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Town’s Creative District planning process takes shape

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Four task forces appointed

By Nicolette Toussaint

Sopris Sun Correspondent

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On Monday night, 35 adults and three middle school students — all volunteers working on Carbondale’s Creative District planning process — met to brainstorm ways to organize and manage Carbondale’s new Creative District and to brainstorm projects for it take on.

Their most urgent task? To figure out what to do with the $10,000 check that Carbondale received this week from the state of Colorado’s Creative District program.

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Laura Bernhard, a non-profit and economic development consultant who donated her time at Monday’s meeting, helped the group to outline tasks that need to be addressed by task forces on wayfinding and connectivity, media and awareness, governance, and economic development.

According to Amy Kimberly, the executive director of Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (CCAH), the organization that has been facilitating the planning process on behalf of the town of Carbondale, the $10,000 just received requires Creative District planners to raise another $5,000 in matching funds. Carbondale’s Creative District will receive an additional $10,000 grant next year. In year three, Carbondale aims to achieve certification, receiving an additional $15,000.

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“I feel like tonight is our first, real kickoff,” said Kimberly. “This has been CCAH’s baby, and now it’s time to send this child out into the community. It takes a village to raise a child, and our little village is now stepping up to take over the growth process.”

Until now, the Creative District process has been run by a loosely organized steering committee that includes Kimberly and CCAH; Andrea Stewart of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce; Janet Buck, senior planner for the town of Carbondale; Lon Winston, director of the Thunder River Theatre Company; and more than two dozen artisans, business owners and non-profit staffers.

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The three middle school students who showed up came because they had heard about the Creative District process from their art teacher. They hope to build a bench along the Rio Grande bike trail, and engage their friends in helping them design and decorate it.

Meeting participants agreed to break the steering committee into four task forces that will establish goals and figure out how to meet them. The Wayfaring and Connectivity Taskforce will be working on tying in to the websites and plans of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Council, the West Elk Byway group and the town parks department. Other ideas included designing mosaics that would show the way to arts attractions, an interactive Creative District map that would pop up on visitors’ smart phones the minute they arrived in town and an interactive application that would be connected to electric vehicle charging stations at Roaring Fork Transportation Agency (RFTA) stations.

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The Media & Awareness Taskforce was charged with coordinating publicity with The Sopris Sun and investigating the promotional opportunities offered by the Colorado tourism office, as well as figuring out which cultural assets the town should promote.

The Economic Development Taskforce will be charged with developing a local creative inventory, with finding ways to grow and strengthen local creative businesses, and to attract artisans to live and work here.

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Carbondale Senior Planner Janet Buck noted that Carbondale is currently involved in a zoning code rewrite, and that process could be of interest to several of the Creative District taskforces.  “The taskforces should stay tuned this process, and not let the code hold them back,” she said. “We might be able to adapt the code to help this process and not to constrain their creative thinking.”

The Governance Taskforce will be charged with figuring out how to actually run the Creative District, awarding contracts, paying bills, navigating local laws and ordinances, allowing for community input, and tracking and measuring the Creative District’s impact. The 11 Creative Districts already certified by the State of Colorado have adopted different management structures. For example, in Telluride, the town council runs the Creative District. Salida hired an independent manager to run its creative district.

In addition to the grants, which come from Colorado Creative Industries and the Boettcher Foundation. Creative District organizers said the benefits of becoming a state-certified Creative District include state and local government recognition, free professional assistance, a special highway sign from the Colorado Department of Transportation, access to a Creative District Community Loan Fund and the chance to network and learn from other Creative Districts.

The four taskforces designated at Monday’s gathering will begin meeting in January.

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