Over the years, Durango and its civic leaders justifiably have spent a great deal of energy and attention on the city’s downtown – and it shows. The part of Main Avenue at the core of the Central Business District is vibrant, well-kept, attractive and prosperous. It is not, however, all there is to Main.
That the city now is looking to North Main – from 14th Street to Animas View Drive – is good news. There are healthy and successful businesses along there, but too much of that stretch has been neglected and fallen into disrepair. It is time to devote some of the energy and resources that have been so successful in boosting downtown to help North Main.
Not that it will be easy. With the downtown part of Main, pretty much all involved are and have been on the same page. The city is the sole government really concerned. The merchants, property owners, civic leaders and city voters all have about the same vision and aspirations for Durango’s downtown. To a large extent, working together comes naturally.
North Main is different. While there are a number of motels there, many are older, smaller properties with more and more devoted to long-term rentals. The focus is not so much on tourism or travelers.
Likewise, many of the businesses along North Main are more oriented to local trade than catering to visitors. That fits, too, with the concentration of local institutions in those blocks. Durango High School, the Durango Community Recreation Center, the county Fairgrounds all are along there, with several other schools and the Durango Public Library all nearby.
In some respects, North Main is more “our” part of town. But while all those activities and facilities are of great value to the community, they do not foster the same unified focus that tourism and commerce lend to downtown.
Then, too, unlike the downtown part of the street, North Main also is U.S. Highway 550. That makes it the province of the Colorado Department of Transportation. And, while CDOT is in many ways a tremendously competent and conscientious organization, its goals and priorities are not necessarily those of the city or its residents.
Downtown, the city can slow traffic to enhance pedestrian safety and encourage walking and to allow motorists to take in storefronts, restaurants and the city’s visual appeal. CDOT’s mandate is to keep traffic moving and get vehicles through town as quickly as possible. Those two ideas of managing traffic are at heart antithetical.
North Main has other challenges, as well. Lots along there typically are small. That would not prevent larger projects but would add another level of complexity as developers would have to deal with multiple property owners to join lots together.
Above all, it represents an outdated style of development centered not on people but on the automobile. And fundamentally changing that will be difficult.
But it has to happen, and local officials are right to recognize that. North Main simply represents too large and too important a section of Durango to ignore.
Exactly what the city can do to revitalize North Main is hard to know. And with that officials are right to study the question.
The Sonoran Institute is a 25-year-old nonprofit based in Tucson, Arizona, that works, it says, “to promote better management of growth and change.” It is paying a design and planning consulting group to look at options for North Main with public meetings expected in May.
It is doubtful anything revolutionary will come of that. But it should be a start – and that is exactly what is needed.