Creating New Life Downtown
by Kati O'Hare
Oct 13, 2012 | 1741 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

MONTROSE – When Montrose started to grow, more than a decade ago, businesses and development were concentrated around the city's south end. But as the area, along with the country, crawls out of a recession, there is a new focus – downtown.

"Downtown has a neglected past," said Scott Shine, former city planner and current director of Montrose's Downtown Development Authority. "But now we are seeing a change in both private and public investments [in downtown], as well as in public support."

The Montrose downtown district is 120 years old, and many of the old buildings haven't seen upgrades since the 1960s and 70s, Shine said. And when the economy hit its peak in 2006-07, the city put infrastructure dollars into its growing south end, as did investors.

Several entities over the past decades have tried to draw attention to Montrose's deteriorating downtown, and sought ways to boost the area's appeal. But these failed efforts were followed by failed businesses and soon, there were more than a dozen empty storefronts.

In April 2010, the city's first downtown development authority was created in an effort to put life back into the city's core.

Currently, only a few shops sit vacant, and the number of new businesses that have moved into the area within the past year signal its rebirth.

"I'm pretty positive about downtown," said Sandy Schlauger, owner of Wild Rose at 206 E. Main St. "Sure, we've been through some hardships, but I think the only way is up, and that is where we are headed."

Schlauger bought her business 17 years ago. A couple years ago, she moved to a new downtown building, but her former location is still vacant.

Other buildings have new tenants, however, and several of the buildings have had makeovers.

Sonja Horn, owner of Fabula, at 306 E. Main St., installed new flooring in the former gun store location. She's happy that she chose downtown for her new home and gift boutique.

"I chose downtown because I like the community feel – it's where the heart of the town is," she said. "And I'm really glad I did. I really like to participate in those events that happen here, and the other owners are all supportive, as well as the DDA."

Across the street, Pam Dunlap relocated her store, Tattered Rabbit, from Delta.

"I wanted to be in a historic district because I wanted to open something that didn't feel like anything else; I wanted a boutique," she said.

The Tattered Rabbit is a kids’ clothing store, and Dunlap is kicking off a storytime program in her shop on Oct. 20. On any given day, kids can be  found wheeling around the clothing racks on tricycles.

These unique and diverse stores are what makes a downtown vibrant, Shine said, as well as having regular community events – and people living in the downtown area.

The DDA has been working hard on all these fronts.

"I think the DDA really helps focus and draw that attention to investing in this core, which defines who we are," he said. "There is a pattern now for a community to turn back to its core and invest in what makes it unique."

More than 18 new businesses have opened within the DDA's boundaries so far in 2012, and though seven businesses have closed during that time, the DDA has recorded more than $1.2 million has been invested by the private sector into downtown's infrastructure and buildings, as well as roughly $650,000 invested, in public funds.

Recently, Montrose City Council approved the Downtown Opportunity Fund, an incentive program through the DDA and the city that helps property and business owners invest in their properties by offering low-interest loans up to $20,000.

A loan can be obtained for such usages as signage, building improvements, modifications that improve access or code corrections.

The DDA also is working to get residents in the downtown area, as well as trying to reach out to residents already there to create pride and support for where they live, Shine said.

Shine also has had discussions with Colorado Mesa University, which has a campus within DDA jurisdiction, to discuss getting more students living in the downtown core.

This year, more events have been hosted on Main Street than ever before, to which end a new events plaza was constructed on South Second Street.

In the next year, Shine said he'd like to draw even more events to the plaza to bring downtown together.

Other goals for next year include adding signage, and the DDA is discussing the possibility of installing a kiosk for announcing upcoming events and promotions.

Frank Jarosz, new owner of Briarwood Inns at 1225 E. Main St., hopes to see more advertising that ties Montrose into one of its main attractions — The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

"One thing I have noticed is that the Black Canyon really isn't associated with Montrose," he said.

For more than a year, Montrose's Association of Commerce and Tourism has been working to promote "Look Deeper," its new brand for the city, and tie in area advertising to the idea that Montrose has a lot to offer – from the Black Canyon to its unique shops and boutiques – if only people looked a little deeper.

Another improvement on local business-owners' wish lists is the construction of Main Street through downtown – as has been done in Grand Junction.

"I'd like more sidewalk space, kid zones and something that would slow down traffic," Horn said.

Dunlap agreed, saying, "If I had a magic wand, I'd like to see narrower streets like in Grand Junction's downtown. Montrose is so nice and there is so much to do here. We could do it."

Tying in the Uncompahgre River, area parks and trails, which are only a few blocks from downtown's core, also is a goal of the DDA – and supported by business owners.

Shine said the DDA would like to see sidewalks improved and better access from Montrose's East Main Street to the river, but a project like that comes with a $7 to $10 million price tag.

"I think if we can get river rafting going, that would be a definite plus," Schlauger said. "We could be like Durango or Glenwood Springs. We are sitting here with everything we need, we just need to make it happen."

Kati O'Hare at or Tweet @katiohare

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