POR: Heidi Hoffman Ham March 08, 2009
New director hopes to expand appeal of downtown GJ
Every time Heidi Hoffman Ham peers outside her office window, the executive director of the Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority sees one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Grand Valley.
She takes in the view of an area that is generally holding up against the recession while it attempts to transition from a part-time place to eat, drink and be entertained to a full-time neighborhood.
But she also senses something is missing from downtown Grand Junction: an element that caters to kids.
Perhaps that sense comes from having a 13-year-old daughter. Or previously working on parks and recreation projects. Or offering the perspective of a relative newcomer to the area.
Nine months into her new job, Ham finds herself attempting to strike a balance between furthering the vision of those who went before her and putting her own stamp on downtown.
“I like the variety of things we do,” she said of the organization charged with promoting and developing downtown. “I love being in the center of our community.”
Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Ham’s initial career track was in public health. She graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in nutrition and was particularly focused on issues relating to maternal health.
During graduate school at the University of Colorado, however, her focus shifted to government. She was hired as the assistant town manager in Rangely, where she met her husband, Chris, who worked as a recreation planner for the Bureau of Land Management.
She then moved to Meeker to become the executive director of the Eastern Rio Blanco Recreation and Park District. She spent five years there and oversaw the construction of an $8.5 million community recreation center last year.
After five years in Meeker, Ham and her family wanted to move to a larger community while remaining on the Western Slope. When she learned about the DDA job here, she saw elements of her previous jobs — forging public policy in Rangely and marketing and recreation in Meeker.
Ham has taken the reins of the organization at a time when downtown is attempting to shed its image of a place that largely rolls up its sidewalks at 5 p.m. by creating more living units through additional hotel rooms and new or rebuilt multifamily housing.
“Most vibrant downtowns have a housing component,” she said.
While efforts to beautify and enhance downtown have recently focused on Main Street, Seventh Street and Colorado Avenue, Ham agreed with others that there are opportunities to expand that work into south and west downtown.
She also has her own ideas about how downtown may look in the future.
Ham believes the city and DDA need to do more to make the area attractive to children and families, whether that’s through commissioning Art on the Corner pieces that children can climb on, building a pocket park or play area or simply adding more public restrooms. Downtown as it exists now, she said, largely caters to an adult crowd.
“We’ve thought of it more as a business district, but I think we want to see people treat it as their home and have benches to sit on that are comfortable and have things to do,” she said.
Ham also wants to do more to direct people downtown from other areas of the city, particularly to visitors who hop off Interstate 70 at the Horizon Drive exit and never see anything beyond the hotels and restaurants there.
“We’re trying to be the downtown for everybody,” she said.