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Grand Junction Must Chart Own Course to Prosperity

By David Goe

Grand Junction is having an identity crisis.

The commodities that once helped our community flourish are gone, perhaps never to return.

You can no longer call Grand Junction a regional shopping destination, nor the hub for Colorado’s energy industry. We’ve lost our influence over the Western Slope and how we figure in to a state that’s drastically changing from year to year is extremely unclear.

As we debate new ideas such as the proposed downtown event center, the Palisade Plunge bike trail, improved broadband infrastructure, and recreational marijuana, it’s time to ask ourselves, what is Grand Junction? What do we want Grand Junction to be?

The two projects currently vying to define Grand Junction’s future are the downtown events center project and the Palisade Plunge bike trail.

With backing both statewide and locally, the Plunge is tentatively moving forward. The events center, however, is shaping up to be a much more hotly contested project.

According to estimates, a downtown events center and Two Rivers Convention Center renovation would cost approximately $62 million, financed through a revenue bond or increased lodging taxes.

With the investment would come a more than 5,000-seat venue to attract higher tier performers and musicians, and (likely) a minor league hockey team.

In return, the expected community impact of the project is estimated at roughly $10 million a year for the next 30 years.

Looking at our current entertainment options, the area could easily benefit from a large modern facility. Right now, our best options for live entertainment are:

■ Mesa Theater, which is simultaneously too big for smaller regional acts willing to play in Grand Junction and too small for larger national touring groups;

■ And Avalon Theatre. But until the stage expansion is complete, the Avalon cannot accommodate many modern performers.

The proposed events center would fill a need in this area, however, I’m not sure if we are in a strong position to support it.

If, in fact, the project gets a green light and if it is run successfully, then the future economic impact far out weigh the initial investment.

Those are big if’s, however.

For one, I’d like to know who would book events at the center? To generate $10 million a year, that facility is going to have to be filled on a weekly basis.

Is the city going to take on the booking responsibility? Are we to rely on Sandstone Concerts or some other third party to fill the center?

More importantly, is it even reasonably possible that we could fill the center on a weekly basis?

Statewide, Mesa County ranks low on both average household income and job creation. The few jobs created in Mesa County tend to be low-paying, which lead me to think there isn’t enough disposable income in Mesa County to make it work.

The willingness and ability of our community to routinely fill an event center is a big unknown.

The center could improve our regional draw, meaning we don’t have to rely purely on Mesa County residents to purchase tickets, but on other Western Slope economies that are in just as bad of shape as ours.

Considering travel and lodging costs, whatever entertainment gets booked in the event center better be damn good to pull in neighboring communities.

Looking at this project, I love the idea of investing in our community, but I have some doubt about its long-term viability.

I would like to see more entertainment options in the Grand Valley, but right now the safer bet on the table is to go all-in on outdoor recreation through projects such as the Palisade Plunge.

Ultimately, if we move forward with the event center project, I would support it. The cost of doing nothing is far more expensive in the long run than the cost of investing in Grand Junction’s future right now.

No proposal is going to be completely risk free, but we have to take our future into our own hands. It’s time to forge a new identity for Grand Junction.

Whether that be through recreation or entertainment, I for one would be proud to live in a city that at least takes action.

We know what our competitive disadvantages are, so let’s make strategic investments to position the area for a chance to not only survive, but thrive.


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