Ute Pass Communities Receive the Creative Art Snub- Rick Langenberg

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Despite a massive amount of energy and planning towards making Ute Pass area towns more creative with events and businesses and downtown revitalization, two key mountain cities in the region – Manitou Springs and Woodland Park – have received the royal state snub.

Some officials, especially in Manitou Springs, have questioned the creative designation system, and are wondering if the program favors resort or upscale communities.

According to a recent announcement by Colorado Creative Industries, the applicant winners this year are Breckenridge, Carbondale, Crested Butte, Fort Collins, the Golden Triangle and Mancos. Altogether 15 cities were considered in the competitive application process.

“These 2016 certified creative districts are great examples of how the arts create exciting places for people to visit and live,” said Governor John Hickenlooper, in an official statement regarding the recent winning creative districts. “These districts not only increase quality of life, they also help with economic vitality of the area and attract people from all over Colorado and the country.”

Program leaders contend that the race was extremely competitive for this round of creative designations.
Both Manitou Springs and Woodland Park didn’t make the cut.

The program is an offshoot of legislation approved in 2011 to spark more creativity by attracting artists, and entrepreneurs and fostering more tourism and clusters of economic activity It culminated with the establishment of the state Creative District Program.
Both Woodland Park and Manitou Springs submitted applications in 2014. Woodland Park tried to form a creative art district around the same time it made a bid as a main street designated area. Woodland has been making progress in its main street candidate bid.

In Manitou Springs, officials are shocked over their failure to obtain a creative district designation. After all this is a town known for its art galleries, zany, unusual events, concerts in the park and its bohemian, eclectic atmosphere. “I was flabbergasted that we didn’t receive the designation,” said Coreen Toll, the Manitou Springs City Council’s liaison to the newly formed district, according to a report in The (Colorado Springs) Gazette newspaper.

But program officials have lauded the work that has occurred in Manitou, but hinted that it needs a better long-term plan. “There were 15 (applicants) this time,” said Sheila Sears, deputy director of Colorado Creative Industries. “We do not have the resources to certify all of them. Some just need to work more on the details that will make them sustainable.”

The state creative district program gives each winner an official designation and an additional $40,000 reward. Besides the newly allotted communities, the current list of creative champions includes districts encompassing parts of Trinidad, Denver, Colorado Springs, Greeley, Longmont, North Fork Valley, Pueblo, Ridgeway, Salida and Trinidad.

The main criteria is that the district must capture a unique story and reflect that story; integrate well with other community systems such as planning, economic development, tourism, transportation and public gathering spaces; and have local government endorsement.

The Manitou Springs City Council took the snub in stride by passing a resolution that supports the creation of the district as a “local operating entity” and agreeing to re-focus on economic development with an added sense of creativity.

In Woodland Park, the snub isn’t too surprising. Its program has lost much of its enthusiasm, with the previous departure of former council member Gary Brovetto, who frequently waved the creative district banner. Brovetto argued that a creative designation would help put “The City Above the Clouds” on the national tourism map. But when he lost badly in an appointment selection for mayor, Brovetto eventually stepped down from his council post and very little discussion occurred regarding Woodland’s status as a creative district.

Most of Woodland Park’s community energy has been directed towards its main street program and with special projects, such as developing a new aquatic center.

And this year, the town is doing a number of events that highlight its 120th birthday bash.