Stakeholders on Yampa Street jump at opportunity to transform | SteamboatToday.com

Stakeholders on Yampa Street jump at opportunity to transform

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.

— 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