Leslie’s legacy: Glenwood Springs remembers renowned visionary, colleague, friend Leslie Bethel
December 14, 2018
Friends and longtime colleagues received the sad news earlier this week that, three months to the day after announcing her retirement as executive director for the Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority (DDA), Leslie Bethel had died following a bout with cancer.
Bethel died Tuesday. She was 61. A full obituary appeared Friday in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
Bethel once said in her role as director of the DDA, "I was focused on strengthening and enhancing the downtown experience through infrastructure, beautification, pedestrian connections, maintaining views and river corridors."
She wrote about her experiences and the accomplishments of the DDA in a parting column that ran in October.
Anyone who has ever shopped at Glenwood Meadows, enjoyed Glenwood's still-quaint downtown, driven over the new Grand Avenue Bridge or simply stared up at the canyons or down into the Colorado River from the new pedestrian bridge that accompanies the so-called "Gateway to Glenwood" has experienced what once was just a vision in Bethel's brilliant mind.
"Today, Glenwood has one of the most vibrant and fun downtowns you can find in a small city of under 10,000 people. It was not like that 10 years ago, before Leslie was hired to run the city's Downtown Development Authority," said Clark Anderson, executive director for Community Builders, who was Bethel's colleague and friend. Bethel served on the board for Community Builders.
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"It was, meh … and, when everyone was focused just on Grand Avenue, Leslie broadened that focus," Anderson said, noting that she got a lot of flak over the bridge project, even though she was trying to make the inevitable better.
"She was lighthearted, yet laser-focused," he said. "Leslie was a character. Despite her warm and often goofy demeanor, and I mean goofy in a good way, she was a fiery advocate for making great places."
After all, Bethel was educated at Cornell College and Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She went on to win the Governor's Top Award for Downtown Excellence as well as two notable American Institute of Architects (AIA) Awards, including one for her home run, urban design leadership work on Coors Field in Denver.
Make no mistake, though, Bethel's heart belonged to Glenwood Springs, say her many close friends and colleagues.
The lights that illuminate the trees up and down Grand Avenue are one of many autographs Bethel left on the town, and she knew so many in the community by name, her many friends and coworkers said.
Bethel was not just a renowned community visionary, she also was a mother, a sister, a daughter and an aunt, leaving behind two grown children, her mother and a niece and nephew.
"Everywhere you look throughout downtown you are looking at Leslie's signature," said Steve Davis, Glenwood Springs city councilman and city liaison to the DDA. "Leslie not only touched every detail of all these Glenwood projects, she touched the heart of everyone she met through her caring, kindness and compassion.
"I am proud to say that Leslie and I became close friends through our almost daily conversations discussing enhancement details and life. She was a great friend to Glenwood. Great friendships are hard to come by. She will be dearly missed."
Like the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado River, perhaps Bethel's greatest contribution to Glenwood was bringing people together.
"Leslie was an amazing individual who poured her heart and soul into making our community what it has become, and showed us what it could yet be," Glenwood Springs Mayor Michael Gamba said. "We will be forever indebted to her, and her legacy will live on in our city.
"In addition to being a colleague, Leslie was a friend. I will miss her tremendously."
Gamba said every time people gather for an outdoor meal on Seventh Street, stop to admire the scenery from the viewing platforms on the Grand Avenue pedestrian bridge, or enjoy entertainment at the new plaza under the bridge, "that is Leslie's fingerprint, her legacy," Gamba said.