Downtown director on the job

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Brandon Stam has been impressed with downtown Grand Junction since his first visit — including the artwork, streetscaping and businesses operating there. “It has a lot of things going for it.”

But as the newly hired executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, Stam now looks at downtown from a different perspective and with a vision of an increasingly prominent role for the district in contributing to the economic well-being of the community.

Stam brings to his position experience in economic development, city planning and program management. He worked as an economic development specialist for Pueblo County and before that a city planner in Farmington, N.M., and program manager for the Rio Grande Community Development Corp. in Albuquerque, N.M. He holds master’s degrees in community and regional planning and public administration from the University of New Mexico.

Stam said he expects to draw upon all those experiences and was attracted to the job in Grand Junction in large part because it’s good fit with his background. “It just seemed like a fun melding of all that.”

Stam was selected in August from among four finalists for a position that’s been vacant since December, when a contract with John Schneiger was terminated after less than two months on the job. Schneiger in turn succeeded Harry Weiss, who served as director of both the DDA and Downtown Grand Junction Business Improvement District, but left in 2015 to take a position in Louisiana.

The Downtown Development Authority uses what’s called tax increment financing to fund capital improvement projects that maintain and promote a viable business district downtown. 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.

Stam said his first task will involve outreach in getting to know people and organizations involved in the downtown and economic development. The next task will involve working with the DDA board of directors to chart what Stam described as a map to help determine the proper direction for the authority and the projects that will best move downtown forward, he said.

While the downtown — and the Grand Valley generally — is well positioned for growth, the area also faces challenges in lagging behind other areas of Colorado economically, Stam said.

The Grand Valley shares some similarities with Pueblo, Stam said, in ongoing efforts to diversify the economy and reduce dependence on one industry. The Grand Valley has depended on the energy sector and felt the effects of a slowdown in oil and natural gas development related to low commodity prices. Pueblo long has depended on the steel industry, he said.

A vibrant downtown can help diversify the Grand Valley economy in part by attracting more members of the millennial generation who prefer an urban setting, but also expect a lot of amenities and activities, Stam said.

The Grand Valley could enjoy an advantage over the Front Range of Colorado in that the Grand Valley offers a quality of life with mountain biking and other outdoor recreational opportunities, but at a lower cost and without as many people, he added.

The downtown also can play an important role in promoting tourism.

To that end, Stam said efforts must continue to promote downtown as well as guide visitors from the Interstate Highway 70 exchanges to the district.

As a mountain bike enthusiast himself, Stam said he’s amazed by the reputation Fruita has developed as a recreational destination. Downtown Grand Junction can similarly develop a reputation as an attractive destination in its own right, he added.

Encouraging downtown businesses to stay open later and offering more to do after hours could help increase the number of people downtown and in turn bolster sales for downtown businesses, Stam said.

Durango offers a good example of how those efforts pay off, he said.

Regardless of the exact directions the Downtown Development Authority heads and the various efforts it undertakes, Stam said he’s looking forward to his involvement in the process.

A vibrant downtown plays a crucial role in maintaining economic health, he said. “I think the downtown is the heartbeat of a community.”