There’s an amphitheater. What’s next?
“Progress involves risks. You can’t steal second and keep your foot on first.” – Frederick Wilcox
It was toasty last week as we sought shady chairs at the dedication of the new amphitheater in Los Colonias Park. Things were a bit cooler later back on the lawn as we listened to the first of many concerts to come at the new centerpiece along Grand Junction’s south downtown riverfront.
The history of “The Colony,” employer-built apartments for sugar beet workers, is explained in signage near the amphitheater. Jose Luis Chavez, a descendant of those workers, recalled six-day work weeks followed by music and dancing, activities that’ll now return via the amphitheater.
“How many plans have we all seen for this area,” I asked Kathy Portner and Keith Fife, the husband and wife team of longtime city and county planners, between the dedication and music.
A bunch, we agreed. My initiation came in the early 1990s as a county commissioner engaged with the Department of Energy in the mill tailings removal project. Part of that work involved looking at future uses of the land where uranium processing took place. I remember sharing another hot stage with then-senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, both of us talking about the future importance of the remediated riverfront.
Kathy recalled a dinosaur-themed plan, complete with a Brontosaurus Lake. My earliest recollection was of a design project, perhaps that same one, by students from one of our Colorado universities. There’ve been others since. There’ll likely be a few more.
My own history down there is longer. A half century ago, shovel in hand, I was loading “free sand” onto the flatbed of the 1953 GMC that served as the workhorse at the ranch owned by my grandfather and uncle. The destination was the Spehar home a few blocks away on Main Street, where we backfilled tailings against a new foundation.
Last Thursday, I also thought of another plan gathering dust down at City Hall, one done a dozen years ago for another city-owned property on the other side of the Fifth Street bridge.
My friends and I also prowled its grounds as teenagers, scrounging parts from Bill and Betty Jarvis’ junkyard for our old vehicles. Like Los Colonias, the city acquired it after cleanup by the Department of Energy.
In 2004-2005, a months-long planning effort led by a city-paid consultant envisioned a mixed use development for what’s known as the Jarvis property, one combining live/work spaces and thoughtfully transitioning into the Riverside community. It’d provide river access for boating and other activities and make easily viewable the “Grand Junction,” the namesake confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado rivers that most Grand Junction residents have never seen.
Local real estate and development professionals participated. Advice came from others with redevelopment experience, including Dana Crawford, midwife to the rebirth of Larimer Square and the Oxford Hotel in Denver.
Crawford noted the risk taking and out of the box thinking that re-imagined our downtown in the 1960s, saying that same effort could transform an empty piece of riverfront into a community centerpiece.
“You have the opportunity to turn this into a beacon for Grand Junction,” local commercial real estate broker Dale Beede added. “This is your stamp on the city.”
Then the project had an estimated $70 million price tag, half the projected cost of the ill-fated events center. Arguably, economic and community benefits would be greater.
Tangible progress so far has been limited to designing the adjoining Riverside Parkway section to accommodate redevelopment and city acquisition of some additional property along the railroad tracks. Along the way, there’s been another failed events center proposed for the area.
The quote that began this column is from a piece I wrote about the Jarvis property for the Grand Junction Free Press in late 2004. Here’s another, containing a challenge, from that same column.
“I am so impressed with this community and its history of risk taking,” Dana Crawford said. “This has the potential to be an incredibly beautiful place, a marvelous place to live.”
Perhaps it’s time to dust off that 12-year-old plan and kick start the same sort of transformation on the Jarvis property as we’ve begun on the east side of the Fifth Street bridge.