest push to fund the downtown business district. “This is a bottom up thing, not something from the top down.”

A rare opportunity

With more funding, DeFrancia said there are many opportunities to enhance Yampa Street.

DeFrancia and the planners told the council old plans hashed out for the downtown roadway to improve river access are as relevant today as they were nearly 30 years ago.

“The river is your absolutely unique, extraordinary asset in this community,” he said. “Nobody else has this in Colorado. You have a really extraordinary opportunity to capitalize on that river frontage, and the character of the river will add a lot of excitement and vibrancy, especially in the summer.”

The planners suggested the city find ways to make the river visible from side streets, build parks or other access points along it and construct an additional pedestrian bridge to Howelsen Hill between the existing bridges.

DeFrancia also spent some time talking about parking and how Steamboat should consider adding paid parking to solve a problem created when an estimated two-thirds of parking spots downtown are being used by employees.

DeFrancia's presentation was welcomed by the City Council that authorized $15,000 be spent on the study for Yampa Street.

Council President Bart Kounovsky said he didn't want a different City Council to be talking about transforming the street another 30 years from now.

“I think we need to show some action down there to encourage the private people working (on Yampa) that something is being done,” he said.

Downtown's turn

While downtown stakeholders seek ways to fund their revitalization efforts, other big players already are working to help start the revitalization.

The city of Steamboat Springs and Yampa Valley Electric Association are working to move their staff out of their large properties on Yampa and move growing retail businesses inside.

The city is hoping to move its police and fire stations out of the Yampa property and eliminate a “dead zone” and safety hazard on the street by replacing those emergency services with local retailers Big Agnes, BAP and Honey Stinger.

The $2.1 million sale of the building could be completed as soon as next month.

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs also is pursuing a piece of the city's lucrative accommodation’s tax to aid in the cause.

Barnett said that in five years, she hopes a revitalized Yampa Street ultimately could help raise Steamboat's score in Ski Magazine's nightlife offerings section.

“It's an exciting time,” she said. “We're at the next stage. We've spent a lot of time, money and effort on the mountain. Now it's Yampa's turn. It's downtown's turn.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com


Steve Lewis 4 years, 8 months ago

It is true that downtown infrastructure is lagging. Particularly in regard to the sidewalks that are missing in much of the downtown. Yampa Street needs them. Oak Street obviously needs them too. I attended the ULI presentation, and liked what Jim DeFrancia had to say.

As an Oak Street property owner we built our own sidewalk a decade ago, but if this BID tax has a sunset and amounts to $300/year or less for us, I can see using it to help others build their sidewalks so people can get to all our businesses without walking in the street. In the winter that is just an ugly way to treat our visitors. (Another $100 to grow the Farmer's Market is o.k. too.)

The ULI report reads in the same spirit, "The panel drew its findings by reviewing the advance packet, touring Yampa, Lincoln, and Oak streets...The panel recommends a comprehensive approach to all of downtown. The panel envisions downtown Steamboat 2030 consisting of three well-articulated and thriving pieces (Yampa, Lincoln, and Oak Streets)."

Future Pilot references to the ULI might include that important "comprehensive approach to all of downtown" element of the ULI report.

After Jim DeFrancia spoke, I commented to the hearing that we on Oak St are primarily a professional office use. While we are perfect for Location Neutral Businesses, we won't see much benefit from the BID's currently stated goals of "marketing" and Yampa Street "events" to create foot traffic. Obviously those will be good for the retailers and restaurants of Yampa and even Lincoln. I commented that my Oak Street taxes should bring a parity of benefit back to Oak Street. We are an asset to downtown too.

Jim was kind enough to stand and second my comments as meeting the intention of his panel.

But in the article above the only stakeholders seem to be on Yampa Street. If the other two streets' owners also pay a BID tax, what are they?


rhys jones 4 years, 8 months ago

I think the problem is the name. Let's face it, "Yampa" just sounds dumb.

Anybody know what a Yampa is? I thought not. Our revered Native American foretrespassers seemed to indicate something about health, as at the nearby hot springs, so when we think Yampa we think health, if not the dreaded curse. "Healthy Street"? Well...

The Yampah Vapor Caves in Glenwood are reputed to be therapeutic, giving rise to the question: Which came first, Yampa or Yampah? Which is the REAL Yampa(h)? And which the imposter?

On this one I'd prefer the original white name -- call it Bear Street and watch it prosper!!


Steve Lewis 4 years, 8 months ago

Rhys, That is an irony for us. On Oak Street's South end, as in our building, we have a community of health care practices. We looked at Yampa Street when we started as a health care center, but found more suitable buildings available on Oak.

Thanks for the new insight into the Yampa name.


rhys jones 4 years, 8 months ago

Steve -- Sure, it's all in fun. I was also going to make some cheap joke about Oak Street being the slum side of downtown, but too often I am taken literally in here. My facetious humor goes unrecognized, and I ruffled some new feathers. Lower-key is my momentary approach; I took a chance just writing the above. Who did I piss off now?

That said... I think what this town really needs for downtown development -- and what will never happen -- is to get Interstate 40 OUT of there. ANYWHERE -- around by Howelsen (possibly above it) or around the north side somehow... it would be worth the millions it would cost, in the long run. Aspen did it decades ago, running Killer 82 around Main (Hyman? Mill? I forget) and they currently enjoy a magical, several-block pedestrian mall, like 16th St in downtown Denver. That's what Lincoln should look like. The bypass would have to be significantly out of the way; Oak and Yampa will not suffice -- that just moves the problem over a block. We need an arterial bypass.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

What is the biggest project/parcel along Yampa? Riverwalk. How has lack of political will affected Riverwalk? Developers were given the right of way by SB city. City did everything they could to push that project. Why has Riverwalk not been built? Economics. SB City government cannot change the basic economics of the local real estate market despite their belief to the contrary.

Also, it is simply false to say nothing has happened along Yampa St. There have been at least three major buildings constructed and several others have been significantly remodeled.

The major thing missing are consistent sidewalks along Oak St and Yampa which are well within City's capability to pay within the budget.

Paid parking is hardly the sort of solution that makes people more willing to visit downtown. The issue that most parking spots are occupied by downtown employees is exactly the sort of issue that should be addressed by MainStreet. It is simply not possible for a government solution because the solution requires treating customer parking as a priority over owner/employee parking. Maybe Mainstreet needs to get a license plate reader that recognizes plates, location and time to track which vehicles are spending the most time in downtown parking spots. And then shame those business owners and employees to change their habits.

Downtown businesses should be ashamed that they and their staff are occupying downtown parking spots instead of parking at the transit center.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 8 months ago

The ULI team said we should forget about building a parking structure. In their view modal changes (like the bus) for the arriving customers and employee parking habit changes are much more cost effective. Jim DeFrancia related that cultural habits are shifting away from autos in the better planned cities.

All of which point to the Stockbridge transit center as part of our traffic and parking solution. Unfortunately, that transit center is #2 on the police department's horizon as their next home if the Iron Horse falls through. In that scenario the employees will be parking at…. ?

All of these moves need more deliberation.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 7 months ago

Steve, Well, that is the trouble of rushing through proposals. Only city of SB could be so inept to consider removing that parking lot. For the mountain base area, it was obvious enough to not try to building massive parking structures, but build a remote parking lot on relatively cheap land and shuttle people. That should be the expected solution for downtown parking. Thus, transit center should be viewed as downtown's remote parking lot.

So how about this crazy idea - city of SB buys Elk River parcel from YVHA because city is going to be paying for it anyway through YVHA contributions that then go to pay the mortgage. City could purchase it and say that was 20 years of YVHA contributions to bail out YVHA on that purchase.

Though, I am not at all convinced that police station should be moved from downtown, but it would seem that moving fire station west of downtown has been a long term objective.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 7 months ago

I joined the Yampa Street Steering Committee meeting yesterday. Mainly to represent my interest as a potential Oak St taxpayer to these proposed BID and/or URA districts. Oak St desperately needs sidewalks too.

The committee went out of their way to engage with my view in the early minutes of that meeting. They have had a very specific focus on Yampa St, but the committee chair stayed after the meeting to express an open mind for the interests of Oak St re: these possible new taxes. I left very appreciative of the attention given by these stakeholders.

I also looked into Colorado Statutes and spoke with local government folks about BID's and URA's. In particular, and in addition to marketing and maintenance, BID's do allow for capital improvements. URA's obviously do too, given our recent base area work.

In my opinion Yampa Street does have incredible potential to better connect visitors and residents alike with the Yampa River. It seems an amenity ignored and if kept within our means, I expect to support the coming plans of this committee. A little infrastructure can go a long way. Not sure about near term undergrounding of utilities ($1.9 million on Yampa), but certainly sidewalks and lighting are needed soon.

At the same time, and per my first comment above, the ULI panel recommends a comprehensive approach to ALL of downtown. Lincoln Ave sidewalks got dressed up according to our new streetscape standards last year. Now it is Yampa and Oak Street's turn. Both should get their sidewalks completed. We don't need the bells and whistles, just the sidewalks. This is the most basic standard of a decent downtown. And we have yet to do it.

Polish the gem? This is where you start.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 7 months ago

And perhaps we can go further. Let's see the details.

The larger question of moving public safety complexes should remain that - a larger question. And there are complex pieces. The Stockbridge modal center, now seen as an alternative police campus, has a current purpose that aligns with the interests of the downtown - parking.

In an earlier Pilot article on Yampa Street revitalization: (Jim) 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. (Tyler) 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.

I expect a fascinating conversation going forward. I like Scott W's comment about the YVHA parcel being on the table. The area plan update is relatively unattended. At least we are engaged in something else, equally productive.


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