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Carbondale’s Creative District gets boost after Pryor visit

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John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

The process of getting Carbondale certified as its own Creative District got a boost last week with a visit from Wendell Pryor, a consultant from Chaffee County who has been hired to assist the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities in the three-year certification process.

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Pryor, who also is the director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation and is listed as a lecturer at the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School of Public Affairs as well as at Colorado Mountain College, is being paid by the state to help Carbondale through the Creative District process.

Meanwhile, said CCAH Executive Director Amy Kimberly, the Carbondale Creative District has $15,000 in grant proceeds and other contributions to kick-start the process in its first year. She said the district has been told to expect another $10,000 in grant money in year two, and a final grant of $15,000 in year three, which is the year that certification is to occur.

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“We’re moving forward,” Kimberly said during an interview at the new Launchpad arts facility, housed in the old Gordon Cooper Library building.

“And I feel like other communities in the valley are looking at us to see how this goes,” she added, explaining that representatives from Garfield County and the towns of Glenwood Springs and Basalt have expressed interest in the Creative District idea.

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The entire Creative Districts idea, she said, came about after Gov. John Hickenlooper learned several years ago that the “creative industries” of the state are an economic powerhouse.

“It was based on a survey where he saw the creative industries were the fifth largest industry in the state,” Kimberly said. And the term, “creative industries,” covers everything from art to agriculture, restaurants to breweries, distilleries to craft boutiques and much more, Kimberly said — any or all of which can be found in or around Carbondale.

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She noted that Denver currently has four separate Creative Districts, focusing on different neighborhoods around the city with creative energy to spare, and that is what Kimberly hopes can happen in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Kimberly said there currently are more than 50 “stakeholders” taking part in the formative effort of the Creative District, including, among others, several individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations, artists, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) and a couple of middle school students who are hoping to design and install a new bench along the RFTA-owned Rio Grande Trail under the guidance of the Creative District process.

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Businesses will benefit

Under the Creative District, Kimberly noted, “Businesses are probably going to benefit more than anyone” as a consequence of the belief that being a Creative District will attract people to town, including such disparate groups as tourists, valley residents, artists and others.

Already, Kimberly reported, the Residences at the Little Nell, a luxury-condo complex in Aspen, has been sending shuttles to Carbondale, to give their residents a chance to shop, check out the town and generally get to know another part of the valley.

The idea behind the Creative District effort, Kimberly explained, is to provide a framework for businesses, artists and others to combine their efforts to bring people to town for all manner of activities.

Plus, she said, once Carbondale is certified as one of a dozen or so such districts around the state, organizers can start working with other Creative District personnel around Colorado, as well as with state officials in the Colorado Creative Industries program, and with Western Slope entities such as the Garfield County Economic Development Roundtable, to come up with ways to take advantage of the town’s many creative businesses and events.

“There’s a synergy that’s happening in the state, between all the Creative Districts,” that Carbondale can tap into, she said.

Task forces

Four local task forces — covering Governance, Economic Development, Media and Awareness, and Wayfinding and Connectivity — are to meet in January to combine their ideas so far and discuss what the next steps are in becoming one of the state’s early Creative Districts. The task forces have been meeting since October.

Among other things, Kimberly said, the Governance task force has been charged with deciding who, or which organization, should be selected to essentially manage the Creative Districts process as it moves ahead.

While CCAH has been in the driver’s seat so far, she said, “Some people might feel that CCAH should not be in charge from here on,” a prospect she said is not troubling to her in the least.

“I really think we’re on to something,” Kimberly said of the Creative District process. “It follows state and national trends (of joining together) communities that define themselves through the arts. It’s considered a 21st century economy.”

She said the process is not always well understood or appreciated, particularly by those who adhere to a more traditional view of economic development.

Once, at a gathering of such local movers and shakers, Kimberly said she understood their concerns.

“I’m not saying it’s the only answer,” she said she told the doubters. “But I think it’s a bigger piece of the puzzle than you guys give it credit for.”

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