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Hotchkiss improvements will take a collaborative approach

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As part of a downtown improvement plan for the Town of Hotchkiss, a handful of volunteers headed by Tom Wills has strived to take on one project every year. One year they filled wooden barrels with flowers; another year, bicycle racks were installed and wooden flowers painted by Hotchkiss K-8 students were "planted" in front of local businesses.

While worthy endeavors, these small attempts to beautify the community underscore the need for additional resources if Hotchkiss is truly committed to downtown revitalization and historic preservation.

Helping breathe life into main streets across the state is the goal of the Colorado Main Street program. The program advocates community self-reliance, local empowerment and the rebuilding of central business districts based on their traditional assets of unique architecture, personal service and local ownership.

Hotchkiss has been named an affiliate of the program, which is managed by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The affiliate stage of the program is the beginning process where stakeholders -- in this case the chamber, town and business owners -- work together to determine if there is sufficient interest, volunteers and other resources to move forward.

Philosophically, all the stakeholders are on board, it was agreed during a meeting hosted by the Hotchkiss Community Chamber of Commerce last week. But the vision won't make it to the next step without resources, and leadership emerged as a top priority. The chamber has no paid staff, and the town doesn't have a manager or a lead planner. Public works employees are stretched thin. Fewer and fewer volunteers are doing the work of planting and watering flowers. Who, then, will create the momentum that will reinvigorate the area, attract more tourists and make Hotchkiss a more attractive locale for people to visit, live and work?

Without one individual or entity to take the reins, participants in the chamber meeting agreed they may need to look at creating a new entity -- perhaps a collective of stakeholders -- to form the organizational structure needed to implement a multi-year strategic plan.

Partners like Region 10 and the Department of Local Affairs may be able to provide the technical expertise and financial resources the town is lacking. Stakeholders decided to review a "scope of services," to determine how the town might be able to work with those partners to accomplish its goals.

"I don't want everybody to spend time coming up with a plan without a good chance of success," commented Nathan Sponseller, chamber president.

Jo Edmondson, owner of ShadeScapes, encouraged everyone to look at the "bigger picture." While sprucing up vacant lots and planting flowers may make the town more attractive, it's going to take more to create a bustling, thriving downtown area. "We need an identity," she said.

While small in number, those participating in the discussion showed the commitment and desire that's vital for any improvement effort, and they vowed to keep moving forward.

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