After years of becoming the butt of many jokes for sponsoring the failed anchor of the downtown, Woodland Park development leaders are preparing for a major revamp of their prized 10-acre property.
Last week, the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board voted to take the first step in researching the costs for turning the prime area of Woodland Station, Lot#2 (which formerly housed Bergstrom Arena) into a major events hub for festivals and various activities sponsored by local groups and those outside the community.
And once again, the term “destination area” is being tossed around in resounding fashion, with some comparisons made to such communities as Estes Park that have central areas for hosting events. Some development officials see Woodland Park as having more potential in playing its tourism card like never before.
According to Merry Jo Larsen, the chairperson of the DDA board and owner of the Cowhand, this is a key part of the original focus of the DDA when it was formed 15 years.
“We want this to become a destination area. It is important that we have the proper development in place in Woodland Station. We have been bushwhacked at least three times,” said Larsen in describing a plethora of failed projects or plans that gathered dust for this core spot. The most recent failure involved the city’s plan to back away from building the aquatic center in Woodland Station. “We are back to square one,” she added.
However, many local merchants and business owners are enthused about square one, if that means establishing a downtown events center.
Jon DeVaux , a veteran DDA board member and a local businessman and former council member, stated that such an approach has worked in such communities as Estes Park. He sees it having good potential in Woodland Park, which sports many day events.
Another local downtown business owner recalled how a similar attempt revived the town of Fountain.
Larsen said the DDA’s approach has stimulated much interest. She stated that this area has the potential to host many events and it could help recapture the town’s cowboy and western heritage. Plus, groups like the Farmers Market and Vino and Notes have expressed an interest in using the area for their galas. The DDA has already formed an events committee.
If anything, the new focus has stirred unprecedented interest in the DDA.
Big Interest in the DDA
A record nine candidates have already applied for three open DDA seats. And the DDA’s high profile director, Brian Fleer, recently stepped down, a sign that times could be changing the downtown development arena.
While the new approach has sparked much interest in the DDA, it also has fueled much controversy. The new events-oriented approach isn’t shared by all key civic leaders in Woodland Park. DDA meetings have gotten much more livelier than those of previous years.
Some influential leaders believe the group owes an obligation to BierWerks brewery owner Arden Weatherford, who has previously proposed a retail/housing development on Lot#2. Woodland Park Mayor Neil Levy made an appeal to the DDA board at their last meeting. Weatherford was one of the original local developer representatives who proposed plans during the early stages of the Woodland Station. He also did a temporary expansion of his BeirWerks project.
But according to Larsen, these plans have experienced continual delays and the development team didn’t meet frequent deadlines. Some officials, though, question this analysis.
Larsen and other board members believe their best option is to do moderate enhancements to the Lot#2 area and turn it into an events hub, which could enable the property to be marketed to a developer at a later date. The list of new events could include pet rallies, tractor shows, mountain bike expos, chuck wagon dinners and railroad and rodeo days, just to name a few. In addition, the space could become a home for current mega festivals, such as Oktoberfest.
However, not all board members are crazy about this idea, questioning if a DDA board should get into the business of hosting special events. Also, concerns have been raised about the possibility of litigation, if the DDA turns Lot#2 into an events hub.
DeVaux, however, cautions that the DDA board has just opened the door for exploring the idea and making small improvements.
The DDA chairperson, though, says their mission is to enhance the entire district and not just Woodland Station. Larsen cites the importance of using this possible events hub at Woodland Station to stimulate more activity and commerce throughout the entire downtown. “We have to stay strong and healthy,” she stated.
“We want to involve more local businesses,” added Larsen.
She said the group is mulling the idea of using some DDA monies to assist current businesses, if they can do expansions and improvements that will add employees and generate more tax revenue.
The city council will appoint three DDA board members in July, in what could become a pivotal decision that may play a key role in the future development of Woodland Park.
Despite problems with Woodland Station, DeVaux says the DDA has played a big financial role in Woodland Park’s economic recovery. “We have always been the dog that everyone has wanted to beat for the last 10 years,” he quipped.
But in reality, he says the DDA has fueled $30 to $40 million in addition revenue. “Without the DDA, you wouldn’t have had the Dinosaur Resource Center, the Big O Tire Store, Trail Ridge Apartments and many other projects. We are the only (development) game in town.”