Boosting Basalt’s visibility
BASALT – Basalt needs to create more events to attract shoppers and tourists this summer, but first it needs to make sure visitors can actually find the town, the new president of the chamber of commerce’s board of directors said last week.
Bennett Bramson, who was selected as the board president in January, said a priority for him this year is getting signs installed that help people find downtown Basalt.
The chamber invested $9,000 on radio advertisements designed to attract residents of Colorado’s Western Slope to town last summer. “One of the things we found is people couldn’t find us,” Bramson said.
Basalt has three entrances from Highway 82 but some observers claim there is no clear-cut way for tourists to find the town. Travelers driving upvalley on Highway 82 typically blow by the west Two Rivers Road entrance or they take the road and turn around after a couple of miles thinking they are lost, Bramson said. Travelers driving downvalley typically blow by the east Two Rivers Road entrance.
The main entrance at the stoplight at the intersection of Highway 82 and Basalt Avenue has a Rube Goldberg, over-engineered feel to it, with a roundabout, counter-intuitive change in direction and dogleg.
“The entrances to Basalt have always been a challenge to us,” Bramson said.
Highway 82 was routed out of town in the late 1980s when the Basalt Bypass was constructed. In the last two decades, the town has grown up along the bypass and officials have struggled to find ways to draw passing shoppers to the quaint downtown.
Bramson said the solution includes a bigger sign at the main intersection informing travelers they need to turn to find downtown Basalt, then smaller signs guiding them through the roundabout and the turn past the post office and library.
“The signs for many of the businesses are bigger than the sign for Basalt,” Bramson said, referring to the advertising signs that CDOT installs for a fee. “It’s easier to find Subway than Basalt.”
The primary Basalt sign at the main intersection also needs to be affiliated in some way with an iconic image for the town – possibly a trout or a fisherman, Bramson said. No decision has been made, but a play off the town’s two gold-medal trout fishing rivers seems to be a natural fit, he said.
Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux acknowledged that finding downtown might not be the easiest thing to figure out for people unfamiliar with the area, although there is ample access with the three entrances. He said he could support a chamber-led initiative to improve the signage. “It’s been discussed so many times it’s not even funny,” he said, noting that nobody has ever followed through.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said the real solution for Basalt is to create a straight shot to downtown from Highway 82 with a new intersection at Midland Avenue. CDOT says that concept has engineering challenges.
In addition to helping people “find” Basalt, Bramson wants to give them more reasons to visit the town. Basalt’s retail sales tax revenues fell 4.31 percent in 2010. That followed an even bigger drop in sales in 2009.
The chamber will no longer organize the River Days festival, which has been a centerpiece of Basalt’s summer events for over a decade, Bramson said. The event requires an extraordinary investment in planning and coordinating for a limited return, he said.
The event organizers have vacillated between a one-day and two-day festival and have tried three different sites. Ironically, its most successful year might have been in what could be its final year. A reunion of the local legendary band Starwood attracted a big crowd to a concert in Lions Park last summer.
The Starwood revival aside, River Days might be “running out of steam,” Bramson said. “Some people have said, well, River Days has run its course.”
Chamber officials also think the summer launch parties the town government has coordinated the last two years have limited value. The 2009 event featured a pig roast on Midland Avenue. Last year, a better-organized picnic featured numerous food vendors in Lions Park.
“Five thousand people came from all over the valley for a free lunch,” Bramson said. The problem is, they came, they ate, they left – “many of them never to return,” he said.
The chamber wants repeating events that bring people in regularly. One of the new events will be Second Saturdays during summers and falls. It’s an obvious nod to the success of Carbondale’s First Fridays, an extremely popular event that draws people to shops, restaurants, art galleries and nonprofit organizations. The key is drawing a critical mass that makes it worthwhile for businesses to extend hours, and for businesses to provide enough activity to create the critical mass of people.
Bramson said Second Saturdays could possibly feature an outdoor movie in the evening, a Jane Gottlieb dance production in the afternoons and organized happenings like a Gallery Walk.
The chamber will also continue sponsoring outdoor concerts by local musicians and bands on Wednesday evenings. The concerts, which alternate between Lions Park and Triangle Park in Willits, have grown in popularity in recent years.
Basalt also has a popular draw with a Sunday Farmer’s Market during summers and a Willits Winter Market on Saturdays in the winter.
Bramson said he is challenging chamber members – and businesses that aren’t members – to get involved in helping the town snap out of its economic funk. Business owners shouldn’t be asking what will the chamber do to help them improve their business. They should be asking how they can get involved in the chamber to help improve Basalt’s business, he said.
Together, they can find a way to “created a viable ID” for the town. “Basalt still has local shops,” Bramson said. “Those are the heart and the soul of the town.”
Bramson is a real estate agent with Fleisher Land and Home, and he has a consulting business. He is in his second year on the chamber’s board of directors.
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