As new commercial areas develop in Eagle, merchants and landlords in the downtown area are planning for the future while trying to retain the charm of the past.
In decades past, Broadway in Eagle was the town’s commercial core, home to a grocery store, bank and virtually all the community’s economic activity. Today, the town’s biggest sales-tax generator, City Market, is located across a river and two highways from the downtown business district. Plans for more and bigger retail development outside of the Broadway district has some downtown merchants wondering where they fit into the picture.
Responding to that concern, downtown property owners and town officials have been talking about ways to build economic vitality along Broadway and a firm plan for the area may take shape in the next year or so.
That plan will have to address issues ranging from essentials such as replacing utility lines to more philosophical zoning issues. The plan will also address how to fund needed improvements.
While coming months will focus on downtown’s future, current questions swirl about the immediate health of the town’s traditional main street.
Wells Fargo Bank Branch President Patricia Ferguson denied a rumor that the bank is searching for a new space off Broadway, saying flatly the bank is staying in its current location for the foreseeable future.
“We’re not even looking. We’re committed to this site,” said Ferguson. The bank owns the building it is located in on the corner of Third and Broadway. Ferguson said she and other bank officials will be involved in the planning process for downtown’s future, adding she would like to see a more inviting environment for retail stores in the area.
So would Fred Butler.
Rough road ahead
Butler, co-owner of Stockman’s Land Exchange, owns the building on the northwest corner of Broadway and Second Street that formerly housed the Eagle Bar. The ground floor of that structure has been vacant for the past several years.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in the (street) level of that building,” said Butler. “They’re just waiting for us to fix it up.”
That fix-up is in the planning stages. Butler said he’d like to re-do the facade of the structure to look more like separate buildings, with an eye toward “condominiumizing” the space in order to sell, rather than lease, the building. Butler said he’d like to see the town’s zoning regulations encourage projects such as the one he envisions. Getting to the future is going to be complicated, though.
Town Planner Larry McKinzie said there are several elements a comprehensive downtown plan will require. Upgrading the city infrastructure downtown may top the list. The water and sewer lines downtown are among Eagle’s oldest, and are badly in need of an upgrade. How to do that – and especially, how to pay for it – will require some tough decisions.
Tim Cochrane, director of the Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce, has been working for several years on ideas to improve downtown. He said this project might require a decision by town officials – and, ultimately, voters – whether or not to go into debt in order to get the job done more quickly.
A special development district comprised of downtown property owners couldn’t raise enough money on its own, Cochrane said, so the entire town would have to agree to fund improvements.
Town Manager Willy Powell said any discussion of funding improvements is premature until Town Engineer Vern Brock completes a block-by-block survey of required improvements and estimates the cost. That survey is due next year.
The other hot-button issue is parking. While studies indicate downtown currently has an adequate number of places to park vehicles, creating more parking will be expensive, perhaps prohibitively so. McKinzie noted that if a developer needed to acquire land to meet parking requirements, the cost could be as high as $20,000 to $25,000 per space.
With the exception of Butler’s building, the storefronts on Broadway are occupied, although retail businesses are limited. Downtown is generally busy, if not bustling, most weekdays and many evenings.
Two years ago, the Chamber applied for a grant from Downtown USA, a nonprofit group that works to renovate and revive downtown areas in small cities and towns.
“We were turned down cold,” Cochrane recalled. “I was driving the lady around and downtown was packed that day. She told me, “Montrose wishes they had your problems.'”
Still, there’s room for improvement. Jan Rosenthal Townsend, owner of Alpine Ambiance/Shadey Deals, sees a more welcoming downtown in the near future.
“I’d like to see a beautiful welcome sign on the corner of Grand Avenue and Broadway, with re-done sidewalks, park benches and landscaping,” she said. Models for Townsend’s vision include Basalt and Frisco, towns that have successfully mixed motorized and pedestrian traffic, and offer a variety of retail, office and restaurant space.
“We have a lot of that already,” she said. “We’re looking not so much at attracting new businesses, but keeping the old and allowing them to prosper.”
Analysis vs. action
Butler’s view of the future of downtown includes more dining options. “If restaurants are clustered together, they’re competing, but they also draw people,” he said.
Mostly, though, downtown landlords and business owners say it’s time to get going. There are small, but significant changes afoot for the next year.
The town will put up signs to guide travelers from the interstate into downtown. In addition, town crews will stripe parking areas to make the space available more efficient.
Meetings about the downtown’s future promise to draw active participation to tackle the host of issues involved in any serious downtown improvement projects.
“We’ll have to take a look at each issue, then tackle how they’re related,” said McKinzie. “That way, people can understand the decisions that are made. Any one area is going to be a trade-off with the others … it’s going to be time-consuming and a lot of work.”
That’s fine with Townsend, as long as action follows the meetings.
“It’s good to study this, but it’s essential that the work isn’t put up on a shelf,” she said. “We need to move forward.”
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.