RIDGWAY – A nine-person team from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs took a two-day whirlwind tour of Ridgway last week and came up with a slew of recommendations to help the town revitalize its downtown.
“Ridgway needs a brand,” said designer John Metcalf, one of the professionals in the Main Street Community program. “Your brand is what you are to your consumer, and why you are unique,” he said during a presentation of findings Tuesday, Sept. 25. “Austin [Texas] has ‘Keep Austin Weird.’ Grand Junction has ‘Colorado Wine Country.’”
Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce V.P. Brian Scranton pointed out that Ridgway had previously tried “Gateway to the San Juans.” “But I’ve always seen a gateway as a place you go through.”
Metcalf agreed, and suggested, “just as a sample: ‘Ridgway: Look Around.’ The messaging needs to hit your local market and your visitors, each a little differently.”
DOLA Main Street Program Coordinator Stephanie Troller told the audience at Town Hall, “It was easy to fall in love with Ridgway. You guys have a lot going on.”
She said Ridgway is one of seven “candidate communities” for Main Street Program status, along with Montrose, Fruita, Rifle, Victor, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff. There are also seven “graduate” Main Street Communities: Lake City, Lamar, Brush, Berthoud, Arvada, Granby and Steamboat Springs, all of which got started in 2011.
Last year, Troller said, Main Street districts statewide saw nearly $3 million in infrastructure investment; $8 million in private real estate transactions; 32 new businesses were created, generating 104 new full-time and 89 new part-time jobs.
“The [Main Street] process was both intensive and comprehensive,” said RACC’s Scranton after the visit. “The team managed, in less than two days, to speak with nearly every stakeholder group and come back to us with a preliminary plan. That’s pretty impressive!”
On Monday, the group held listening sessions with representatives of the business community, including RACC, with residents, the Creative District and arts community, with elected officials, the Streetscape committee, and so on. They took walking tours of downtown, took photographs, did more listening.
Then on Tuesday afternoon, the group, which included architects, designers, arts and economic consultants, rolled out the Power Point with its preliminary findings. A formal report will come in about a month, with continued technical and “mini-grant” help from DOLA. “We’ll have more defined recommendations then,” Troller said, “and we’ll come back to help with goal setting.”
Highlights of the Power Point included ideas from Kathy Dirks, of Downtown Grand Junction Partnership about how Ridgway could enhance its shoulder season business with “writers’ workshops, fall watercolor classes, culinary classes, beer brewing workshops,” etc. She mentioned a successful program in Steamboat Springs called “Sisters in Steamboat,” which includes spa sessions and other opportunities specifically for wives of destination hunters.
Jon Schler, an architect and design consultant, suggested that Ridgway needed help with “wayfinding.”
“There is car scale and there is pedestrian scale,” he said. “The Ridgway sign at the highway intersection, while beautiful – I did walk over and look at it – is too small to see from your car...you have lots of little, neat signs, but they’re not readable from a car.”
He also recommended the town take advantage of the “handsome” restrooms at the north end of Hartwell Park. “You could have ‘Rest Stop’ signage that would get more people off the highway and out of their cars. CDOT will sign that.” And, as for the town’s Streetscape Plan, which he highly approved, Schler said, “You need to fight, stay on CDOT’s ass, for pedestrian scale, crosswalks, awnings, streetlights,” and so on. “Remember, CDOT’s goal is the move people through your town. Your goal is to get people to stop.”
Maryo Gard-Ewell, a Creative Districts Consultant from Gunnison told the group that “economic development is a mindset. There’s tons here that can be synergized.” She echoed an earlier recommendation that Ridgway consider creating an umbrella organization, with a paid staffer perhaps, to help coordination and communication among the town’s various economic development enterprises: RACC, Streetscape Committee, Creative District, events committees, town government – and now Main Street Program.
Mayor John Clark, in a comment afterward, said, “I found it very interesting that one of their main findings was that we might need a paid staff person to help all our various groups coordinate their activities in order to keep efforts from being duplicated. I’m really looking forward to hearing what comes out of the final report, and working with the community to prioritize the recommendations that come out of it.”
Gard-Ewell concluded with the fact that Ridgway is the only community in the Main Street Program that has also been awarded Creative District status by the state. “We’re going to be studying you,” she said with an encouraging smile.