Glenwood Springs Realtor designs plan for confluence area

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Drawings by local artist Lisa Newman detail Todd Leahy's vision for the Glenwood's confluence area, where the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers meet. (Contributed image)

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Todd Leahy would hate to see Highway 82 traffic moved to the east side of the Roaring Fork River, a place he says there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop.

Laying down a highway corridor in the area is being considered as one of 22 options to address concerns about Highway 82 traffic racing through downtown. Some say Highway 82 traffic destroys the character of downtown and think moving it will improve things. Not Leahy.

“That makes absolutely no sense,” he said. “Unless Grand Avenue is going to become a walking mall, you’re not going to get your downtown back.”

A Glenwood Springs real estate agent, he wasn’t impressed by plans the city has to redevelop the confluence area just southeast of where the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers meet. That would happen after the wastewater treatment plant is moved away from downtown, tentatively planned in 2012. So Leahy came up with his own concepts and paid a small amount to local artist Lisa Newman to draw them. Soon, the drawings circulated by e-mail and attracted some attention about what he’s calling the “Glenwood Springs Riverwalk.” He hopes the drawings might inspire creativity or help the city consider more options.

The biggest differences from city plans he’d like to see are a pedestrian mall and a hotel.

Leahy envisions a walkable pedestrian mall on the east side of the Roaring Fork River north of Eighth Street, where city plans called for an open park or commercial buildings.

He and his friend Jim Gornick, another real estate agent, believe Glenwood lacks outdoor shopping and restaurant space. A pedestrian mall right near the river would create a signature destination spot that would encourage people walking downtown, they say. Lofts could go in above the commercial in the walking mall. Plus, they believe, putting a highway corridor in the confluence area wouldn’t generate the sales tax revenue that development would.

In Leahy’s mind, a hotel just south of the mall and also along the Roaring Fork River would help make the spot a destination and attract people there.

“Everybody wants to be on the river,” Gornick said, adding he’s embarrassed when friends and family visit because there’s almost nowhere to eat outside in Glenwood Springs.

City plans slated the spot, east of the Roaring Fork River between Eighth and Ninth streets, for either multifamily residential buildings, a bypass connecting Highway 82 to Midland Avenue, or a parking lot with a commercial building.

Just east of that, Leahy said he’d like to see a park go in that Glenwood Springs Elementary School could use. He said he likes the city’s idea of giving the school district land for a new athletic field just south of GSES as a trade for land the school district owns just north of the school.

At that spot, city plans call for multi-family residential or a civic/institutional building and office buildings with a parking lot. Leahy says that won’t work without the park because the school district indicated it did not want to lose any land. The park would go in just north of GSES, and a two-story parking structure and a new arts center would go in just north of the park but still south of Eighth Street, in Leahy’s plan.

City plans considering a new library, transit center and parking structure in the area of Seventh and Eighth streets where the railroad wye is would basically remain unchanged in Leahy’s plan, he said.

City engineer Mike McDill said the drawings will be taken into account as a public comment, and the confluence plan could go before the City Council in two to three months.