New Castle seeks economic spark
NEW CASTLE, Colo. – In an effort to build a more robust local economy, New Castle business owners and community leaders are building alliances through the region aimed at tourism and downtown development.”Anything that’s good for any of our western Garfield County communities benefits all of us,” said New Castle Town Councilman Bruce Leland.New Castle continues to rely on the construction, tourism and energy industries to keep residents employed. But old ways of doing things, like the times we live in, have changed.And New Castle is trying to change with them.At a Jan. 17 town council meeting, the councilors spent an hour talking about ways to galvanize the local economy.”We’re just starting to get the idea of what the structure is,” said Mayor Frank Breslin.He pointed to the town’s decision last year to join the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corporation, which focuses on western Garfield County, as well as forming the New Castle Economic Advisory Council (EAC).The two organizations will work together to attract new businesses to the region and help existing businesses overcome obstacles and solve problems.But more immediately, Breslin said, the town of 4,500 needs to get creative, and think of new ways to attract tourists and businesses.Perhaps, he suggested, the town should market itself to South American tourists.”They need somewhere to go when it’s winter down there,” he mused, only half joking.He was reminded by Mayor Pro-Tem Pam Bunn that foreign tourists once could be counted on to fill up the campsites at the KOA Campground on Elk Creek, though they don’t seem to be coming any more.
A survey of businesses in town revealed a generally high level of satisfaction with New Castle as a place to live and work, even if business is slow.Annie Kardoes, owner of The Nest, an artisan gift shop on Main Street, ran a store called Annie K & Co. in Glenwood Springs for several years.”I had more customers from New Castle than anywhere else, even Glenwood,” she said. So, in September, she opened up The Nest in New Castle, where she lives.”We love New Castle,” she said. Still, it was “a brave move. There was nobody downtown. Even my landlord was trying to talk me out of moving downtown.””We’ve had a great response,” she said. Now she is thinking about moving to a larger space and starting up an artisans’ cooperative.Not all retailers have been happy with the sleepy nature of the New Castle’s old town, however.Rose Rauman owns the Country Rose store, now in the shopping plaza where City Market is located, at the east end of town. She moved there in November after three years downtown, where her shop was foundering due to a lack of traffic.Even residents of Castle Valley, separated from old town by Mount Medaris, rarely came into her downtown shop, she said.”There were no signs at the four-way stop pointing people toward downtown,” she said. “I don’t want to be negative or anything. I just feel like New Castle didn’t contribute anything” to the prosperity of the businesses along Main Street.But her new location hasn’t proven to be any better. “There were lots more people coming in, but the revenues didn’t go up,” Rauman said.She plans to close the store and devote her time to the family’s other business, a towing service she and her husband started in 2008 when his construction business collapsed.The towing service is “flourishing,” she said, and she is sorry to close the gift shop, even though she hasn’t earned any salary out of it for some time.Perhaps the oldest surviving Main Street business is Jim Shrull’s automotive garage and U-Haul equipment rental, which he has owned for 25 years.”Right now,” he said, business is “pretty slow. I’m hoping it’ll pick up soon.”But he is not planning to change things, give up or move away.”I don’t have any plans to go anywhere,” he said. “I try to support this town. I was born here, and don’t know where I’d go.”
Among the specific ideas aimed at bringing more people into the downtown area is a farmers market, a pet project of Noreen Nolan, owner of the popular Making New Waves hair salon.A Saturday market was tried a couple of years ago, she said, but it didn’t take because not enough people knew about it.This time, she said, she hopes to do it on Thursdays. She is planning to incorporate live music and make it “something nice that would bring people into town.”She hopes to attract the interest of Castle Valley Ranch and Lakota Ranch residents, and she’d like to see them get more involved in the downtown.”They say, I never come into town,” she said of conversations she has had with customers and others. “And I say, ‘Are you kidding?’ That’s amazing. They just go shopping, carrying on, elsewhere.”Historical tourism at Highland CemeteryOne way the town hopes to boost its economy is through historical tourism, a natural for a town with as deep and varied a historical record as New Castle.Shantel Newbury, a relative newcomer to the community but with an obvious interest in history, serves on both the New Castle Historic Preservation Commission and on the town’s historical society.She told town council members that the commission is working on a plan to turn Highland Cemetery into a historical attraction, similar to the Linwood Cemetery in Glenwood Springs, where “Doc” Holliday’s memorial is.”We’re still in the talking stages,” she said, noting that the plan includes creation of a graphically illustrated map of the cemetery layout, to help visitors get their bearings.The plan also includes spotlighting certain sites within the cemetery every month, using lights or other identifying techniques, to highlight historic personalities, families or headstone artwork.”There’s enough documentation of what’s up there that we could highlight people for 100 years,” Newbury said.For instance, there is the gravesite of former Marshall John Renix, who was shot down in 1910 while trying to intervene in a gunfight and save the life of a local man.Then there is the grave of Billy Griffith, a gunslinger who killed two men in gunfights and then shot himself in his hotel room.The cemetery contains the plots of local luminaries such as the beloved teacher Kathryn Senor, who now has a school in New Castle named after her.And one tombstone proclaims that the resident below was a friend of Gen. James Shields, a prominent Democrat from Illinois who nearly fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln in 1842, over inflammatory letters published in the local newspaper and poking fun at Shields.”There’s just so much history up there,” Newbury said, adding that it is well preserved and well kept thanks to the work of local volunteer Mike Miller, a retired U.S. Forest Service employee.
Leland serves on the boards of the Economic Advisory Council and the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corporation (RREDC). Both entities are working with the New Castle Chamber of Commerce and other organizations to attract business and revive the economy.He said the first priority is to enable existing businesses to stay afloat and expand.New Castle is also in search of new businesses, whether they be start-ups or relocations.”The town is very willing to work with new businesses,” said Anne Guittler, the new president of the New Castle Chamber of Commerce.Toward that end, a questionnaire has been circulated to gauge business owners’ prospects and ideas about what kind of assistance they could use.The different councils and organizations also are working on increasing tourism to the communities between New Castle and Parachute, and have linked up with the Northwest Regional Cultural and Tourism Alliance.The alliance, Leland said, includes Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffatt and Routt counties, and is producing maps highlighting cultural and historical sites throughout the region.”We’re only about a year old,” Leland said of the partnerships and alliances, noting that there are not many success stories to point to yet.”We’re laying all the groundwork,” he firstname.lastname@example.org
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