Downtown developments: Authority director out to build on assets

Phil Castle, The Business Times

 Harry Weiss recalls two immediate impressions of downtown Grand Junction. The first was the design and construction of recently completed renovations. The second was the long-term presence of many of the businesses operating there.

“Those two things were really quite impressive,” says Weiss, who as the new executive director of the Downtown Development Authority expects to build on assets both new and old in promoting the vitality of downtown.

Harry Weiss
As the new executive director of the Downtown Development Authority in Grand Junction, Harry Weiss expects to become involved in a range of efforts to promote economic development downtown. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

With the completion earlier this year of the so-called Uplift Project and major renovations along Main Street, Seventh Street and Colorado Avenue downtown, another similarly large capital construction project isn’t yet in the works, Weiss says. But the DDA will continue to look for opportunities to invest in projects that promote economic development — including efforts that create additional housing, retail operations and jobs.

At the same time, Weiss expects the DDA to play prominent roles in drafting an updated city plan for the greater downtown area as well as potential changes to the Interstate Highway 70 Business Loop through the area.

Hired about a month ago to succeed Heidi Hoffman Ham, Weiss brings to his new duties more than 20 years of experience in downtown development and historic preservation in Asheville, a city of about 80,000 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.

Weiss worked for 10 years as urban projects director for Public Interest Projects, a private business and real estate development firm that invests in downtown projects. For the 10 years before that, he served as executive director of the nonprofit Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County and was involved in the redevelopment of historic properties. Weiss also served as chairman of the historic preservation department at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

In Grand Junction, Weiss oversees in the Downtown Development Authority an organization that taps what’s called tax increment financing to fund capital improvement projects that maintain and promote a viable business district downtown. A ballot measure approved in April allows the DDA to continue to issue bonds for a total of up to $65 million over the next 20 years to finance projects.

In addition, a business improvement district downtown imposes an assessment on commercial properties that raises funding for advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations and special events. The Downtown Association carries out marketing and promotional efforts.

While Weiss doesn’t foresee any large capital projects in the immediate future, the authority remains on the lookout for projects that promote what he considers three important components of downtown development in housing, retail operations and jobs.

There’s capacity downtown for additional second-floor renovations for apartments or office space as well as opportunities to recruit new retailers and develop riverfront amenities, he says.

The downtown offers a good location to nurture such locally owned and idiosyncratic businesses as specialty and boutique stores, he says. “Downtowns are the incubators of small business.”

The DDA also will play a prominent role in drafting an updated city plan that will guide land use and development in the downtown area, Weiss says.

Still other changes could be in store as the Colorado Department of Revenue considers improvements for a stretch of the Interstate 70 Business Loop that runs through downtown, Weiss says. A route that now follows Ute and Pitkin avenues could be shifted south a block to Pitkin and South avenues.

Weiss says he’s looking forward to efforts to take advantage of and expand upon existing elements of the downtown, whether that’s recently completed renovations or the long-term presence of businesses, some of which have operated there for a century.

“It’s very promising,” he says.