New direction for North: Business owners consider revitalization efforts

Phil Castle, The Business Times

North Avenue meeting
Poppy Wood, left, and her daughter, Kahnie Johnson. operate Grand Mesa Medical along North Avenue in Grand Junction. The two are among business and property owners pushing for renovations along the thoroughfare.

Poppy Woody has operated a medical supply business along North Avenue in Grand Junction for nearly 30 years.

Over that span, Woody has watched as what was once one of the most vibrant commercial districts in the city has lost grocery stores, restaurants and hotels to other areas. While traffic along North Avenue remains brisk, more and more motorists are driving to other destinations rather than stopping and shopping, she says. At the same time, the appearance of many areas along the street has deteriorated or become outdated.

Woody believes the long and slow decline can be reversed, however, and has joined in organizing a group of business and property owners along North Avenue in what she hopes will be renewed efforts to revitalize the area.

“It’s going to be a while. We have a lot of work to do. But it’s not something that’s impossible,” says Woody, the owner along with her daughter, Kahnie Johnson, of Grand Mesa Medical Supply.

About 40 people attended an initial meeting held in mid-May to discuss what can be done to improve the North Avenue corridor, Woody says. A second meeting is set for 6 p.m. June 4 at the JF Strothman Distillery at 2862 North Ave.

“We’re only in the beginning stages,” Woody says. “We’re just taking baby steps right now.”

The timing couldn’t be better, though, as the City of Grand Junction proceeds on work to implement comprehensive plans for the North Avenue corridor, says David Thornton, principal planner for the city.

Thornton welcomes the involvement of  business and property owners in that process as well as a possible new group that could assume a leading role in promoting the development and marketing of the area. “It’s really pretty exciting.”

The outcome could be substantial given the scale of the district. North Avenue stretches more than 4 miles through the middle of Grand Junction — from its intersection with the Interstate Highway 70 Business Loop on the east to the point where it merges with U.S. Highway 6&50 on the west.

Hundreds of businesses operate along the corridor. Woody says she sent letters to a total of nearly 560 business and property owners inviting them to the first meeting.

While North Avenue isn’t as prominent a business district as it once was, tax revenue from retail sales there accounted for 11 percent of overall city collections in 2011, Thornton says. Moreover, a number of large employers are located along North Avenue, among them Colorado Mesa University and the Veterans Administration Medical Center, he says.

The size of North Avenue makes it a diverse area that also includes office space and even housing, Thornton says.

Given the scope involved, it could take a long time to turn a new vision for North Avenue into reality on the street, he says. “I think it’s going to take a great effort.”

That effort has begun, however, in several ways.

Woody says she was pleased with the initial meeting of business and property owners along North Avenue. “It was a very productive meeting.”

Participants discussed their goals for North Avenue, ways in which to achieve them and what kind of group or association could play a role in that process, she says.

One of the immediate goals mentioned at the meeting was to give North Avenue “a bath” in sweeping the street and cleaning up the area, she says. Other goals include fixing medians and implementing and enforcing more consistent regulations for landscaping and signs, she says.

The ultimate goal would be to develop a distinctive district that attracts businesses and their customers, she adds. “We’re different. We’re unique. And we want that.”

Business and property owners at the meeting also discussed whether there’s a need to form an association or some other type of group to promote the revitalization of North Avenue, Woody says.

There’s interest in establishing a business improvement district in which property owners would pay taxes to raise funding for improvements, she says.

Meanwhile, the City of Grand Junction is in the process of developing what are called overlays to implement two long-range plans for the North Avenue corridor.

Thornton says city planners are working with an advisory committee of about 20 people that meet once or twice a month to work on the overlays.

The overlays follow the adoption of two corridor plans for North Avenue — the first for the 3-mile stretch from 12th Street east to the Interstate 70 Business Loop and a second for the 1-mile section from 12th Street west to U.S. Highway 6 & 50.

Given the size and diversity of the North Avenue corridor, the plans call for mixed uses that include retail stores, but also office space and housing, Thornton says.

The plan would create districts along various portions of North Avenue to accommodate various uses. Student housing, entertainment venues and a hotel would be located near CMU. Another district might offer housing for seniors along with a grocery store and neighborhood retail outlets. Still another district could feature multi-family housing or stores that serve as regional attractions.

Thornton says there’s the opportunity for mixed uses on both a horizontal and vertical basis. On a horizontal basis, stores, offices and apartments would be located in close proximity. On a vertical basis, buildings would feature stores and offices on the ground level with housing above that.

There are several examples of what could be developed, including the building CMU erected along North Avenue that features both stores and dormitory rooms, Thornton says.

The Fiesta Guadalajara restaurant constructed at the intersection of North Avenue and Seventh Street demonstrates what can  be done in locating a building closer to the street with parking along the side or in the rear, Thornton says.

Safety and aesthetics also must be taken into account in revitalizing North Avenue, Thornton says.

Sidewalks range in width from 8 feet to 2 feet in some areas and are nonexistent in other areas. A ditch runs along North Avenue in still another area. “There are some very bad situations out there.”

While North Avenue has experienced a decline over the decades, the changes to what remains an important business district aren’t irreversible, Thornton says. “North Avenue is not there now and we don’t want it to get there.”

Woody has watched some of those changes over the last 30 years. But she also remains optimistic about the future of North Avenue given renewed efforts to revitalize the area. “We’re going in the right direction,” she says. “We’re getting some momentum.”