Civic-arena plan for downtown GJ apparently dead

A year ago, local commercial developer and Realtor Reed Mitchell was busy telling anyone who would listen about his grand plans for the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers.

He held an open house to unveil a proposal to build a 141,000-square-foot, 5,000-seat civic center he dubbed Riverside Arena, an entertainment venue that could host everything from minor-league sporting events to concerts to rodeos. He insisted it would cost taxpayers no money and expressed confidence he would obtain financing through a government loan guarantee and private investors.

He likened his vision for a portion of the 66-acre, city-owned site southwest of downtown to Denver’s Lower Downtown Historic District, an area reclaimed 20 years ago.

“We are going to try and build a LoDo down there,” Mitchell told Mesa County commissioners at the time. “This is going to be fun.”

It has turned out to be anything but.

Riverside Arena is dead even before getting very far off the ground in concept, a victim of the crippled economy, which has made it virtually impossible for Mitchell to secure funding.

“From our standpoint, it doesn’t look like the project is moving forward,” said Rich Englehart, deputy city manager for Grand Junction, which signed a letter of intent with Mitchell. The letter would have allowed Mitchell to lease a slice of the city’s Jarvis property but required that the arena be built by Dec. 31.

Mitchell was brief in his response when contacted last week by The Daily Sentinel.

Asked whether he could talk about the project and the fact it appeared it would not come to fruition, the owner of Award Realty responded, “Not really. Read the newspaper. It’s the capital markets.

“That’s about all I can say. If the capital markets take a turn, we’ll revisit it.”

Mitchell couldn’t get a bank to lend him the money he needed to borrow against a $25 million loan guarantee he hoped to obtain from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That loan would have covered most of the civic arena’s estimated $35 million price tag.

Mitchell also contracted with Convention, Sports and Leisure International, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm, to conduct a feasibility study of the Mesa County Fairgrounds and the civic arena. The study was expected to examine services and facilities that should be offered by the public and private sectors, the civic arena’s footprint on the Jarvis property and the financial prospects of the fairgrounds and the arena.

The study was supposed to be done last summer but remains incomplete, and the county was unable to obtain a $70,000 USDA grant to help pay for the study.

Bill Krueger, director with Convention, Sports and Leisure, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Englehart said the city will proceed with considering other options for developing the property.

He said officials received inquiries a couple of months ago from one developer who expressed interest in building a project similar to Mitchell’s and another in building housing. But he said those inquiries haven’t progressed any further.

The city developed a master plan in 2005 for the Jarvis property that called for a mixed-use project containing 500 multifamily homes and 100,000 square feet of commercial and industrial space. But city leaders have since backed away from that proposal, citing the difficulty and expense of executing it.


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