Steamboat compares creative notes with Lakewood | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat compares creative notes with Lakewood

Kim Keith

— Steamboat Springs and the city of Lakewood have more in common than people in the Yampa Valley might guess.

Lakewood's West Colfax Avenue, gritty along some blocks, but enjoying a renaissance elsewhere, is actually U.S. Highway 40. It is the same historic highway that runs through Steamboat on its way from New Jersey to Sacramento and also defines historic Lakewood.

One of the westernmost of Denver's suburbs, Lakewood is also several steps ahead of Steamboat in its ambition to become officially recognized as a creative district by the state of Colorado. The new 40 West Arts District on Colfax already has been formally recognized by Colorado Creative Industries, a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Yet Bill Marino, executive director of 40 West Arts District, told an audience of almost 50 people attending the annual meeting of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council Thursday that Steamboat is well ahead of his community in other ways.

"We're not quite as sophisticated as you are," Marino said. "We want to create a community art space, creative events like you have and support creative businesses. You guys are as creative as they come. There is so much you are doing that we only aspire to."

Marino also runs the Lakewood-West Colfax Business Improvement District.

Steamboat Springs Arts Council Executive Director Kim Keith told Steamboat Today earlier this month the not-for-profit, which supports both performing and visual arts, is in the process of working toward earning the designation of creative district. And just this month, the Arts Council received an $8,500 grant from CCI to support operating expenses.

Also receiving similar grants of varying amounts were Strings Music Festival, Emerald City Opera, the Steamboat Art Museum and Friends of Perry-Mansfield.

Arts Council Board Vice-President Wendy Kowynia told Steamboat Today in April that recognition from the state as a creative district would increase awareness of Steamboat's community assets in the creative fields.

"Steamboat has the arts and culture, but it doesn't have the visibility and organization," Kowynia said. "We are known as SkiTown USA and BikeTown USA, and everyone who lives here knows and participates in our artistic and cultural heritage, but all this cultural power flies under the radar. It's just a little bit invisible."

In July 2010, Colorado's new Creative Industries Division merged the former Council on the Arts and Art in Public Places programs with the intent of capitalizing on the potential for the state's creative sector to drive economic growth in Colorado. That initiative has been embraced by cities from Lakewood to Steamboat seeking to leverage their cultural assets.

Marino and his collaborator, architect Kevin Yoshida, have much to share from the leadership role they played in the creation of the 40 West Arts District in 2014. The district comprises about 550 yards of West Colfax and lists more creative businesses — fine furniture makers, designers, a printer and a music store, for example — than it does art galleries and studios.

"We treating entrepreneurship as art," Yoshida said.

A handful of businesses remaining from the heyday of U.S. 40, before Interstate 70 bypassed the old "Victory Highway" in the early 1970s, give the district historic context. They include the Lakewood Grill, the Trail's End Motel and Davie's Chuck Wagon Diner, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Yoshida and Marino report 5,000 artists have taken part in gallery shows in 40 West. And in a short time, they say, it's become an economic driver, growing the number of creative individuals based in the area from 44 in 2014 to 114 by the middle of this year.

One of the keys to the renaissance on Colfax and 40 West is the recent arrival of light rail running west from Denver's Lo Do District through Lakewood along U.S. Highway 6, a few blocks south of Colfax.

Yoshida said the light rail connection has given 40 West an answer to the question, "How do we get people to come to us?"

"Connectivity is how people experience your town, your culture," he said. "And in 2016, light rail will connect us to DIA through Union Station."

Inadvertently, light rail also provided 40 West an opportunity to leverage place-making in the district. The rail system installed a significant number of large metal boxes used to house electrical infrastructure along the line.

"We wrapped 34 of them (in art) along the district,” Yoshida said. “Now you see these splashes of color, and next, we're wrapping signal boxes for traffic signals."

Marino said 40 West Arts District has already strengthened the relationship between creatives on West Colfax and city of Lakewood officials. Future plans include creating housing/studio space for artists and other creatives.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1