Planning experts coming to discuss Yampa Street redevelopment | SteamboatToday.com

Planning experts coming to discuss Yampa Street redevelopment

— A team of six volunteer urban planners and developers with expertise in Colorado's resort towns will arrive in Steamboat late this week to begin planning for the city's long-anticipated goal of transforming Yampa Street.

Since the late 1980s, city officials have been devising plans to turn Yampa Street into a pedestrian-friendly commercial district that improves on the link to the Yampa River and the recreational facilities at nearby Howelsen Hill. Now, a team of planners, developers and engineers is coming from the Colorado Chapter of the Urban Land Institute and bringing with it experience gained on projects from Denver's Cherry Creek North to the town of Crested Butte.

"This panel was hand-picked," Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs said Monday. "We spent several weeks going down the list of potential candidates for the panel. Every one of our first choices accepted within a couple of hours of being offered."

They will form what the Urban Land Institute calls a Technical Assistance Panel that will study the potential on Yampa Street and engage business and property owners in a brainstorming session to explore the strategies the city could pursue to reinvigorate Yampa Street.

The team from the Urban Land Institute will go beyond brainstorming, Gibbs said, and return by the end of summer with a written report that will include recommendations on how to fund the improvements and begin the work.

Gibbs said the gestation period for the anticipated changes has now extended beyond 20 years. But this year, with Yampa Valley Electric Association having purchased a new site for its headquarters and the city interested in pursuing a similar path with its police and fire stations on Yampa Street, the potential for new investment along the river looks greater than it did just a year ago.

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YVEA has entered into a purchase contract for a 70-acre parcel of land in west Steamboat previously slated for the Overlook Park residential subdivision. YVEA officials have acknowledged they eventually plan to relocate the electric cooperatives headquarters there, freeing up a valuable chunk of downtown real estate that is considered essential to redeveloping Yampa Street.

"What an amazing opportunity," Gibbs said. "A lot of towns have a river running through them," but few of them have a park like Howelsen Hill and Emerald Mountain, complete with ski jumps and mountain bike trails, on the edge of the downtown.

The members of the TAP team include Jim DeFrancia, a part-time Steamboat resident and a principal in the national development firm Lowe Enterprises; Richard Marshall, a Denver expert on streetscape and urban design who has worked with several national parks; John Koval, an executive with Coburn Development who has worked on infill projects in Boulder; Mark Heller, of the Golden Urban Renewal Authority; Anna Jones, an expert on downtown development authorities and improvement districts; and Carlos Hernandez, a transportation engineer.

Team members already understand, Gibbs said, that the community wants to preserve the small cafes and shops in older buildings along the river side of Yampa Street.

"The funky local stuff is important," Gibbs said. "We wouldn't want to see local character lost."

In the midst of a struggling national and local economy, Gibbs said it might strike some as odd timing to contemplate taking on the expense of infrastructure improvements on Yampa Street. However, in terms of sending a signal to the investment community that Steamboat Springs is proactive and looking to the future, the timing is good, he said. Coming up with a plan and putting in the right zoning regulations that take the guesswork out of redevelopment are key to attracting the right investors for Steamboat, Gibbs added.

"I think great communities look for opportunities and ask, 'What do we need to put in place in order to tell the world we're ready for investment, we're moving forward and we're excited, ourselves,'" Gibbs said.

Based on the constructive comments received at the email address yampastreet@steamboatsprings.net, Gibbs thinks a significant number of community members feel similarly.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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Make your voice heard, and tell the city of Steamboat Springs and the team from the Urban Land Institute what you would do to realize the full potential of Yampa Street. Email suggestions to yampastreet@steamboatsprings.net.

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