Seattle residents Andrew Braunz and Miranda Rosebrook walk past stores on Lincoln Avenue on Tuesday afternoon. Recent brainstorming sessions on downtown have focused on improving aesthetics.

Photo by John F. Russell

Seattle residents Andrew Braunz and Miranda Rosebrook walk past stores on Lincoln Avenue on Tuesday afternoon. Recent brainstorming sessions on downtown have focused on improving aesthetics.

Momentum continues for downtown Steamboat Springs revitalization efforts

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— As they sipped wine and snacked on hors d'oeuvres last month in a crowded room above Harwigs/L'Apogee, many downtown business owners sensed some momentum was building.

When organizers of the meeting suggested the group reconvene again in a month to brainstorm more ideas for how to improve downtown Steamboat Springs, many feared 30 days would be too long a wait.

“If we wait a month, then we don't really care about this,” one of the downtown stakeholders said from the back of the room.

Since that resolve June 6, the group has met four times and had to move to a bigger venue as the meetings, which sometimes were approached with a sense of urgency by business owners still in survival mode in the wake of a recession, maintained crowds of about 20 people.

The brainstorming sessions concluded Tuesday night with a lively discussion about how to better manage downtown parking and a resolve from city officials to soon synthesize the discussions and come up with some proposals for downtown stakeholders to consider that would aim to attract more visitors there.

The ideas they will weigh range from new forms of parking management downtown to a new "Buy Local" educational campaign.

"We want to keep this moving along," said Casey Earp, the economic development intern who facilitated the meetings with the assistance of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett and Planning Director Tyler Gibbs.

Earp has a unique perspective of downtown and said he thinks the month of brainstorming indeed will turn into positive change.

“My childhood was spent at the Franklin Mall at the arcade,” Earp said. “I have a very positive outlook of what downtown could be. I think we can do anything.”

Recovery mode

As the revitalization meetings continued, many business owners spoke with a sense of urgency about improving downtown and bringing more people into their stores.

Sue Krall, who owns Off the Beaten Path Bookstore with her husband, Ron, described last month how the store on Ninth Street continues to face fierce competition from services like Amazon that allow people to purchase books digitally or at a lower price than can be offered in Steamboat.

New technology also comes with a price.

An owner of a clothing store described how she has seen some shoppers use smartphones to see if they can buy the item in front of them at a cheaper price.

Both business owners said a stronger Buy Local campaign should be introduced.

“Amazon is not supporting the city's sales tax,” Krall said.

Sensing a gradually improving business climate in the wake of the economic recession, Earp said Monday that he hopes business owners continue to share their challenges and work together to come up with solutions.

Merchants who internalized during the worst of economic times to focus on surviving now could work together to come up with ways to boost business collectively, he said.

And some ideas already are starting to become reality.

Small steps

The Steamboat Springs City Council's move this month to temporarily stop enforcing the ordinance that barred sandwich board signs downtown pleased many business owners who said in the first brainstorming session that they would go a long way toward bringing more people into stores and restaurants.

The ordinance hadn't been officially suspended before new signs started popping up downtown in front of places like Wheels Bike Shop on Yampa Street.

At another meeting last month, business owners discussed improving the aesthetics of downtown by adding things like artistic benches and more flower pots and keeping holiday-style lights on trees year-round.

Other ideas being kicked around include some temporary dirt-style paths on Oak Street where there are no sidewalks.

“It seems kind of innocuous, but people find it to be a benefit to having a uniform downtown,” Earp said.

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs saw how important flower baskets were in downtown last year when a man said he was reconsidering his move to Steamboat when he found out they may possibly disappear because of a lack of funding.

They were saved after a fundraising effort.

Aside from flowers and other visual improvements, the city already is giving some attention to improving the pedestrian experience.

A new speed limit and back-in style parking spaces on Yampa Street will be the most visible this summer.

City engineer Ben Beall said city staff also is updating and revisiting Steamboat's sidewalk master plan, which could have an impact, especially on Oak and Yampa streets where some sidewalks are incomplete and remain a high priority.

3 streets, 3 priorities

As the revitalization discussions continue and some ideas become reality, Earp said challenges still remain.

He said the city and the business owners must work together to satisfy the diverse interests of three downtown streets.

While Oak Street's top priority is lighting and sidewalks, stakeholders on Yampa are focused on building a new promenade while stakeholders on Lincoln have other ideas.

“I think the biggest challenge is getting people on the same page and thinking of this as an area and not a block to block area,” he said. “And that's going to be a challenge.”

Still, he said some of the ideas discussed so far have the potential to benefit all business owners, and there are many common concerns.

“The coolest thing I've seen is a lot of people who maybe didn't realize they were experiencing similar issues in the downtown area are coming together and expressing things that are common from Third to 13th (streets) and from Yampa to Oak,” he said. “These meetings have been a good conduit.”

Earp and Planning Director Gibbs ended Tuesday's brainstorming session at the Chief Theater by telling the 16 stakeholders in the room that in as soon as a month, they will come back with some proposals to consider.

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

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