MONTROSE – Montrose's downtown – with its boundaries, event plazas and creative industries already established – would be a perfect fit for the state's new creative district program, according to city officials.
The state passed legislation last year that encourages the formation of creative districts and backed that program with $86,000 in grants.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper visited Montrose on Jan. 14 to discuss the new concept, which he said he hopes will spark economic development by promoting Colorado as a hub for creative industry.
A creative district is a defined area where creative entrepreneurs and artists gather to work and live. Within the boundaries, theater, cultural events and artistic organizations are the focal point, and the state's money would help support and enhance those efforts, said Elaine Mariner, director of Colorado Creative Industries, a branch of the state's economic development office that is spearheading the program.
Although every entity interesting in developing a creative district is encouraged to apply for the state funding, only a handful will get money this year.
Montrose Downtown Development Authority has committed to applying, as have more than 25 other communities and organizations, including Ridgway and Paonia, Mariner said.
Of those applicants, only two will be certified as creative districts this year, with each receiving a $15,000 grant and technical assistance package to enhance their districts, according to the state. Five applicants will be identified as prospective districts and each will get $8,000 and a customized package of technical assistance to help them gain certification in the future. Eight applicants will get $2,000 each, be dubbed emerging districts, and get some technical support.
The application is due by the end of the month and there is still a lot of work to be done, DDA director Scott Shine said.
Mariner said that grants will be awarded in March and the support money should go out by April 1.
The state will look at three main areas to determine winning grant applications: district characteristics, management and planning, and community buy-in.
Given those criteria, Montrose will submit a strong application, Shine said.
A creative district is consistent with the DDA's goals outlined in its almost-completed Plan of Development, and also goes along with the recommendations made in past downtown revitalization studies and in the city's current Comprehensive Plan, he said.
The downtown area has a good mix of existing businesses, public spaces, walkable areas and properties with potential, he added.
West Main business owner Caleb Kullman agrees.
Kullman opened Kullman Ironworks at 29 N. Willerup Ave. about three years ago and purchased his building.
“I am down across the street from the fish market and there is a good mix of residential, industrial and creative businesses close by here,” he said.
Kullman produces architectural items like railings and gates, but also enjoys creating sculptures and other specialty pieces. He holds classes, has space to display his work, and is enthusiastic about the idea of a creative district.
Shine said he sees Montrose's creative district standing out from those on the Front Range or in other states because of Montrose's diversity of artists and its strong presence of culinary and agriculture entrepreneurs, among many other reasons.
The DDA doesn't plan to go into this alone, however.
“PAX (Public Art eXperience) has done great work in the past few year and we will reach out to them and all the arts organizations in the community to really make it a partnership application, and the DDA will be coordinating it,” Shine said. “But that doesn't mean we can't include those outside the district. We are looking at it as fitting into the broader fabric of the community and what other art organizations have done to get it started.”
The DDA is hosting a meeting for entities interested in a Montrose creative district at 5 p.m. on Jan. 23, at Around the Corner Art Gallery, 447 E. Main St., in Montrose.