Imagine Downtown!
Special to the Post | 12/17/12

The Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (PSCDC) compared strategic plans with the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce in a Chamber Board meeting.  Downtown revitalization appeared on both our plans, so we decided to work this initiative together.

You only need stroll or drive through downtown to realize that there are about 20 vacant storefronts and other businesses may be struggling to survive.  It is past time to take action to save our precious downtown, as the heart of our community.

In July, the PSCDC had become a member of Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) and Udgar Parsons of our PSCDC Board of Directors attended one of their conferences in Westcliffe.  In October, the CDC obtained a couple of small grants, paid the remaining $4,500 fee and  partnered with the Chamber of Commerce to bring DCI here to perform an assessment of our downtown

DCI reviewed past downtown revitalization efforts and work products before their visit November 13-14.  While they were here, they met with Town/County officials and staff, non-profits, service groups like the school district, local business owners and interested citizens—a broad cross-section of our community—to gather input.  They also toured our downtown and spoke to tourists and locals on the street.

The final evening, they presented a draft presentation of their recommendations to members of the community including local officials.  You can download the presentation from the PSCDC website.

Here's a summary of the DCI report:

We have many natural assets and a rich history that we should embrace:

  • River is an incredible draw
  • The environment is a finite resource – consider the use carefully
  • Our history is a treasure and a story to be told
  • Human capital and organizational know-how are both broad and deep in Pagosa
  • Geothermal is our unique niche opportunity - Creates distinction between our community and others around the globe competing for Tourism monies.

General Recommendations

Identify a Downtown Champion – Simplify with a single point of contact for who works toward a safe and clear environment, vibrant downtown appearance, healthy businesses, partnerships, communication, and events.  Consider options for creating an organization, financing, and voice for the downtown businesses and property owners.  Could use the PSCDC which is already ongoing, form a DDA (Downtown Development Authority), BID (Business Improvement District like Durango’s) or leverage the Colorado Main Street program via DCI to get organized.

Cultivate community cohesion - Focus on regular and transparent venues to discuss current initiatives, such as a “community coffee and conversation” meeting each month. The PSCDC also has monthly community meetings where ideas can be exchanged.  Communicate priorities & collaborate. Create a regular downtown update from the Downtown focal point for Town Council and County Commissioners.

Engage our youth – Pagosa is lacking community engagement & professional development for young people. Regularly plan with school and all education and youth providers to develop communications with young people to engaging youth in business development, marketing, city/county advisory functions, etc.  Have students participate in beautification opportunities.  Training programs for young entrepreneurs.

Enhance events – Reduce resource usage through greater collaboration among event organizations. Identify the downtown objectives for events e.g. retail sales, generating foot traffic, etc. (look beyond lodger’s tax). Focus on quality over quantity.  Have regular retail events like “Pagosa Streetwalkers” that get locals and tourists downtown and keep businesses open later.

Physical Improvement Recommendations

Work to develop key properties – infill properties located along the highway that can be used to house new businesses or grab the casual tourist off the highway such as a geothermal billboard or visitor’s center.

Use vacant or underutilized buildings as office space for non-profits or business start-ups - Win-win-win opportunity.  Lower costs for owners and tenants, bring life back to downtown.

Re-activate and beautify vacant storefronts with creative displays – use local artists to decorate windows, geothermal diorama or historical displays.  Encourage entrepreneurs, artists and community groups to occupy space for short- and long-term use.

Create critical residential mass downtown – to help develop “after 5pm” activities.  Live/work spaces and affordable housing for families.   LEED development will enhance our geothermal/alternative energy identity.

Continue to implement the concepts from the 2008 Streetscape Furnishings and Signage Plan - to improve signage and wayfinding to connect all the pieces of the community together in one cohesive visual package.

Make downtown signage pedestrian-friendly - All businesses downtown should have a primary and a secondary sign to accommodate highway traffic and pedestrians.

Add color and excitement around the overlook with the addition of trees, plantings, colored shade features over the picnic area to entice tourists to stop.  Work with CDOT to get a “scenic overlook” guide sign.

Utilize the back wall of the jail/courthouse building for a large-scale mural using local artists. Tell the history of Pagosa Springs or visualize the geothermal opportunities in Pagosa.

Light up the downtown after 5pm - Businesses should light keep their windows dimly lit at night and use gooseneck lights to illuminate signage at night.

Economic & Business Development Recommendations

Participate in a community dialogue as to what is meant by “economic development” with the goal of reaching consensus. The players on all sides of current disputes need to set aside the differences. Compromise will be imperative. Include the Town, County and PSCDC.

There is a lack of understanding about how and for what reasons decisions are being made regarding Economic Development.

We need to create jobs to keep our young families here.  By 2016, 58% of population will be over 45 years of age.

Consider a Business Incubator site to allow light industrial Artisan manufacturing to grow into viable small businesses with global market and to create and attract more geothermal and alternative energy businesses.  Incentivize strategic developments.

Consider the true impact of economic development projects - Is it irreversible? How long is it economic? Who does it benefit/hurt?  Who should pay?  Example:  Reservoir Hill and the San Juan River.

Marketing/Communications Recommendations

Consolidate publications and web sites – include all businesses.  Develop a collaborative marketing campaign.  Get one brochure and coupon package into all local hotels and restaurants.  Consider combined efforts at attracting conventions, activity groups, and interest groups through developing clear specifications for what the town can manage in rooms and meeting space and proactively seeking out events.

Distribute ONE tourist brochure to all hotels and restaurants to minimize business advertising costs

ONE Visitor’s Guide where all businesses can advertise

Funding Recommendations

Embrace the time bank as a community resource.

Property owner mill levy - For a BID or DDA

Tax increment financing – DDA only for sales tax and/or property tax

Volunteers, grants, charitable donations, etc. for PSCDC and/or Main Street Colorado, a DOLA/DCI program

Special assessments/membership fees – Chamber of Commerce, etc.

Next Steps

While we await the full written DCI report for Pagosa Springs due by year-end, we wanted to differentiate this Imagine Downtown initiative from past efforts by taking some action immediately.  We want to make some immediate progress that is high impact and low cost.  Two teams were formed at our follow up Imagine Downtown meeting of 11/29:

  • A window-decorating team to spruce up our downtown—especially empty storefronts for the holidays and
  • A team to work on identifying a downtown champion organization and address associated funding opportunities.

These two teams are already at work! Look for upcoming stories on each.  Our next public “Imagine Downtown” meeting will be Thursday, January 3rd at 6:00 PM at the Community Center South Conference room.  Come and join us!  Volunteer, get involved and make a difference for your community!

About the PSCDC
The mission of the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation is to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County by creating jobs; encouraging new capital investment; and creating a business friendly community. In addition, the CDC will work closely with existing businesses in order to maximize their profitability and sustainability.

About DCI
Every day Downtown Colorado, Inc. strengthens communities across Colorado by supporting local governments in their efforts to support small businesses and grow a sustainable local economy. We achieve this by providing advocacy, technical assistance training, and educational events, often with the voluntary services of our wonderful membership base of professional downtown revitalization experts. DCI approaches commercial district and downtown revitalization through a comprehensive framework of downtown management, marketing, design, and economic development.


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