Grand Junction’s downtown has few rivals in similar-size cities
When visitors come to Grand Junction for the first time and it comes time for some sightseeing, there are Grand Mesa and Colorado National Monument, of course. But chances are that high on that list is also Main Street.
I’ll stick my neck out and say there aren’t many communities our size — any size, for that matter — who can say that.
I was reminded of that last week when I was in my hometown of Hannibal, Mo. It likes to call itself, “America’s Hometown.” It can call itself whatever it wants, but it has its share of problems.
Not that Grand Junction is perfect, but here’s one dilemma we don’t have: The building next to City Hall isn’t condemned and the owner isn’t trying to get the city to take it off his hands.
That’s exactly what’s happening in my, and America’s, hometown. In fact, the main thoroughfare of downtown is a decaying, 10-block-long boulevard of a few taverns, an occasional pawn shop, a barber shop or two, one still-thriving family jewelry store and a lot of boarded up storefronts that haven’t seen the business end of a paintbrush for decades.
It’s sad, really. When I was a kid, that section of town, at least the way I recall it, was full of mom-and-pop businesses and was the retail and cultural center of town. It had the town’s only cinema. The town park had a bandstand and there was frequent live music. Two hotels catered to traveling businessmen and tourists who flocked to see Mark Twain’s boyhood home.
Not to be too hard on my hometown. North Main Street, which is the center of the Mark Twain historic district and was unsafe after dark in the 1950s, has been wonderfully restored and redeveloped.
But downtown Hannibal is a far cry from downtown Grand Junction.
For that we should thank a few people. I’m going to name some of them here. I know I’m going to miss a few. In fact, I’ll probably miss more than I’ll name, so I’ll apologize in advance.
We didn’t get the vibrant downtown we have without people with vision. It started in the 1960s with people like Joe Lacy and Dale Hollingsworth and Leland Schmidt and Pat Gormley. Those were the guys who had the idea, Operation Foresight, they called it, and they couldn’t have chosen a better name to make Main Street something special. They did and we still benefit from it.
I can’t help but think they had to contend with the naysayers back then that we still have to contend with today. They undoubtedly had to deal with people who were hell-bent on not spending a nickel of public money on anything other than fixing potholes and paying police officers. They didn’t have to deal with anonymous bloggers and commenters on newspaper websites. But if they had, I’m sure they would have done what we do now and paid no attention to anyone who didn’t put his name behind his opinions.
The point is, they were wise enough to not let the naysayers get in the way of visionary thinking. They went right ahead and laid the groundwork for what has become the heart and soul of our community.
Along the way, others added greatly to that initial effort.
Dave Davis’ Art on the Corner project has been praised and emulated around the country. In the 1980s, then-DDA Director Skip Grkovic led the charge to update some of the older facades on Main Street buildings.
A decade or so ago, Barbara Mahoney began a Thursday night farmers market that now brings thousands of people downtown every Thursday night throughout the summer.
Meanwhile, her boss at the DDA, Harold Stalf, was busy promoting residential space downtown and updating the original work done by Operation Foresight. That work was finished this year.
The serpentine street with lush vegetation envisioned by the original Operation Foresight committee remains, but with an updated vibe and new features. Water fountains attract scores of kids, as does playground equipment. More and more eateries offer outdoor dining.
It all started 50 years ago because a few people had a vision and they were determined. Those are two admirable attributes that I hope are still around.