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ARCHIVED  August 27, 1999

Greeley ponders downtown facelift

GREELEY — Members of Greeley’s downtown business community are poring over details of three broad options for redeveloping the city’s core.
Urban planning and design specialists at the University of Colorado at Denver have been working since June 1 on the plans, and were scheduled to report on their results during a series of workshops this week with members of the downtown community.
“The really hard work is coming up now,´ said Joan Joseph, executive director of the city’s Downtown Development Authority. “CU has borne the brunt of the first half of the process. Now it’s up to us.”
Tom Clark, a professor at UCD’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning who heads the graduate program in urban planning, said prior to the workshops that he and colleagues would present their findings in the form of three alternatives. They include:
n An office-oriented downtown plan that would spur the growth of retail and service businesses.
n A downtown plan dominated by what Clark calls “culture,” emphasizing night and weekend activity.
n A mixed-use plan that encourages the development of residential properties to complement retail and service businesses.
Clark, joined by other urban-planning faculty members and graduate students in the program, has spent three months surveying downtown businesses, examining the urban landscape and assessing vacancies that can be filled. The workshops, conducted after The Northern Colorado Business Report went to press, are the culmination of that work.
“Planning is a lot like basketball,” Clark said, “Most of it happens in the last three minutes.”
DDA board chairman Bob Tointon said that whatever path the business community chooses, he hopes it will stem what he called the “retail leakage” that has plagued downtown business owners.
“Our trouble is that all these new people who are coming to Greeley to live are going somewhere else to shop,” Tointon said. “It’s like a recreation thing for them.”
While each of the three options presented by Clark and the UCD team relies on a different downtown focus, all are designed to reverse the retail drain, Clark said.
The office-oriented approach “involves allowing downtown employers to find room and expand, rather than leave and expand,” Clark said. “There may be a lot of open office space available elsewhere, but we’ve found the downtown can still compete. The filling of the available office space will increase demand for retail and service businesses.”
The UCD plan for a “cultural” downtown focus relies on bridging the space between entertainment centers and the downtown business district, and in blending night and weekend action into daytime activity for office workers.
“What you see now is a downtown of culture and a downtown of offices,” Clark said. “They are separated not only geographically, but temporally. They need to do more to link up performance venues, like the performing-arts center, with the downtown. Here, the focus on night and weekend activity that generates service businesses, restaurants. That will benefit the office workers, too. Offices are still a major element.”
Lyle Butler, president of the Greeley/Weld Chamber of Commerce, said some downtown businesses had already discovered the benefits of closing the gap between their businesses and performing-arts venues, and said he saw potential for others to follow suit.
“When the Rio (Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant) first opened up, they came with a plan to tie into the arts center,” Butler said. “The Rio has great traffic on performance nights.”
Clark said the potential location of a baseball park could also play well into the cultural plan but would mean abandoning the prevailing option to accommodate a minor-league baseball team.
Most of the talk about baseball, and the likely prospects for a rookie-league team relocating to Greeley, has centered on the University of Colorado’s Jackson Field. Clark said the decision-makers should leave open a downtown option.
“There is good evidence from all over the country that minor-league baseball does well downtown,” he said. “Akron, Ohio, and Des Moines, Iowa, are good examples. That ought to be a consideration.”
The UCD proposals also include a mixed-use option that links retail, office and entertainment businesses with a ready market — residents of redeveloped and new housing downtown and on the business district’s fringe.
“We want to look at options for downtown residential properties, both within downtown, and off of Lincoln Park,” Clark said. “High-rise and loft residential development are possibilities. You can view that residential development as an impetus for downtown business development. And, once you have people living downtown, you have people policing the place. They’re watching out for what is happening at night.”
The future of the pedestrian plazas, one of the hottest downtown issues Greeley had confronted, was addressed in the survey that Clark and his design team conducted of almost all downtown businesses. The results were not well-mixed, Clark said.
“Most of those we’ve surveyed favor the removal of the malls,” he said. “But I think it’s a misdiagnosis for one to reach the conclusion that the downtown is not working because of the malls. There were other factors working against success, and the malls are getting the blame.”
Modification of Greeley’s two block-long malls on Ninth Street and Eighth Street, just west of Eighth Avenue, makes more sense than scrapping the idea altogether, Clark said.
A redesigned mall could draw upon the experience and success that Boulder and Fort Collins have had with their downtown pedestrian-only zones, he said.
“We are looking in particular at one of the malls, the one on the south, as having the most potential,” Clark said. “One idea would be to extend it one block east. The one on the north might be better reopened to traffic. Having one good mall is better than having two that don’t really talk to each other.”
Clark said that the lessons Fort Collins and Boulder offer were missed when the Greeley malls were planned. They serve more as linear “funnels” for foot traffic, rather than steering people toward downtown attractions, he said.
“Greeley has tried in some ways to mimic the results in other Front Range cities, and it hasn’t worked,” Clark said. “The reason the malls in Fort Collins and Boulder work is that they have ambiguity and interest — things that the pedestrian malls in Greeley lack.”
Butler said the downtown business community, and long-time Greeley residents who have watched a decline in the zone’s importance, need to be patient with any plan for improvement.
“It’s hard to communicate to the citizens of Greeley that progress is being made,” Butler said. “They want to see it all to go at once. But you’re going to see five businesses open, and three shut down.”
Tointon also said he hoped the downtown community would give the UCD planners a chance to make their case.
“I think everyone is hopeful, but I wouldn’t say they are overly optimistic,” Tointon said. “They want something to happen.”

GREELEY — Members of Greeley’s downtown business community are poring over details of three broad options for redeveloping the city’s core.
Urban planning and design specialists at the University of Colorado at Denver have been working since June 1 on the plans, and were scheduled to report on their results during a series of workshops this week with members of the downtown community.
“The really hard work is coming up now,´ said Joan Joseph, executive director of the city’s Downtown Development Authority. “CU has borne the brunt of the first half of the process. Now it’s up to us.”
Tom…

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