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Publish Date: 9/6/2005


Shedding light on the blight
Groups look for ways to restore charm of mid-Main Street

LONGMONT — After years of piecemeal efforts to make Main Street the city’s defining retail corridor, a new push to remake Longmont’s original shopping district is under way.

Consultants are studying whether certain shops, businesses or even whole blocks are blighted.

Community meetings are being held to drum up support from local business owners.

The city is preparing to help build a parking garage aimed at drawing more pedestrian shoppers.

And now a new economic-vitality coordinator is likely to be hired to help, in part, focus attention and energy on Main Street.

Why all the effort?

“For a lot of people in Longmont, Main Street is what defines us,” said Froda Greenberg, the city’s principal planner. “It’s a real identity. We love downtown. We love Main Street.”

Internationally known urban-design consultant Richard Foy of Communication Arts in Boulder said Main Streets evoke a sense of nostalgia in many people. Many Americans are desperate for a sense of connection to their history and community, and Main Streets provide that, he said.

“People care about Main Street because it is a symbolic icon of hometowns, of a sense of place, the epicenter of culture, commerce and community,” said Foy, who helped create Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall 28 years ago. “The Main Street phenomenon had always been taken for granted until these shopping centers came along and created air-conditioned tubs that sucked all the life out of Main Streets.”

Foy, who is not involved in Longmont’s revitalization efforts, said his current clients often ask CommArts to create projects combining the feel of Main Street with modern conveniences such as abundant parking and one-stop shopping.

It makes sense, however, to revitalize existing downtowns, Foy said, because building new infrastructure costs far more. Sometimes, even though the gleaming new shops and stores on the edge of a city call to shoppers, sprucing up what you have is smart, Foy said.

“It makes sense to keep your old car in good shape, well maintained,” he said.

Part of that maintenance for Main Street is the identification of 11 specific “catalyst” sites from Longs Peak Avenue to 17th Avenue, where redevelopment could spark a revitalization of a much larger area.

Among sites on the list are the National Guard Armory at 15th Avenue, the parking lot area around Los Pichones on the 900 block and the now-vacant Hajek Chevrolet lot on the 1400 block.

Part of the Hajek property is already being redeveloped into a car wash, with plans for an auto parts store in the works. Those are not the kind of businesses city leaders want to see leading a renaissance of the area.

If the consultants and city leaders decide those areas are blighted, they would be eligible for federal and local loans and grants for redevelopment.

Until now, the city had been largely content to let private businesses take the lead role in making Main Street successful.

But while those efforts have worked in some sections — the Downtown Development Authority has spearheaded a generally well-regarded renaissance of the southern Main Street area — the mid-Main Street section has not fared as well.

Pawn shops and check-cashing outlets have proliferated, and several vacant gas stations add to the unloved feeling.

To be fair, Longmont’s Main Street is in far better shape than many Main Streets across the United States. The city itself is growing, meaning more people are moving here and will need places to shop. The median household income of Longmont is well above the national level, as is the education level.

In short, Longmont has a lot going for it, and the flagging fortunes of mid-Main Street simply seem to irritate residents and business owners who want to take pride in their city.

“All they’ve got to do is take a little pride,” Marvin DeMers, owner of DeMers Automotive at 1533 Main St., said of his fellow business owners. “A lot of people don’t take care of the weeds in front of their places. All they’re doing is degrading their property and other people’s around. And a lot of these people rent, so they don’t care.”

Much of the attention is being newly refocused because Wal-Mart is building a Supercenter at the north end of Main, and no City Council member wants to be remembered as a leader who let Main Street die without a fight.

Elected officials approved the Wal-Mart because they know it will generate millions of dollars in sales taxes, but they promised to rededicate their attention to Main Street in an attempt to ease fears of the retail giant’s presence so close to the ailing district.

Under the proposal likely to be presented to the City Council, the Leland Consulting Group is expected to recommend the creation of some form of special district to help pay for improvements to the area, including sewer, upscale street lights and even off-street parking.

The specifics of the proposal are still being decided, including just how the money would be raised. One option that appears likely is called “tax increment financing.” Under TIF, the city would funnel a portion of property taxes paid by business owners into an account to pay for improvements.

Terri Boroviak’s parents founded Trepke’s Tire Town at 704 Main St. more than 20 years ago, locating in a central area that today remains a successful location.

“It’s a Main Street in a smaller town. We’ve been there for almost 22 years, and I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” said Boroviak, who now runs the business with her husband. “It’s a central location, and it’s nice to be in the central area.”

Boroviak said Main Street’s fortunes have risen and fallen over the past two decades, and although some parts of the district have improved, some are “dumpy.”

“If the city works with the business owners and all the business owners get involved, it could be a success,” Boroviak said of the proposal to revitalize Main Street. “But it has to be a partnership.”

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

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