Earlier this year, the travel-planning website TripAdvisor included Grand Junction among its "Most Charming Downtowns in America" based on an average traveler rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
That's solid, if not spectacular, affirmation that downtown boosters have succeeded in turning the downtown area into a tourist draw. Out-of-towners enjoy the Art on the Corner sculptures, the interesting shops, pubs and restaurants and the pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.
Thankfully the men and women who have shaped the downtown experience aren't content to rest on their laurels. For the past year, the Downtown Development Authority has spearheaded a planning process to identify new priorities moving forward.
The current development plan was created (along with the DDA) in 1981. To say an update is overdue is an understatement. Clearly, the downtown has flourished even as the original planning document has approached obsolescence. And we know, generally, from projects the DDA has pushed that it wants to make downtown a great place to live and work — not just to visit.
But it's good to see a formal plan outlining specifics — things that have been mentioned in You Said It or letters to the editor or over cups of coffee — that seek to spread the downtown vibrancy over a greater area. That doesn't happen without guidance and the $60,000 the DDA earmarked to identify priorities seems like money well spent.
Priorities of the new downtown development plan are to improve connectivity, find opportunities for placemaking and infill development. Among ways to achieve those priorities are:
■ Convert Fourth and Fifth streets to two-way streets.
■ Prioritize pedestrian and bike improvements through downtown and to the Colorado River.
■ Create a Second Street promenade to connect the Train Depot to the Two Rivers Plaza.
■ Extend downtown vibrancy from Main Street to Colorado Avenue between Fourth and Seventh streets.
■ Encourage more community gathering and event space.
■ Activate alleys and breezeways
■ Find strategies for Whitman Park.
■ Develop programs to better utilize parking.
■ Develop grant programs to incentivize small scale local reinvestment in downtown.
■ Lead strategic catalytic development projects and reduce blight within the DDA boundary.
As the Sentinel Joe Vaccarelli reported, the plan still needs to go before the city's Planning Commission and the City Council, but it was shaped by stakeholder input in workshops facilitated by Community Builders — the same nonprofit that helped the city conduct a downtown housing study.
In other words, the bones of the plan come from citizens, property and business owners in the downtown area whose expertise should signal to the council that these ideas are sensible, doable and game-changing if they get some attention. We encourage the council to keep the stakeholders involved in the process of implementing the plan. We also hope that the DDA will identify some near-term projects for 2020, to keep the momentum going.