With council vote, 
vision takes shape

This is a big deal, folks.

The importance of the City Council’s decision Wednesday to turn a portion of the Las Colonias riverfront park into a hub for outdoor commerce can’t be overstated.

Beyond the obvious “win-win” aspects of the deal, which we’ll get to momentarily, it’s important to understand that this is the big payoff for years of small gambles the council has taken. Investments in the Avalon Theater, the North Star Destinations branding study, Las Colonias Park and the park’s amphitheater sparked enough momentum for a remarkable idea to take root.

It’s a shame that the council’s vote to create a business park at Las Colonias didn’t happen sooner. If it had come a month earlier, we think people would be looking at the proposed event center in a new light. Imagine where we would be in two years with this gleaming facility anchoring a robust downtown business environment, next to a redeveloped train depot in close proximity to Las Colonias, where a mix of retailers and outdoor manufacturers will operate amid a playground that will attract outdoor lovers and adrenaline junkies for miles.

If the event center vote fails, we still get a heck of a consolation prize — a business park that may change the face of lower downtown by itself.

Retaining Bonsai Design

If you’ve never heard of Bonsai Design, it’s not for lack of accolades. The home-grown company builds and operates high-end outdoor aerial adventure courses all over the world. In the process of rising to the apex of its field, it’s outgrown itself — twice.

The company was born in Thaddeus and Sarah Shrader’s basement. Five years ago, when it became evident they were a “real company,” they moved into the Union State train depot.

When a developer acquired the property — with the Shraders’ blessing because they supported his vision to redevelop that area of downtown —they were in the market for a new home.

“We started getting shopped,” Thaddeus Shrader to the Sentinel editorial board. Other communities — most notably Ogden, Utah — were interested in luring Bonsai away from Grand Junction and they were offering a lot: free land, office and warehouse space.

Normally, the story ends here,  with Grand Junction losing an important business to a rival. But Kristi Pollard, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership executive director, vowed not to let that happen. She immediately began talking to City Manager Greg Caton about leveraging city resources to create a retention package. Discussions with Bonsai led to a collaborative proposal: the city would put up land at Las Colonias for a business park and offer incentives for Bonsai to stay. Bonsai would anchor the park and work with GJEP to recruit other outdoor retailers. Each could have a facility for product development — think pump track, scuba pond or climbing wall — that would be available to the public. The park could also include interactive features that help people connect with the outdoors.

“It was amazing to see the city go after this project,” Pollard said. “We not only get to keep Bonsai, we’re going to get businesses from Utah to come here. No longer will we take a backseat to anyone in this state.”

The timing was critical, too. Sarah Shrader, who serves on a statewide committee chaired by Luis Benitez, the head of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, noted that Benitez has said whoever creates such a park first, wins.

Creating opportunity

City Council member Duncan McArthur objected to the incentive package, saying it was too generous and he questioned whether it amounts to a subsidy. Thankfully, the rest of council did not share this backward view and voted instead to finally put Grand Junction in a place to be competitive with other communities.

Incentives to retain Bonsai are justified on their own, but this proposal opens the door for other businesses to come to Grand Junction. The Shraders are well connected in the outdoor manufacturing industry. If they’re going recruit, they deserve a great deal.

With this vote, the council has planted a flag to develop a new sector of the economy — one that was identified in the North Star report has having vast potential. They shed a victim’s mentality and opted to create opportunity.

Credit the city for setting the table for business. But this grand idea was hatched because the Shraders didn’t want to abandon the place where they started raising a family. We’re grateful for their efforts to accommodate a bigger vision for the community.


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