New Horizon? Business district plans makeover

By Phil Castle, The Business Times

Renovations have been proposed for a 1.5-mile stretch of Horizon Drive in Grand Junction to improve traffic flow and safety as well as make what proponents say would be a better first impression on visitors. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Clark Atkinson travels along Horizon Drive nearly every weekday on his commute to work and doesn’t like what he sees in terms of the overall appearance of the thoroughfare through the busy business district or the safety of pedestrians dodging traffic as they cross the street.

That’s why Atkinson supports a makeover for Horizon Drive to improve aesthetics, traffic flow and safety. “I’m a believer in this for a number of reasons,” says Atkinson, executive vice president of Shaw Construction and president of a board of directors that oversees a business improvement district along Horizon Drive.

Given the more than $300 million the district generates each year in economic benefits to the Grand Valley, the investment is an important one, Atkinson says. “This is a legacy project in improving our city.”

The board of the Horizon Drive District has proposed renovating a 1.5-mile stretch of Horizon Drive between G and H Roads. While plans haven’t yet been finalized, the initial concept includes new roundabouts at the intersections of Horizon Drive with G Road and Compass Drive as well as two more roundabouts on either side of the interchange with Interstate Highway 70. The design also features several crosswalks as well as landscaping along both sides of Horizon Drive and a median.

Construction on the first of three phases of the project could begin as early as next year, Atkinson says, although the schedule depends on obtaining funding from the City of Grand Junction.

The district board hopes the city will substantially share in the cost what’s estimated as a $5 million to $6 million project.

Mayor Tom Kenyon says the Grand Junction City Council remains supportive of the Horizon Drive District and proposed makeover. Nonetheless, it’s still too early in the budget process to determine if funding will be available for Horizon Drive or other street projects.

Formed in 2004, the Horizon Drive District is comprised of and represents commercial property owners in an area along Horizon Drive between G and H roads. The district collects funding from tax assessed on property in the business improvement district. A seven-member committee appointed by the Grand Junction City Council oversees capital improvements and planning for the area.

Working with the city, the district funded improvements at the Interstate 70 exchange at Horizon Drive, including two murals on the highway overpass that constitute the largest artwork in Grand Junction.

Plans for more comprehensive improvements along Horizon Drive came out of the results of a study conducted by Colorado Mesa University last year for the district, says Victoria Patsantaras, executive director of the district. A majority of firms surveyed for the study said the overall appearance of the Horizon Drive district has the greatest effect on business there. Improved traffic flow as well as improvements to pedestrian and bicycle safety also were suggested.

The study also assessed the economic effects of the Horizon Drive District. With nearly 280 businesses and a total of more than 2,600 employees, the district generates an estimated $300 million in direct, indirect and induced economic value to Mesa County a year. The district includes more than 70 percent of lodging space in Grand Junction and more than 25 percent office space in the city.

Atkinson says the economic contributions of the district to the area compare with those of CMU.

With its proximity to Interstate Highway 70 and the Grand Junction Regional Airport, the Horizon Drive District also serves as a gateway to Grand Junction. More than 20,000 vehicles travel through the district each day and 200,000 airport passengers pass through the district each year, the study found.

That means the district offers the first — and sometimes only — impression of Grand Junction for people traveling through the area, Patsantaras says.

Initial plans for improvements along Horizon Drive in the district were developed by city staff and the local design firm of Ciavonne, Roberts & Associates. Atkinson says the plans address not only current needs, but also projected needs. “We’re trying to be on top of the curve and ahead of the growth.”

Proposed roundabouts are designed to improve traffic flow and safety at two intersections as well as the interchange with Interstate 70 — what Patsantaras calls one of the the most confusing intersections in the city. Medians and crosswalks also are designed to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety, she says.

Landscaping and artwork proposed as part of the improvements are designed to improve the aesthetics of Horizon Drive and create a unique image for the district.

The initial response from some business and property owners in the district has been reserved, but generally favorable, Patsantaras says. “They recognize that we need to plan for the future.”

Brenda Brock, manager of the Alpine Bank location on Horizon Drive and another member of the district board, agrees. “Most people feel really optimistic about this.”

Pedestrian safety constitutes an important concern given what Brock says she’s seen happen as people try to cross the busy street. “It’s scary sometimes.” But it’s also important that Grand Junction make a more lasting impression on travelers with a unique entryway, she adds. “We want to be able to stand out.”

Plans call for construction of the Horizon Drive improvements in three phases, starting with the section of the street between H Road south to Compass Drive. The second phase would involve the section between Compass Drive and Interstate 70. The third and final phase would involve the section between the highway and G Road.

The construction schedule depends on the availability of funding for the project, Atkinson says. If funding is available, the first phase could start next year.

Initial estimates place the total cost of the project at between $5 million and $6 million. The district board has proposed funding 20 percent of the project, with the city paying 80 percent.

Kenyon acknowledges the importance of the Horizon Drive business district and the need for improvements to Horizon Drive. But he also acknowledges competing demands for funding for street projects, including chip and seal maintenance that’s been put off for several years because of declining tax collections in the midst of a downturn.

A number of other projects also have been proposed, including a redesigned interchange with Interstate 70 near 22 Road. Two truck stops have proposed opening facilities in that area, Kenyon says.

But Atkinson remains hopeful he’ll soon see changes during his workday commutes along Horizon Drive.