Andersen: ‘Basalt, the River Town’ | AspenTimes.com

Andersen: ‘Basalt, the River Town’

Community change is hard, like birthing pains that announce new life. I'm supporting the town of Basalt Bond Issue 2B because the change it represents is ultimately positive.

My support is qualified by the fact that I live five miles up the Fryingpan from Basalt and bear no immediate financial risk from the bond debt. Basalt residents will have to make that decision based on their level of trust in town government.

Many residents believe that the town's efforts to build a river park, avert flood danger, beautify the riversides and to explore redevelopment options will rejuvenate and rebrand the downtown core on an appropriate scale without destroying the rural qualities that define Basalt. I share that belief.

Unfortunately, that vision is tainted by the turmoil facing Pan and Fork residents who are being moved out of the place they've called home for many years. Regardless of the bond issue, the Pan and Fork will be vacated for a broader community benefit. This solution to a half century of inaction is a bitter pill that would be stinging were it not for the benign intent of the town and the Community Development Corp.

Despite so-called broken promises to Pan and Fork residents, reclaiming the riverfront is a positive move toward public safety, economic sustainability and greater economic opportunity. Minority interests give way to majority gain in an equation that adds gravity to redevelopment possibilities. Whatever replaces the Pan and Fork should atone in some way for the sacrifice of those residents with the best redevelopment scenarios possible.

Basalt business owners have been saying that without economic security, the downtown core is plagued with uncertainty. The practical business approach of investing time and capital — like we're seeing now at the Green Drake and Kassie's Corner Store — requires the promise of returns far into the future. Intelligent, creative redevelopment of the three town parcels under consideration should be orchestrated to generate necessary critical mass and alleviate much of that uncertainty.

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I can see Basalt redefining itself as "The River Town." Basalt has a storied railroad tradition, but that's seen today only in obscure vestiges and black-and-white photos. Basalt could become a community where its two rivers — the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork — are celebrated for their natural beauty and as attractive places of enjoyment for residents and visitors.

I don't often look upon development as a plus, but the proposed redevelopment of Basalt has strong support from many residents who see it as an opportunity to explore innovative approaches that have the power to enliven and excite the town with a fresh and interesting overlay.

"Basalt, the River Town" could tap its historic roots and project its heritage onto those redeveloped areas, honoring a palpable sense of history in a community that celebrates its past while forging its future.

Every time I look at the downtown core, I see a quaint, small town that mirrors more than a century of Western history. There's something homespun and welcoming about the shops and restaurants that line Midland Avenue.

With redevelopment, Basalt can celebrate both its historic heritage and future promise. Its diversity will spring from early pioneers like the Luchsingers to contemporary visionaries like the Rocky Mountain Institute, from traditional ranching and farming to contemporary conservation, recreation, education and the arts. The downtown can become more alive and vibrant with this mix.

Rivers flow, and so do town stories that are peopled with characters and personalities that give life to townscapes. The people of Basalt ultimately define its character, so a positive, enthusiastic core of business owners will project their vitality and energy on the town's character. If redevelopment achieves this uptick, it is worthwhile for that reason alone.

Town residents appear eager to address the future with proactive, ambitious and sensitively scaled redevelopment. The town government is ready to act on that agenda. Interested developers should prepare to invest more than dollars in Basalt by respecting the vision of a small river town taking its next careful steps.

Bond Issue 2B is important toward achieving that forward motion.

Paul Andersen's column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at andersen@rof.net. Connect with him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ paul.andersen.9003.