Guest Column: Revitalizing Basalt
When I invested in Basalt, I had great expectations that the town would attract a vibrant audience and thrive. Unfortunately, that never happened.
With the highway bypassing the town and the ongoing development of Willits, it has truly been a struggle for most of the merchants of downtown Basalt. Many have simply closed their doors.
There is opportunity to revitalize Basalt with the old Pan and Fork property owned by the town in conjunction with a hotel and residences built on private property. Some want no development and to make it entirely a park. It was never intended to remove 36 trailers and 360 people just to build a park.
The recent “Our Town” planning process involved more than 800 residents in the process of visualizing a future for Basalt with a combination of park and commercial on the Pan and Fork property.
The town presently has the land to build a public park on both sides of the river consisting of more than 5.5 acres. The Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. parcel, where development is being considered, is 2.3 acres of private land.
According to Town Hall, Basalt owns:
The 2.7-acre Pan and Fork parcel.
The 3-acre Midland Park across from the Pan and Fork park.
The 4.1-acre Old Pond Park.
The 3-acre Lion’s Park.
The 9-acre Arbaney Park and pool.
The 10.5-acre Ponderosa Park.
In total, the town owns 29.3 acres of parks and open space consisting of 1.3 million square feet (27 football fields) within half a mile of Old Town.
Additionally, we have access to facilities at the middle and high schools and the 132-acre Crown Mountain Park.
Lowe Enterprises has proposed a boutique hotel and residences on the property with 10 or more affordable-housing units and an amphitheater. Of the 2.3 acres, 58 percent is planned to remain open for pedestrian walkways and social gathering places.
To purchase the parcel would cost around $5 million. If the parcel is purchased by the town, that burden would be borne by taxpayers and a town already struggling. The downtown core would continue to suffer and lose a huge amount of potential year-round jobs and tax income.
The new Rocky Mountain Institute building will attract thousands of visitors from around the world. Without an upscale hotel, many of those visitors would stay, eat and shop elsewhere.
From November through April, a park will be inactive. A hotel and residences will be open year round, bringing much-needed income, vitality and people to our town. Taxes generated will help promote day care, school programs, employee housing, the arts and events. It will be the tipping point to bringing Basalt back to life. A park alone will not.
If this debate drags on, the town will focus around a huge chunk of bare land and an ugly dust bowl. That will not help the image of Basalt, its residents or its businesses.
I ask where else the town can expand near the core. Not up the Fryingpan, not south on old Highway 82 nor west of the new Rocky Mountain Institute building. The only parcels are Lions Park and where Clark’s Market used to be. Unfortunately, the Clark’s Market parcel and parking lot is privately owned by different entities. It could be years until this is sorted out. What we need now are a compromise that works for everyone.
I trust the Town Council will act quickly, focusing on reality and seeking a balance as determined by the democratic process of its residents, be mindful of the declining future of the downtown core, consider the fiscal responsibility to our community and see Basalt revitalize itself and thrive.
Norm Clasen, a professional photographer, came to the valley in 1962. He and his wife, Laura, have lived in Basalt since 1989. They own the Three Bears building on Midland Avenue.
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