Hartley: Basalt tries to putt the ball in the clown’s mouth | AspenTimes.com

Hartley: Basalt tries to putt the ball in the clown’s mouth

For those of you who don’t live in this area, here’s the scoop: There was a small trailer park on prime riverfront acreage in downtown Basalt, but it all sat in the flood plain of the Roaring Fork River. Back when it used to snow, we’d hear every spring that the residents of the trailer park were in mortal danger from rising water and needed to be evacuated immediately, but each spring came and went and the portended floods never seemed to materialize.

Eventually, though, Basalt’s prophesies of doom won out. The residents were evacuated and compensated and the trailer park was razed along with an adjacent building that housed Taqueria El Nopal, a beloved local eatery that used to contribute significantly to the vitality of downtown Basalt. I note that only because there has been much hue and cry lately about downtown’s lack of vitality, and I feel it’s due in part to the fact that Taqueria El Nopal and two other restaurants recently closed.

Anyway, every structure and scrap of vegetation was removed from the site, hundreds of truckloads of dirt were brought in to raise the bulk of the lot out of the flood plain and Basalt suddenly found itself the owner of a large, developable parcel in the heart of downtown. That’s how things stand now. There’s a big, brown swath — a blank canvas, if you will — on the Roaring Fork River smack in the middle of town, and we’re not sure what we should do with it.

Part of the brown swath, where the taqueria was, is being developed as the local headquarters of the Rocky Mountain Institute, an environmental think tank of sorts. Another part of the swath, the stretch along the river, is dedicated park land, leaving a decent-sized lot on which we can put anything we can dream up. How best to use that parcel to inject vitality back into downtown has become the subject of a much heated debate.

The proposal on the table now is for a boutique hotel and a bunch of condos. Opponents of this plan rightfully point out that downtown already has two hotels, and there’s a brand new hotel being erected a few miles away in the Willits neighborhood. There also are a handful of unoccupied condos and two vacant restaurants in the building just across the street. This plan, they say, fails to explain how the condos and hotel by themselves are supposed to draw people to occupy condos and a hotel.

For the record, I agree 100 percent with that sentiment. I think high-end condos and a hotel will do nothing to solve the vitality problem in downtown Basalt. I think it’s an “if you build it, they will come” kind of attitude that has very little chance of success and is more likely to saddle the town with a bunch of empty buildings.

The problem is that I and the other naysayers never seem to come up with any viable alternatives when we gripe about the hotel idea. We bemoan the condos, but no one seems to have any good suggestions about what would be better.

That all ends today. Today, I’m laying down a proposal that my son and I think would be perfect: the Basalt river center and mini-golf course.

Basalt’s identity is very much based on fly-fishing and the two rivers that meet in downtown. Why not trade that off with something such as an aquarium and nature center devoted to local fauna? The mini-golf course, which I think should be world-class and capable of hosting tournaments, could wind past pools full of trout and pike minnows and enclosures with beavers and otters and such.

Next to the golf course, there should be retail and restaurant space (bring back Taqueria El Nopal) facing out on the park with something similar to a boardwalk or plaza in front. Above that could be office space or a handful of condos. Maybe then a hotel could be justified.

Is it a good proposal? I think so, but it could be completely asinine in your opinion. I welcome your disagreement, but here’s the catch: you can only call me an idiot if you come up with something better and put it out there. If enough of you shout me down with ideas of your own, I’ll bet we can come up with something great.

So let’s have it, Basaltines and anyone who’s ever been to Basalt. What would revitalize downtown better than fish and mini-golf?

Todd Hartley kind of agrees with the idea of paying $1 million to lure Trader Joe’s to town. To read more or leave a comment, please visit http://zerobudget.net.

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