Supporters are hopeful about what’s in the wings for downtown Eagle
New development authority could provide a solid foundation — and funding — for a sustained revitalization effort downtown
EAGLE — Is the town of Eagle’s sleepy little downtown waking up, and on the cusp of a time of revitalization? Some people are hoping so.
Several ongoing initiatives, coupled with redevelopment projects that are either underway or in the works, could help the downtown get some traction after years of being overlooked.
While the town of Eagle has nearly tripled in population over two decades, seeing a big spike as the Eagle Ranch neighborhood developed, much of that investment and growth has occurred up Brush Creek valley.
Town officials tried to kickstart some investment in the struggling downtown in the 2000s, spending several million dollars on streetscape and landscaping improvements on Broadway Street. Then a recession hit, stalling hopes for a wave of private investment in downtown’s row of one-, two- and three-story buildings, some of which are now a century old.
“What’s interesting is that downtown has been stuck for a really long time,” said Kat Conner, owner of the Katch of the Day wine bar and market on Broadway. “It’s just been really kind of sad and slow here for a long time.”
Downtown businesses face high property and rent costs and a shortage of foot traffic and customers, even as surrounding neighborhoods in Eagle have grown and thousands of cars a day pass by on Highway 6 and Interstate 70 — some of them holding local residents heading out to work, shop, dine or find entertainment in other parts of the Eagle River Valley.
“Hardworking and notable local businesses struggle for attention, a beautiful streetscape longs for use, and a breathtaking mountain setting yearns for visitors,” states a 2019 assessment by Downtown Colorado Inc., which is partnering with Eagle to help its downtown revitalization efforts.
Yet those efforts appear to be gaining some momentum, though downtown supporters say they still need more champions — as many as they can get.
In recent years, a small, grassroots group of downtown property and business owners has worked to try to get things moving. They formed a nonprofit business alliance, an arts group, and launched marketing and outreach initiatives and community events like an art walk to help bring more people downtown.
Today, Conner is one of seven people recently appointed to Eagle’s new Downtown Development Authority, which property owners voted to form last November. The group — which has only met once so far — is now working to craft a downtown plan to take to the Eagle Town Council as early as this summer, setting the framework for the creation and use of a small tax increment financing district.
That TIF district, which would span the four blocks of Broadway Street, extending one block east to Capitol Street and one block west to Wall Street, would generate funding — without raising taxes, supporters note — to pay for the downtown projects and programs that are now being brainstormed by the development authority.
Assistant town manager Bill Shrum said the time is ripe for the initiative. Some redevelopment projects are already underway and slated for completion later this year, such as Broadway Station. It will bring several thousand square feet of commercial space and a couple dozen new apartments to the downtown.
A half-dozen other projects within the proposed TIF district boundary are yet to start, but already planned or approved by the town. Such redevelopment could quickly send additional property taxes to the coffers of the yet-to-be-established district for nearly immediate use.
“We think we are in a very favorable climate to capture a large amount of TIF funding,” Shrum said. “It’s very important to time it, where the baseline is set just before the snowball starts to accumulate. I think right now is that time. We feel pretty good that there will be an increase in valuation fairly quickly after (the TIF district’s) adoption.”
Upgrading Highway 6 corridor
With a plan in place for the nearby Eagle River corridor, and the first phase of a new whitewater park completed, the town is also working on a corridor plan for Highway 6.
That ongoing effort, which town officials will roll out next week to start gathering public ideas for improving the highway corridor, could help address a slew of challenges along the major road adjoining Eagle’s downtown. That could include measures to improve traffic flow, safety and parking, improved infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians, conservation measures, even redevelopment sites and better linkages between downtown and the Eagle River.
The goal, said David Gaboury, a member of Eagle Town Council appointed as its representative on the Downtown Development Authority, is to revitalize the downtown and make it a real asset for the community.
“If you look at surveys the town has done, there’s a lot of support and aspiration for the downtown and how it can become more vibrant and still keep this sense of a western mountain community,” Gaboury said. “I think it’s a bit of a diamond in the rough we have here.”
The process is expected to take decades. But after many years of “tumbleweeds” downtown, Conner said that she’s impressed by how quickly things are moving along, with the formation of two nonprofits and now a Downtown Development Authority in less than two years.
“No other town has done it this fast,” Conner said. “There’s lots of possibilities and we’re kind of killing it with getting stuff done.”
Jake Roach, CEO and founder of QuietKat, an e-bike company on Broadway Street that’s planning to expand over the coming year, was also appointed to the Downtown Development Authority. Roach said he’s excited to be part of the initiative, and sees many strengths for downtown Eagle to draw upon, from arts, culture and entertainment to outdoor recreation, with no shortage of local opportunities for fishing, rafting, kayaking, hiking, hunting and mountain biking.
“It seems like a really good group that is energetic about it, pulling it out of the grassroots and taking it to the next level,” Roach said of the new authority. “A little bit of wind got in the sail and then went out over the last decade. Hopefully the wind is back in it and here to stay. I think the timing is right.”
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at email@example.com.