Miracle on main street

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<ul><li><p>Miracle on Main Street Grand Junction citizens create own plan to revive a decaying downtown area as a thing of beauty, utility. </p><p>By ROBERT PIERCE CROSSLEY* </p><p>IVE years ago, the downtown area F of Grand Junction, Colorado, was going to pot. Traffic barely moved on its 48-foot-wide Main Street. Shoppers drove round and round on hot, treeless pavements looking for a place to park; double-parkers clogged the street; fenders got bashed and jaywalkers run over. Storefronts looked tired, buildings were empty. A layer of blacktop had been spread over the old streetcar tracks in 1940 and that was all that had been done downtown in 21 years. In short, the scene was not very different from the Main Streets of a thousand other towns from Maine to California. </p><p>Today, Grand Junction has what many observers have called the most beautiful Main Street in America. In- stead of congestion, traffic moves freely. Shoppers find ample parking space. Instead of broken curbs and cracked sidewalks, great planters delight the eye with marigolds, pe- tunias and roses. Each block is fra- grant with evergreens and young sycamores dabble fingers of shade on pedestrians. Instead of jaywalking, pedestrians seek the safety of narrow crosswalks, where grateful motorists give them the right-of-way. Instead of dust and heat and fatigue, there </p><p>* Mr. Crossley is editor of PopuZur Mechanics and a free-lance writer. He has also been an editor of Better Liwifig, Womans Day and other national magazines and a lecturer on magazine journalism at Iowa State University. </p><p>are cleanliness and shade and inviting benches. Instead of rundown stores and empty buildings, there are hand- some new fronts and thriving new businesses. </p><p>I t is still Main Street, but Grand Junction calls it a Downtown Shop- ping Park. A park in the truest sense, even though lined by stores, it is the showpiece of a broad overhaul of all downtown, called Operation Fore- sight. Someone asked a visiting city manager from California if he had ever seen anything to compare with it. Well, yes, he said, Rockfeller Plaza in New York. </p><p>What Grand Junction did, any t m can do. Grand Junction had no Rockefellers. All it had was a live- wire city manager, an imaginative group of planners, a hard-working citizens committee and a tradition of self-reliance. </p><p>Its 22,000 inhabitants dont make Grand Junction exactly a metropolis. But its location where the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers join makes it the trade center of an area larger than Ohio. Not really in the Rockies, but definitely of them, it is a sort of westward-facing, vest-pocket Den- ver. The Atomic Energy Commission has its western operations office here. The mineral-rich mountains have at- tracted companies like Union Car- bide Nuclear Products, Climax Ura- nium and American Gilsonite, and the Rio Grande still hauls carloads of peaches from the Grand Valley. </p><p>444 </p></li><li><p>19661 MIRACLE ON MAIN STREET 44s </p><p>Driving down Main Street today, the thing one notices first is the way the street weaves back and forth, cutting a graceful 5 between beds of tulips and daffodils (or roses and geraniums or marigolds and mums, depending on the season). Planters as big as backyard swimming pools, each with individual lighting to pro- vide a spectacular show at night, project from alternate corners and squeeze the roadway like toothpaste through a 22-foot orifice. The strip extends the entire four blocks. If you absentmindedly zig an inch over the line, the bump-bump of a corrugated strip warns you to zag back. </p><p>The winding, narrow roadway slows one down; thats what it is supposed to do. It is still a street- not a mall. True malls, like those in Miami Beach and Kalamazoo, keep cars out-and ambulances and fire trucks as well. Grand Junction de- cided it just wanted to discourage traffic on Main Street. Cars are toler- ated but pedestrians rule the roost. </p><p>Main Street has only half as many parking spaces as it used to. But by widening sidestreets to permit diagonal parking and by enlarging off-street lots, the whole downtown, which was included in Operation Foresight although the flowers and winding roadway are confined to four blocks on Main Street, ended up with 55 more spaces than before. </p><p>Main Streets parking spaces, ten to a side in each block, are tucked into the hollow of the S, between the corner planters and the middle of the block. The curve is so deep there is room for a ten-foot maneu- vering lane behind the parked cars. This has virtually eliminated back- </p><p>ing-out accidents, the bane of diag- onal parking. The parked cars are almost hidden from the sidewalk by Austrian pines growing in individual concrete cylinders, with twin parking meters concealed on each cylinder. </p><p>The only open space along the sidewalks is a short open stretch be- tween low brick walls and the cross- walks. Here, the convex side of the S has been scooped out to provide a zone where cars can let passengers out and pick them up without hold- ing up traffic. Each mid-block penin- sula is a small park in itself, with its own flower bed and curved benches shaded by two concrete umbrellas. On alternate sides of the street, the smaller umbrella supports a pay phone. </p><p>* * * Grand Junction took its first step </p><p>toward rejuvenation in 1960, when the city council appointed a citizens committee for downtown develop- ment, with Lee Schmidt as hairm man. Mr. Schmidts family has owned a hardware store in Grand Junction for 60 years. Barbara Hyde, who had studied landscaping a t Colorado State University, represented Grand Junction homemakers. The obher members included two building and loan company presidents, an attorney, an architect and another merchant. All seven are still serving. </p><p>The committee organized a post- card survey to question shoppers and merchants in the metropolitan area, studied what other cities had done, sent representatives to inspect plans that had been tried elsewhere and borrowed or adapted ideas from other communities. Conversion to a mall was considered, then rejected on </p></li><li><p>the ground that complete exclusion of cars was not desirable. </p><p>We were trying to figure out a way to get same planting on Main Street, development director Don Warner remembers. One day Gene Allen, the regional planning director, said, How about making it weave? He came in with a drawing of a four- lane street with a modified S-curve in each block, providing room for planters at each end. We decided we didnt want a big highway down Main Street, so we cut the four lanes to two. This gave us room not only for bigger planters, but for maneuver- ing lanes and unloading zones. </p><p>* * * The committee finally recom- </p><p>mended a five-phase plan to overhaul and beautify 24 blocks of downtown Grand Junction: </p><p>Phase I: A new storm sewer to drain the whole business district; </p><p>Phase 11: Street, curb and side- walk improvement, including a four- block shopping park; </p><p>Phase 111: Off-street lots to be financed by a downtown parking cor- poration, with parking free to cus- tomers of participating stores; </p><p>Phase IV: Modernization of stores by individual merchants; </p><p>Phase V: Arcade walkways from off-street parking lots to the shopping park. </p><p>Once we had a plan, says Joe Lacy, Grand Junctions 38-year old manager, we sent it to everybody who would look at it for free-the Institute of Traffic Engineers, the traffic division of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce? the American Institute of Architects and the American Society of Planning Officials. Each came back with constructive crit- </p><p>44 6 NATIONAL CIVIC REVIEW [September </p><p>icism, but nobody said we were nuts. </p><p>Mr. Lacy organized the plan into a thick, spiral-bound book that out- lined each phase, what it would cost and who would pay for it. The same information was coupled with slides showing pictures of Grand Junction as it was then, and drawings of what it could be under Operation Fore- sight. Lacy took the slides and wrote the script. Ted Ford, musical director of a local radio station, taped a background and Bill Cleary, the stations newscaster, did the narra- tion. With all donated services, the production cost only $20. </p><p>People were used to hearing Bill Cleary give facts, explains Warner. They believed him. </p><p>Lacy and Warner showed the pro- duction to the chamber of commerce directors in August 1961. The re- sponse was favorable, so they lined up other groups. Downtown mer- chants saw i t early in September? another group of businessmen later that month, then just about every club and civic group in Grand Junc- tion. Pictures and plans were dis- played in downtown store windows. </p><p>From the beginning, the project was presented as a plan, not the plan. </p><p>If an aginner wanted to pick at it, recalls Lacy, wed say, OK, how would you change it? When he saw how big the problem was and how much research had been done, hed usually back off, a guy rubbing his chin had a slim chance of coming u p with something better. </p><p>Opposition was surprisingly light. Some objected to making the parrallel streets one-way, so that was dropped. A few merchants opposed the re- duction af parking on Main Street </p></li><li><p>19661 MIRACLE ON MAIN STREET 447 </p><p>but most accepted the committees assurance that total spaces downtown would be increased. </p><p>After six weeks intensive publicity, the seven members of the committee started circulating petitions. he Phase I petition called for a special improvement district to issue $13 1 ,- 000 worth of storm sewer bonds to be paid off in ten years by taxpayers in the district. </p><p>* * * The other, for Phase 11, provided </p><p>for downtown street improvements, with or without the shopping park. With the park, the cost would come to just over $400,000. Seventy-two per cent would be financed by bonds, paid off over ten years by downtown property owners. Those in the shop- ping park would be assessed $39.60 a front foot, those on the side streets smaller amounts. </p><p>The remaining 28 per cent, cover- ing things the city would have to do anyway-resurfacing, new traffic sig- nals, new street lights and greenery, were to be paid for by the city out of capital funds. Because it had spent no money downtown for 21 years, the city felt it could shoot the works this once. </p><p>Eventually, over 70 per cent of the downtown property owners signed the petitions. Even Lacy was sur- prised at the enthusiasm, </p><p>I felt sure they would go for the street rebuilding, but I was afraid the shopping park was too far out. I was really surprised when they bought the whole package. </p><p>By the following June, workmen tearing out old sidewalks were un- covering such mementos as horse- shoes, brass buggy steps and antique cuspidors. Despite these impedi- </p><p>ments, the shopping park moved up Main Street, a block every 25 days. On October 31, Red Stocker, for 40 years the citys director of parks, planted the first pine tree. A week later the first of sixteen canopies was erected. The city had to bring in weed-burners to thaw the ground, but construction was finished in time for a ribbon-cutting on December 1. </p><p>After four summers, the park still has the look of newness. Every day, park department gardeners cruise down Main Street, pruning, weeding and tidying up-a job made easier by the publics use of litter baskets and ash trays on each new light pole. There is something in bloom through the middle of November. Barbara Hyde went up to the fifth floor of the First National Bank and looked down on Main Street last winter. The mums were gone, but the ground cover was scarlet beneath the ever- greens-like a Persian carpet. </p><p>Additional tax revenues from more than $2-million worth of new build- ing and remodeling in the dowtown area more than pay for this metic- ulous upkeep. Our proudest result, Joe Lacy told me, is that we have encouraged the spending on private improvements of more than twice the amount we spent on the basic project. </p><p>Only Phase V, the building of eight arcade walkways from off- street parking lots to the shopping park, remains to be done. The ar- cades will have restrooms, informa- tion centers and parcel checking facilities and they will be paid for by rentals and parking-meter profits. </p><p>Everyone in Grand Junction will (Continued on page 480) </p></li><li><p>480 NATIONAL CIVIC REVIEW [September </p><p>Urban Policy Conference, held in Novem- ber 196.5 (Iowa City, 1966, 125 pages). The conferences are meetings where gov- ernment officials and academicians as- semble to examine the forces shaping American urban communities. The 1965 conference was focused on urban develop- ment and scholars from various disciplines presented perspectives on the subject. Of particular interest was the paper pre- sented by Scott Greer entitled The Politics of Urban Development. </p><p>Other sections deal with the univer- sitys role in urban development, auto- mation and employment, fiscal implica- tions oi urban development, guiding urban development, federal government and ur- ban development and electronic data pro- cessing in municipal government. The last, a paper presented by Howard Weiner, director of finance of Sioux City, Iowa, deals with that citys experience with the introduction of automation in government operations, In a final sum- mary, U.S. Representative John R. Schmidhauser of Iowa describes infor- mally the philosophy and political dimen- sions of community action programs. </p><p>KEITH M. HEXTIERSON New York University </p><p>MIRACLE ON MAIN STREET (Continued from page 441) </p><p>tell you Operation Foresight has been a success. </p><p>Were originally from Texas, says Mrs. Kirk Jackson, whose hus- band is an executive of Union Car- bide, but we just love it here. The downtown is beautiful and it works! Were always bringing visitors down to see the shopping park. </p><p>No one is happier with the shop- </p><p>ping park than Chief of Police Karl Johnson. Hes convinced that i t is a lot safer than most Main Streets. Accidents in the four blocks of the shopping park dropped from 61 in 1961, before the street was rede- signed, to twelve in 1963 and rose only slightly to sixteen last year. </p><p>Preston Walker, editor of the Daily Sentinel, thinks the greatest thing Operation Foresight has done for Grand Junction is the pride it has given people in their city. Frankly, he says, I believed vandals would tear the park apart inside of two years. Instead, theres been but one case of destruction. Some roughnecks pulled up some shrubbery. It wasnt even reported to the police. The other kids took care of the violators and weve had no trouble since. </p><p>Since 1963, when Grand Junction was named an All-America City, officials and business leaders from dozens of cities have come to see the shopping park. They invariably ask Lacy for the secret of Operation Foresights success. He has this sim- ple answer: The way we went about it. Anything you do in your town involves everybody. We didnt let Operation Foresight become any one persons or one groups baby. I t was everybodys baby. </p><p>Our other secret is that we acted in time. Grand Junction didnt have to rise from corruption, blight or economic chaos. Our p...</p></li></ul>