North Avenue evolution a matter of time
Four years ago I attended the Rocky Mountain Commercial Brokers conference in Avon. The keynote speaker was Clark Andersen, who as director of Community Builders works all over the Western United States helping smaller communities with transportation planning.
Clark discussed the role of context-based transportation planning in economic development. He cited Bozeman, Mont., as an example, explaining the quality of life appeal for companies in small town America. Then he advanced his slide show to an image I immediately recognized as North Avenue. Andersen turned to address the audience and said, “Here is a town that doesn’t get it.”
At first, I thought, “This guy doesn’t get it.” He doesn’t understand the things being done on North Avenue. He doesn’t understand the budget difficulties Grand Junction faces. He doesn’t know about the catalyst program in the works, the open houses, the steering committees or plans for the city’s complete street project.
Clark isn’t right about our town or North Avenue, but is entitled to his opinion. He just happened to have stopped by during a period of rebirth that’s not yet apparent. Although many probably wonder if North Avenue will ever emerge from its cocoon, the corridor continues to offer viable place to own and operate a business.
While North Avenue has a higher vacancy rate than the rest of Grand Junction, commercial lease rates are as high as downtown.
How can this be? There are a lot of people on North Avenue. Whether they live nearby or use the corridor to get to and from work, go to Colorado Mesa University for class, buy a new phone or tractor, get a fresh wax from the Board and Buckle or Salon Professional Academy, grab a quick bite to eat, attend a job fair at the Mesa County Workforce Center, pick out flooring for a remodel or just some donuts and coffee for an early morning meeting, the number of people on North Avenue gives businesses exposure not duplicated in any other part of the city.
Proof of the amount of business conducted on North Avenue is evident in the sales tax revenues generated from the corridor, the third highest area in the city. North Avenue businesses collect 11 percent of all the sales tax in the city, about $4.5 million every year.
North Avenue as a commercial corridor might just be two lanes running east and west, but it’s squeezed together by the highest concentration of housing in the city. The proximity of housing and enterprise is a recipe for success in itself. With the presence of such economic drivers such as CMU, the Veterans Affairs Hospital and Lincoln Park sports and recreation complex, the evolution of North Avenue as a vibrant mixed use destination is only a matter of time.
In looking forward to the future of North Avenue, there are things we can do to speed up the evolution. We can continue infrastructure upgrades. Adding detached sidewalks and pedestrian lighting make North Avenue more accessible and inviting to residents and students. Adding bus pullouts improves traffic flow and safety. Landscaping makes the corridor more attractive.
We can also use the regenerative power of the urban renewal authority, a tool helping numerous other communities in Colorado stay competitive and address aging infrastructure. Redeveloped properties will increase revenues to the city as well as beautify the corridor.
Rebranding this corridor gives relevancy to who we are and our future potential. We can replace the stigma North Avenue has earned and choose instead to embrace the citizen movement to rename it University Boulevard. The new identity acknowledges the presence of a diverse, intellectual and highly educated community.
The revitalization of North Avenue will make our community a better place to live, increase property values and tax revenues and decrease vacancies on the corridor.