Paul Andersen: Can Belinski put the ‘There’ in Basalt?
March 11, 2018
Putting the "There" in old town Basalt has been like playing a Rubik's Cube for five years. This puzzle was formed during Mike Scanlon's reign as town manager when the "Our Town" visioning process augured Basalt's future through innumerable community meetings.
Now that a new overture to develop the Community Development Corp. parcel at Basalt's River Park is in the works, with Tim Belinski taking the lead, it is worthwhile to look back at the public outreach that coalesced into a community vision, starting in 2013.
There were three primary goals: 1. Don't lose small town charm; 2. Bring the rivers to the forefront of the town's identity; 3. Promote vitality and sustainability.
Lowe's hotel proposal was in potential conflict with points 1 and 2, so it failed to gain traction. It was too big, too urban, and its facade restricted pedestrian and visual access to the river.
The hundreds of visioning maps of the riverfront site that sprung from earlier community input sessions revealed access arrows of unimpeded flow from downtown to the park and the Roaring Fork River. Free and open access, coupled with dozens of random development scenarios, has challenged Basalt since the Pan and Fork trailer park site was "cleansed" in 2013.
Those arrows included a connection to Lion's Park and the former Clark's Market/Re-Store, which is again vacant and oozing possibilities. "We have an opportunity with Clark's," said a Basalt resident in a 2013 visioning session. "That's a prime site and we should redevelop that area to be more vibrant."
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The "Our Town" planning process drew in more than 600 people, from first-graders to octogenarians. More than 300 map drawings were submitted, comprising thousands of ideas. One particularly appealing vision specified a "Turkish bath" on the riverfront.
The "Friends of the Fork" advocated restoring natural beauty and the riparian environment by creating a riverfront park that would add to Basalt a greater "sense of place." Panacea Park also would boost the local economy by inspiring sustainable community development. Density as an agent for vitality emerged again and again.
A poll of downtown business owners in 2013 supported "reinvigorating Old Town Basalt by improving the viability of downtown businesses." Business owners suggested that Basalt "create its own identity by envisioning a unique riverfront townscape and redeveloping other key parcels with high-end lodging and world-class cultural and community amenities."
"Bring in world-class arts and open the rivers to the public," suggested a Basalt visionary artist. "Put Basalt on the map with something totally different. Go beyond the community and become international. Install a sculpture park."
"Could Midland Avenue become a pedestrian-only plaza?" posed another citizen. "It would be a great gathering place. Restaurants could spill into the streets."
Belinski may find Basalt to be a Gordian Knot, very unlike boxy, linear Willits. Any new development scheme must reassess the warp and weave of an often clashing social fabric made up of contrasting plaids. The sum must be "world class," "visionary" and in keeping with "small-town scale" and "rural values."
These vague and idealized concepts are both a blessing and curse. Something new and vital can happen, but it must be tempered by the realities of local economics, infrastructure, and mercurial community support.
Three pieces of the Rubik's Cube are in place: the Rocky Mountain Institute, the River Conservancy and the town park. Deciding where and how the remaining pieces fit will require imagination, energy, investment, diplomacy, and humor — in sum, a Basalt renaissance.
According to a summary report of the Our Town process: "There appears to be a critical mass of energy and citizens/voters who want to advance Basalt's future with a sustainable economy based on preserving a beautiful, rural ambiance and by encouraging high-end lodging, new commercial opportunities, and enriched arts, culture and international events."
What the "There" means for Basalt is a matter of subjective taste and style that defines "sense of place." The "There" describes "heart and soul" and "integration of life and spirit." The "There" is a perplexing aggregate of "funkiness, down home comfort, authenticity, surprise, discovery, identity, irreverence and vitality" that Belinski must somehow incorporate.
I'm still hoping for the Turkish bath.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com