Dreamer envisions city funds helping with Avalon and rail depot

This is about dreaming.

It’s about what if Grand Junction, Colorado, were a community in which the box was huge and had no boundaries. It’s about a Grand Junction in which the city fathers managed to get voters to sign on to letting them keep all the extra sales tax revenues they collect, something they are at the moment contemplating asking.

And instead of using the extra money for something very practical, as they are quite likely to do, they used the money to make the community a truly better place.

Laugh if you must at what I’m about to propose. I know it won’t happen, or if it does I’m perfectly aware of the temperature of hell when it does. This is a place that doesn’t like frills. It likes its public places to be of the vanilla variety and it likes its public expenditures to be kept to a minimum.

There’s something to be said for that. There’s also something to be said for edgy architecture and art and the ideas they generate. Anyway, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Unlike a lot of people who live in western Colorado, I happen to like cities. My wife and I often vacation in large metropolises. We like the energy created by huge masses of humanity — not to mention the never-ending list of things to see and do. If there’s one thing all great cities have in common that sets them apart from the mere Columbus, Ohios, of the world, it’s the spectacular public spaces, both large and small, where people gather to share experiences — places like Central Park in New York, Millennium Park in Chicago, Pike Place Market in Seattle or Jackson Square in New Orleans.

I contend that kind of shared experience can be scaled down to communities the size of Grand Junction and we can have the same kind of vibrant public life found in the great American cities.

In fact, we’re already well on the way to being there. Do nothing more than take a road trip through mid-America, through towns much the same size as Grand Junction, and see what has become of the downtowns of America. They are gone. Storefronts are vacant and decaying. Commerce is dead, gone to the malls and Wal-Marts.

What impresses visitors when they visit here? Many things, of course, but often at the top of the list is downtown. It’s very much alive.

Thanks to the Downtown Development Authority and the city, the 50-year-old vision of Project Foresight has been updated, magnificently, by the way. Downtown is better than ever, with new fountains, landscaping, seating and outdoor dining. The new Main Street can serve as the centerpiece of the public spaces that can make Grand Junction a showcase for what a small city can be.

That brings me back to the dream.

Bookending both ends of downtown are two historic structures that could use a little of that sales tax money.

The Avalon Theatre at Seventh and Main is a magnificent, if aging, monument to the 1930s. It still has the largest screen in town. The Grand Junction Symphony wants to make the building its permanent home, but to do so would cost millions. The exact number of millions varies from study to study. The symphony will undoubtedly try to raise the money. It simply can’t continue to perform at Grand Junction High School. But what if the city were to put the Avalon on its list of priorities for sales tax revenue? Tough sell, I know. But it’s an investment in a better community, no doubt.

At the other end of downtown is a building in even worse shape — the old railroad depot. It would be too easy to simply raze the thing. But it’s one of those buildings that when it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s too grand to let it go. What if New York had allowed Grand Central Station to be torn down?

It takes vision to see the value in preserving a key part of our heritage. The depot is a piece we can’t afford to lose.

I honestly don’t know what to do with it. But I do know that there are smart people in this community who can figure it out. And I know the building being renovated without public help is not likely.

Now I suppose it’s time to wake up.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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