Reshaping downtown | SteamboatToday.com

Reshaping downtown

Developer Jim Cook has a clear vision for the future of downtown Steamboat Springs. He hopes his high-end developments will spark new life in the downtown corridor without erasing the history of the community.

Steamboat Springs — Seeing Jim Cook's impact on Steamboat Springs is as easy as taking a walk downtown. — Seeing Jim Cook's impact on Steamboat Springs is as easy as taking a walk downtown.

— Seeing Jim Cook’s impact on Steamboat Springs is as easy as taking a walk downtown.

Cook, a principal partner with Colorado Group Realty, is leading development of three large-scale building projects downtown and has plans or is involved in several other projects that will change the face of Steamboat for years to come. In 2006, demolition of the Harbor Hotel, Nite’s Rest Motel and Westland Mobile Home Park – and related city approval of the downtown Howelsen Place and Alpenglow buildings, with final approval of the multi-building Riverwalk project possible in early 2007 – all point to widespread changes that will give a new look to Old Town Steamboat. They also indelibly will stamp Cook’s mark on the city he has called home since 1991.

At a time of unprecedented growth throughout Routt County, Cook is

leading the charge with an innovative and often criticized vision for downtown Steamboat. That vision, and the work already under way to create it, make Cook the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s choice for 2006 Newsmaker of the Year.

“He should be,” Main Street Steamboat Springs Director Tracy Barnett said of the distinction. “I think what he’s doing will make the most dramatic change in all of Steamboat Springs. He’s changing the vocabulary of how people are defining downtown.”

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Singular focus

Barnett has a front-row seat for Cook’s daily efforts to reshape Steamboat’s skyline. She works in an office Cook donated to Main Street, just down the hall from Cook’s desk in Colorado Group Realty’s small, renovated building on the riverside of Yampa Street.

“I think he has a singular focus on what should happen down here his heart is down here,” Barnett said. “His vision is to create a real arts-and-entertainment district along Yampa.”

The walls of the Colorado Group Realty office are covered with artistic renderings of Howelsen Place, Alpenglow, and the mixed-use Sundance North Village project on Anglers Drive. A model of Riverwalk sits beneath a glass case. Prelim-inary designs for the 10-building project, arguably Cook’s flagship development, show multi-colored, upper-story residences over small commercial stores with frontage on public walkways and parks along the Yampa River.

More plans

Cook said Colorado Group Realty also has plans to redevelop three other Yampa Street properties, including the current homes of Sunpie’s Bistro and the Hell’s Wall ski shop. On Lincoln Avenue, Cook is involved in discussions about future renovations of the Go-Fer Foods store and the Chief Plaza Theater.

“We want it to be a quasi-artisan community,” Cook, 64, said of Riverwalk. “That’s what cities are all about – people of all walks of life and income levels. In the next three to five years, downtown Steamboat can become one of the most exciting places to live and work anywhere.”

‘He gets it’

The Harbor Hotel opened at the corner of Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue in 1940. Crews began demolition of the building Nov. 6, to make way for the 85,000-square-foot Howelsen Place.

“I will forever lament the loss of Harbor Hotel, as I do the loss of any significant historic resource,” said Steamboat Springs City Council member Towny Anderson, who dedicated his professional career to preservation work. “I’ve had enough experience with historic preservation to know that restoration of that property could never have happened without a public-private partnership. That said, I applaud Jim Cook for his understanding of the value of downtowns. He gets it.”

Anderson said Friday he is “cautiously optimistic” that the transformations led by Cook will lead to “a stronger downtown and a stronger sense of community.”

Cooktown USA?

Some recent comments from the public have not shared Anderson’s optimism.

“I miss those funky old buildings – the Nite’s Rest and the Harbor Hotel. They were part of Steamboat’s unique personality,” Steamboat resident Betty Leipold wrote in a Dec. 10 letter to the Pilot & Today. “I fear that what’s proposed for those spaces will detract rather than add to Steamboat’s quaintness : Will we be living in ‘Cooktown USA’ in the future?”

An anonymous Dec. 24 “Sound-Off” to the newspaper picked up the “Cooktown” phrase.

“Downtown needed to be revitalized, but it seems like we’ve overdone it with saturating downtown with loft and retail edifices. We are doomed to chaos with increased congestion and traffic. What happened to the small-town atmosphere we were trying to preserve? It seems that we have in fact become Cooktown, USA,” the note read.

Thick skin

City officials say the criticism is unwarranted.

Cook “gets kind of a hard time, but his heart is in the right place,” said Tom Leeson, the city’s director of planning services. “He is committed to downtown. The projects he’s doing will have a tremendous positive impact.”

“It’s disheartening to lose our historical structures, but it’s exciting to see new things,” City Manager Alan Lanning said of Cook’s projects.

“There’s always mistrust of developers, but I don’t think he’s out to destroy the community at all,” Barnett said. “I think he’s planning to take us forward in a direction that we will all appreciate in the future. And Jim’s got a really thick skin. He’s been around long enough where he can take it on the chin, because he has a vision.”

That vision is here to stay.

“The developer permit was the primary hurdle,” Cook said of Riverwalk, a project that will be built in phases, pending final city approval. “We want to start doing infrastructure in the summer.”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com