Cedaredge's recently completed downtown street improvement project has created a major upgrading of ambiance, particularly for pedestrians, on the three blocks of West Main Street.
The town government hopes that its million dollar investment in street paving, new sidewalks, storm sewers, lighting, and other improvements can be leveraged into new identity for Cedaredge.
Mayor Pat Means sees the project becoming a focus of historic preservation efforts; for providing a venue for more street fair events; encouraging new activity for local businesses; and even as a way of increasing property values for owners of downtown buildings.
Town government has cast itself in the role of a major driver of economic activity downtown.
"We felt it was a real good goal to help make current businesses more sustainable and invite people to come downtown," Means said. "How can we make downtown more attractive? How can we bring people in?"
In her own estimation, the project has already achieved some of those goals. "I've seen much more foot traffic than ever before," said the mayor. Cedaredge Area
Chamber of Commerce co-administrator Linda Palmer said she agrees. Already the town government and chamber are looking ahead to partnership opportunities for staging events tied to Main Street including a farmers market in Town Park and a May outdoor festival of art and wine.
But enthusiasm for the new downtown work isn't universal. The construction project severely disrupted business activity, business income and profit, and helped bring an end the business dreams of two entrepreneurs. The design has taken available on-street parking spaces. While wide sidewalks are nice for pedestrians, narrow streets and
tight turn radiuses constrict traffic flow. And the new LED street lights create a bright downtown where businesses aren't open at night.
There is some resistance also to "upgrading" the image of Cedaredge, a quiet, small town that many residents over the years have found to be simply a quiet and affordable place to live.
Some currents of resentment about the Main Street project run deep to old issues with town hall. One business owner upbraided a town worker for placing one of the new benches in front of her business. "This is our property," she told him. "How would you like it if I just put that on your property without asking?"
Nevertheless, Means is totally upbeat and emphasizes positive remarks about the project she's received. "I've heard a lot of, 'It looks great,' and, 'I really like it,'" she said.
"I've gotten a lot of positive comments on the aesthetics," Means added. "Lights on Main Street are an especially attractive addition."
The mayor hopes that new downtown ambiance will support an effort to confer a town historic designation on some of the buildings downtown.
"We have 100-year-old buildings downtown," Means said. "The town historic preservation committee wants to have plaques made and placed on the buildings."
Highlighting a view that the downtown's private businesses should be a matter of the town's business too, Means pointed out that the new Main Street is a benefit to property owners. "The project will help improve real estate values downtown, too," she said, and indicated the need for landlords to get vacant store fronts opened up.
About a fourth of the million dollars spent on the downtown project came from state energy impact grant funds provided by energy exploration and development. The town pitched its grant application as a revitalization of the downtown area.
Other money for the pro-ject came from the half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2007 for the Major Street Improvement Project. Those funds have been used on the downtown project, on West Main paving from downtown to the town limits, on the Westador street improvements and other street projects.
The new downtown project actually began over a decade ago when local citizens led by the late Jim Munson and others came together as the Cedaredge Enhancement Team to create a vision for the three blocks of Main Street. Means points out that it wasn't until the voters approved the half-cent sales tax and the state grant was approved that there was ever the necessary money to do any of the desired work.
Means has sights set on the future, and she sees the town government continuing to devote available energy and other resources to promoting the downtown area. But downtown has long since lost its position as a major contributor to the retail economy, a role that the Highway 65 corridor has usurped by the plain facts of geography.
Downtown, as an off-the-main-drag area, will probably always struggle for a share of business traffic. The investment to create a cool, new identity downtown in an effort to increase business has been a feature at resorts and other destination venues. But is Cedaredge overreaching in an effort to produce a tiny, Carmel-by-the-Sea feeling where being able to park a pickup truck and horse trailer on Main Street is what downtown patrons expect?
The new downtown improvements are an asset to the town and will continue to be. While almost everyone likes and admires them, far from everyone is comfortable with the idea of town government assuming the role of community image maker. To state it differently, "Where is any guarantee that government knows the difference between true community needs and its own image-building dreams?"
Standing as monuments to that question are the three, massive, stone masonry pillars, each one bearing a pair of four-square-foot cast bronze plaques proclaiming the "historic downtown" area. "Wouldn't one of the huge pillars have been enough?" visitors have asked.
Means referred that question to Town Administrator Katie Sickles who told the DCI in an e-mail, "The two on the west end (of Main Street) are meant to signify the entrance or gate to the historic downtown, and the one at the end of the pedestrian walkway is for the benefit of pedestrian traffic walking into the historic downtown."blog comments powered by Disqus