At heart of downtown, Seventh and Main intersection endures a rough patch
An empty building languishes at one corner, home for nearly a decade to a thriving business that eventually succumbed to financial problems.
Across the street, to the west, is a stately structure whose primary occupant bailed for a host of reasons. Questions shroud its future.
The other two corners offer tantalizing yet untapped possibilities. One contains a tiny parking lot that was sold earlier this month. The other is surrounded by a chain-link fence, the gas station and auto repair shop that once operated there long since scraped away. The property’s owners have crafted lofty redevelopment plans that have been slow to materialize.
A dilapidated stretch of North Avenue?
A tired section of U.S. Highway 50 on Orchard Mesa?
Try the heartbeat of downtown Grand Junction.
The intersection of Seventh and Main streets is arguably the pre-eminent intersection in the city. It marks the east entrance to the shopping park that is as important to the city’s financial well-being as any industry and as revered by tourists and residents alike as any natural feature in the Grand Valley. The Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority thought enough of the area that it shouldered most of the cost of a $4.2 million project last year to redesign a five-block stretch of Seventh and a one-block stretch of Main.
Yet, at best, the intersection is in a period of transition. At worst, it’s a blight.
A number of factors have conspired to create upheaval there, including a stumbling economy, landowners tied up with other projects and business models that simply failed to draw sufficient patronage.
But officials with organizations that work on behalf of downtowns in Colorado and across the nation say the uncertainty at Seventh and Main is a way of life for the hearts of cities and towns. Down periods follow prosperous ones. Sometimes, they occur simultaneously.
“Downtowns are constantly in a state of flux,” said Paul Felt, editor of two newsletters published by the Downtown Research & Development Center, a Boonton, N.J.-based group that acts as an information clearinghouse on strategies to revitalize downtowns.
“What one person sees as a blight or eyesore, someone else will see as an opportunity. Old business models become outdated. Maybe the market’s changed. Maybe not as many people want to see foreign films. It’s a jungle, but it works.”
Unlike relatively new malls and enormous shopping centers filled with national retailers, downtowns largely contain decades-old buildings that require spruce-ups. If the economy sours or customers take their business elsewhere, there is no bailout for Mom and Pop.
“Just the nature of revitalization means it’s going to keep happening,” Downtown Colorado Inc. Executive Director Katherine Correll said of the up-and-down cycles that downtowns go through. “You will always have work. It’s not just something that you do and then you’re done.”
Correll, whose nonprofit membership organization provides assistance to downtowns, town centers and commercial districts in the state, said those realities make it important for cities and downtown organizations to not only invest in infrastructure, but also to provide training to businesses and ensure they are complementing one, rather than competing or existing independent of each other.
Last year’s reconstruction of Seventh and Main, intended to spruce up the corridor and encourage more foot traffic, spurred redevelopment and investment from some property owners. Bray Real Estate’s Commercial Division, landscape architecture firm Ciavonne,
Roberts & Associates and law firm Killian Jensen & Davis remodeled existing buildings or constructed new ones on the east side of Seventh Street. The owners of Junct’n Square Pizza and the Blue Moon Bar and Grille opened outdoor dining areas this year.
But other businesses and groups, including the Cabaret and Cinema at the Avalon, blamed construction that shut down all or part of Seventh Street for 10 months for a drop in revenue and, to a degree, their eventual closings.
Cabaret owners sought compensation from the city, pointing to losses totaling $40,000 a month. The City Council balked. The dinner theater closed in June, owing more than $28,000 in rent and more than $10,000 in back taxes.
The building has been empty since. Items inside were auctioned off, and signs for the Cabaret and the adjacent Spotlight Lounge were removed this fall.
Barb Butler, a Grand Junction attorney representing building owner Mary Donlan, says Donlan would like another dinner theater to move in.
“She does have hope that there will be another theater in there, but there are no immediate plans to fill it,” Butler said.
Stakeholders are scrambling to fill the seats at the historic Avalon Theatre following a series of setbacks that put a major renovation on hold indefinitely and folded the nonprofit Cinema at the Avalon, which kept the lights on virtually 365 days a year.
City officials regrouped quickly to try to fill the gap left by Cinema. They showed a series of holiday and classic films last month, are putting on kids’ events and intend to show one foreign or independent film a month this year. But the long-term future of the 85-year-old venue is in doubt.
A volunteer committee, formed to make recommendations to city leaders about how the theater should be used, backed away from a proposed $18 million expansion and renovation, spoiling any chance to lure the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra to the theater.
Even a scaled-back $3 million to $5 million set of improvements seems a stretch, given the economy. A foundation responsible for generating money for the theater was told a few years ago to suspend fund-raising activities and has yet to resume them.
“I believe the Avalon needs to be preserved as an entertainment venue because it is the only entertainment venue serving the Western Slope of Colorado of any size that we have right now,” said Harry Griff, a member of the Downtown Development Authority board of directors and the Avalon Theatre Advisory Committee. “If we were to lose the Avalon, it would literally be impossible to book any acts of any significance in the Grand Valley until a replacement structure was built.”
While stakeholders try to figure out what to do with the Avalon, businessmen Bruce Milyard and Doug Simons know what they want to do with the space next to the Blue Moon. But it’s a matter of time — and interest from investors — before anything happens.
Milyard, the owner of Constructors West and developer of the Corner Square project, and Simons, president of Enstrom Candies, have their sights set on a multistory, mixed-use project that would feature retail and office space and a parking garage topped by luxury condos.
But there are a number of factors working against their fast-tracking the project.
Both are invested in their own personal businesses. And the economy makes real-estate and development speculation “very iffy,” Simons said. He said he and Milyard don’t plan to break ground until 30 to 50 percent of the project is presold to investors.
Meanwhile, the site is unsightly.
Simons said he and Milyard still have to coordinate with state officials to excavate underground fuel tanks and evaporate a plume of fuel that has spread in the area. He estimated it will be at least two years before ground is broken on the project.
In the interim, Griff said the DDA has talked with Simons and Milyard about the possibility of converting the site into a small park until it’s developed.
After years of serving as a parking lot for no more than a dozen cars, greater things appear to be in store for a 6,800-square-foot postage stamp to the west of Simons’ and Milyard’s property.
Owner Steve Reimer sold the lot in December to Boulder real estate investor Gary Curry for about $270,000. Reimer, who owns and operates the Hawthorn Suites and Hampton Inn on Main Street with his brother, Kevin, said he decided to sell the property after moving ahead with plans to build a third downtown hotel.
Curry said he anticipates creating a mixed-use project at the corner, with restaurant or retail space on the first floor and office space and a penthouse upstairs.
He said he is looking for an architect and intends for its look to fit in with the other historic buildings on Main Street. He said it will be at least a year before anything begins to take shape.
“I love Main Street,” said Curry, who owns other properties in Grand Junction. “To have a blank slate for the price (Reimer) wanted, it seemed like a can’t-miss.”
Bob Kunkel, the Central Business District coordinator for the city of Durango, said downtowns need a mixture of retail, commercial and residential space to be successful — the kinds of projects that could be coming to Grand Junction in the future.
“That’s where downtowns are generally changing,” he said, noting his surprise at the number of Durango residents who indicated in a recent survey that they would like to live downtown. “You want it lively and vital.”
Despite the state of Seventh and Main, Simons said he is optimistic about what could be in store for the area in the coming years.
“I’m a big believer in entrepreneurship,” he said. “Someone will come up with some ideas for these buildings and properties that the community will support and make economically viable.”