Sunday, March 09, 2008

The View From Downtown

The Daily Sentinel employs an interesting strategy on how their lead stories appear on their website, and how they leverage their considerable web expertise to add value and context to those lead stories.

Go to the home page, and you won't see anything today about the
paper's Page One, above-and-below-the-fold top story, about the development of high-end loft condominiums and other housing in Downtown Grand Junction. The link to this story is printed below the fold of Page One, presumably to make it available primarily to those who receive the paper at home or pick it up at a newsstand, and open it up to read.

I understand that the Sentinel is in the business of selling newspapers, but this is mildly annoying nonetheless. Luckily for me, I pick up the Sunday paper after church, and didn't miss the somewhat enlightening overview of one component of Downtown
redevelopment that will be upon us sooner rather than later.

I've taken an active interest in this because I currently live and work Downtown. I attended one of two workshops held at St. Joseph's Church late last month. The event was co-sponsored by the City Planning Department and the Downtown Development Authority, and was a rather comprehensive overview of what currently exists in what is known as the "original square mile", or the original City Limits from Grand Junction's inception in 1882. This is from 1st Street to 12th Street, and from South Avenue to North Avenue.

The planning consultants retained by these two groups first displayed what types of development and housing were present across this area. They identified several "hotspots" where certain types of commercial and residential development were occurring that might need to be addressed in any future planning process for this area. Two such hotspots were along North Avenue, at 7th Street and at 12th Street. Another was in the 400 block of Grand Avenue, which is an area that I've written about in the past.

The planners identified five different types of residential and commercial development that currently exist downtown, and would likely be included in future redevelopment that occurs downtown. They then asked the participants to look at these types of development and recommend where it could go in the downtown area, and for what purpose. These are:
  • Single Family Urban Cottage - Where I am now. I would hope that future development of this type would follow along the lines of New Urbanism, much like what is currently on display in Denver at Stapleton. Affordability and stability are the keys to success here.
  • Adaptive Reuse - Lots of examples of this already downtown. Existing construction (usually residential) is converted into updated residential or commercial use, or both.
An example of Adaptive Reuse is Studio 119 Photography, in the 600 block of Grand Avenue. Adjacent to this building to the east are the Crawford House and Doc Shore House, two historic Victorian homes converted into office suites.

Redevelopment of these kinds of buildings into these kinds of uses remains a way to encourage alternative uses for attractive older construction, and also offer a transitional buffer to more dense residential or commercial development, such as the hotspots mentioned earlier.

  • Live/Work with Retail - Daily Sentinel Photo

The converted Reed Building, the centerpiece
of the Sentinel story, is a classic example of this type of development.

Wonderful living spaces, as the article and web extras proved, but may not lend itself to affordability. The Reed Building hasn't found many solid, stable retail anchors, either. I miss

the Cafe Biltmore, but 13 Photography and the Nepal appear to be doing well. Maybe this will catch on after the remodel of Colorado Avenue. This certainly has its' place, but will not sustain Downtown in and of itself.
  • Mixed-Use Multi-Family - This was presented to our group at the workshop as something as tall as 8 stories, with underground parking and lots of apartments. In short, "The Behemoth". Unfortunately, according to the Sentinel article, we may be closer to this than we think. 700 Main Street is an ambitious undertaking, and without a rendition of it I really can't comment about it specifically. All I can do is offer an alternative and a reminder:
Below is West River Commons, in the Lake Street neighborhood of Minneapolis. There are 53 apartments, three townhomes, and several retail outlets. It covers an acre and is only four stories. Quoting from the blog that covered this, these features:

"..are designed in such a way to provide a transition from the activity and traffic on Lake Street to the more quiet residential feel just a block away. The focal point of the project is a small park which provides an outdoor setting for the restaurants and serves as an informal community gathering point."

Sounds good to me. There's something much more important that is worth preserving here.

The last type of development, Mixed Use Office over Retail, is also visible over nearly the entire length of Main Street, and like the Live/Work over retail, is probably best suited for the urban core areas.

I took these pictures from the intersection of Seventh Street and Rood Avenue.
What do you see?

What I see are the natural features that make the urban core of Grand Junction feel the way it does. Even when looking west is somewhat disrupted by taller-than-normal trees and the Alpine Bank Building, the view of the Monument is what defines this urban vista. This effect is compounded even more to the east, as Grand Mesa looms over the entire area.

Regardless of what types of development come to the Downtown area and where they are placed, careful consideration must be given to those God-given features that make Grand Junction and its' surroundings so unique and special. You can't duplicate this kind of setting in an urban area anywhere else. Why hide it?

Aside from the above, I feel that the biggest threat to our Downtown quality of living is continued encroachment upon some of our northernmost residential areas by growth that is associated with the growth of Mesa State, or expanding commercial development along the entire North Avenue corridor.

I'm looking forward to the assessment of what will be presented to city administrators, city council members, and citizens based upon the results of the discussions that several of my fellow citizens had over what is needed and where. Given the development that has already happened and is literally on the drawing board, it will be interesting to see how the Downtown of the future will be shaped.

Have a good week ahead.

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