Citizen participation in Frisco main street: Revitalization

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  • Landscape and Vrban Planning, 17 ( 1989) 297-304 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., Amsterdam - Printed in The Netherlands


    Citizen Participation in Frisco Main Street: Revitalization


    School ofAretiitectureand Planning, University qf Colorado, Denver, CO 80202 (USA.)

    (Accepted for publication 2 September 1988)


    Leigh, J., 1989. Citizen participation in Frisco Main Street: revitalization. Landscape Ur- ban Plann., 17: 297-304.

    Frisco, Colorado, a small community located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, set out in 1980, after several years of economic stagna- tion, to develop a plan to revitalize their main

    street. With the help of a private consultant, the town staff and interested citizens engaged in a unique planning process centered around com- munity participation. This process of citizen in- volvement, often described as unproductive and filtile, in Friscos case brought the community together and produced positive results. This pa- per will discuss and evaluate this planning process.


    Frisco is a small mountain community cen- trally located in Summit County, Colorado, U.S.A., a major recreation area. During the late 1960s and into the 1970s alpine skiing be- came the major recreational activity in Sum- mit County and resulted in a period of rapid economic growth and expansion within the county. The Town of Frisco, however, did not experience and share in this prosperity as did the surrounding communities. Frisco seemed to lack a cohesive sense of community. Its main street, West Main, lacked the typical attrac- tions and characteristics common to the tradi-

    tional American rural community. It was not an attractive gathering place for people to walk, shop and visit. West Main was a street of dis- organized spaces, undefined pedestrian and automobile areas, and faltering businesses (see Fig 1). Competition from a more automobile- oriented strip development immediately north of West Main Street compounded the problems.

    Past planning efforts for revitalizing West Main ended in failure for a variety of reasons which will be addressed. In 1980, with a new mayor, a new planning staff, outside consult- ants and a significant turnover on the town board, Frisco again attempted to make changes on West Main Street.

    0169-2046/89/$03.50 0 1989 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V

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    Fig. 1. West Main Street. 1980.


    Frisco is a small mountain town of approxi- mately 1600 full-time residents and 1800 part- time residents. It lies in a valley surrounded by the Gore Range and Eaglesnest Wilderness area to the north and the Ten Mile mountain range to the south. The eastern edge of Frisco is bor- dered by Dillon Reservoir, a 3300-ha lake that provides water to Denver and the front range. It is a service-oriented town that caters to rec- reationalists. Many year-round outdoor op- portunities exist in the surounding area (see Fig. 2).

    In the winter, alpine skiing is the largest draw to Frisco and Summit County. Almost three million ski-visit days were reported during the 1986-87 season. Three large international re-

    . .

    sorts are situated minutes away from Frisco by automobile and public transportation. Copper Mountain to the west saw 675 000 visitors during the 1986-87 season. Breckenridge, just 12 km south along the Ten Mile range, experi- enced 940 000 visitors. The Keystone/Arapa- hoe Basin resort accommodated 1 279 000 visitors during the same season and ranked third in the United States in total ski visits. To- tal revenue generated in Summit County by the ski industry during the 1986-87 season was es- timated at $594 million, Other winter-related outdoor activities include nordic skiing, snow- mobiling, ice fishing and ice skating.

    In the summer, visitors to Summit County enjoy bicycling, hiking, backpacking, river rafting, sailing, fishing and golfing, to name but a few activities. Frisco recently has emerged as


    \: COLORADO \

    Fig. 2.

    a popular center for bicycling. A network of paved bicycle trails throughout Summit County is accessible from Frisco. This has be- come a major attraction for the summer visitor.

    Frisco provides many of the support serv- ices and housing for Summit County and the resort industry. The local economy is mainly tourist oriented, providing such services as lodging, eating establishments, entertainment, shopping and smaller support services. Be- cause of a major dependence on the skiing in- dustry and a lack of diversification into other areas, the local economy is seasonal and fluc- tuates greatly. Frisco is very active and busy during the peak winter months from Decem- ber through March, and then again during the summer on weekends and holidays. The spring and fall are much quieter with some of the


    smaller tourist-oriented shops and services closing down temporarily.


    The recorded history of Frisco dates back to the early nineteenth century when fur trappers explored the rugged Rocky Mountains in search of beaver pelts. Mapping occurred in the mid-nineteenth century as the area was further explored. Gold and silver strikes in the 1860s brought about a boom of development as thou- sands of people settled in the area. The county population approached 8000. Frisco devel- oped around the crossroads of two wagon routes that supplied the area with goods from Denver. In 1880 Frisco became an incorpo- rated town. For the next 60 years, Frisco went through a series of boom and bust cycles re- lated to mining.

    In 1947, Arapahoe Basin, the first ski area in Summit County opened and helped attract people to the area. Friscos main street was U.S. Highway 6, a major east-west connection be- tween Denver and Grand Junction. Retail businesses developed along this automobile route. Summer cabins owned by people from the front range of the Rockies also contributed to the development of Frisco.

    Frisco was still a sleepy mountain town when the Breckenridge Ski Area opened in 1961. Keystone Resort opened in 1970 and Copper Mountain in 1972. Alpine skiing was firmly es- tablished as the major attraction in Summit County. Concurrent with the development of the ski industry was the development of the Dillon Dam and Reservoir in the early 1960s This 3300ha man-made lake also facilitated the growth of recreational activities in Summit County and Frisco. The full-time population of Summit County was approximately 2600 in 1970.

    The year 1972 was one of transition for Frisco and West Main Street. Prior to 1972, when West Main Street served as U.S. High- way 6, automobile traffic sustained many of the

  • businesses on West Main Street until the com- As a result of a new interchange with Inter- pletion of U.S. Interstate 70 in 1972. The In- state 70, the area at the northern end of town terstate ran just north and bypassed Frisco (see began to develop. With better access and visi- Fig. 3). Stagnation occurred on West Main bility from the interstate highway, this area Street and no new development occurred for gradually surpassed West Main Street as the the next IO years. predominant commercial district.








    0 ,l .5 1


    Fig. 3. SCALE

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    Prior to 1980, a few attempts were made at revitalizing West Main Street, but none was successful. Community workshops were held in 1977 and 1978 with little accomplished. A parking and drainage study was initiated in 1979 but the results of the study were not clear.

    In a 1980 study, Barbara Cole of Colorado Services Collaborative identified two main de- ficiencies in these past planning efforts. First, there appeared to be a lack of grass-roots com- munity involvement in the development of improvement plans. The planning process was a top down method, that is, the community was given plans and ideas to react to rather than the chance to become involved in their forma- tion. Secondly, the town believed in an inex- pensive and quick-fix solution. Little empha- sis was given to detailed analysis and study.


    Another transitional year for the town of Frisco came in 1980. In the spring of that year, Doug Jones was elected as the new town mayor. An almost entirely new town board also was elected and the town planner was released. A few months later, in July, Gerry Engle was hired as the new town planner and Barbara Cole was hired as a consultant to assist in the development of long-range plans for Frisco.

    As Mary Ellen Gilliland writes in her book, Frisco! A Colorful Colorado Community, A maverick mentality in 1980 set the pace for in- novations in Friscos approach to develop- ment. That mentality led to grass-roots citizen participation in Friscos renovation.


    The town of Frisco started the revitalization process in September of 1980 by holding a se- ries of community meetings. The goal of the three initial meetings, in which approximately

    120 of the towns 1200 full-time residents par- ticipated, was to identify the areas on which the town needed to focus the most attention. A planning process developed by Barbara Cole became known as Citizens of Frisco Planning Frisco.

    At the list meeting the citizens were pre- sented with a mapping exercise prepared by the consultant. Each map related to a different is- sue. The first map was called the Un-Secret, and was designed to draw out various bits and pieces of information about Frisco of which few people were aware. The second map, called Good & Bad, charted Friscos assets and li- abilities. It was boastful yet critical. The Ideal map was a wish list. What would the people of Frisco like to happen in the town given no restaints whatsoever? The last map was the Action map. It asked for improve- ments that were practical and attainable for re- vitalizing West Main Street.

    At the end of the third meeting, the group reached a consensus and five main areas were identified as needing the most attention. They were:

    redevelopment of West Main Street; development of a parks and recreation plan; formation of a town master plan; historic preservation; review and amendment of development regulations. With these goals clearly established, a citi-

    zens task force was organized to address each issue. The task forces were given timetables by the town staff in which to complete their work.


    The West Main Street task force was com- prised of approximately 25 participants, rang- ing from business owners, developers, town council members and interested citizens. Spe- cifically, their goal was to identify problems on Main Street and develop solutions.

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    The format of the committee was fairly in- formal, although there were some basic ground rules. The first rule was that a person had to be present to participate in the decision-making process, and secondly, everyone present had an equal say and vote. Once a decision was made, it was final. There was no going back over a previous decision to accommodate a person who had missed that meeting. This policy helped to encourage strong attendance at the meetings. Communication between the staff, consultant and the task force was good, aided by regular mailings of agendas to all members.

    One of the first jobs of the task force was to clearly reach a consensus on the problems of West Main Street. The group concluded:

    West Main Street lacked character. It did not have an identity as the town center and main business district. There was no cohesion or continuity, and the area was not an inviting place to visit. West Main Street lacked defined sidewalks and pedestrian spaces. It was a varied assort- ment of dirt, concrete sidewalks, board- walks and ambiguous barriers separating au- tomobiles and pedestrians, and, therefore, was not conductive to pedestrians. West Main Street lacked defined parking

    spaces. Parking was haphazard, confusing and inefficient. The lack of the curbs and gutters also made for poor drainage, further deterring pedestrian traffic.

    West Main Street needed more upkeep. Property owners were not sufficiently main- taining their buildings and grounds.

    Over a course of three months, nine meet- ings, and the help of private consultants and independent studies, the solutions and direc- tives were finalized. Specifically, the task force addressed several key areas:

    acceptable land uses along West Main Street; automobile parking and circulation; physical street improvements such as side- walks, lighting, street furniture and landscaping:

    new building forms and zoning requirements; building signs and entrances; street design criteria; special promotional activities and events. After detailing these solutions, the consult-

    ant compiled the task forces work into a re- port called Designers Kit. A design compe- tition was then held to further refine and conceptualize the groups work. Three archi- tectural firms were selected to compete for the $90 000 contract and were paid $2500 to pro- duce a display, using the Designers Kit as a guideline. Each display contained a minimum Of:

    plan view illustrating the task forces conclu- sions with regard to West Main Street im- provement and street treatments: three cross-sections of proposed improve- ments at key locations; a longitudinal section of the street: sketches and illustrations of key public sec- tor improvements: a handout for the public which explained the design concept. The improvement plans were then pre-

    sented to interested citizens in July of 198 1. The West Main Street task force, town staff, and private citizens reconvened in the weeks after the public presentation to select one of the design teams to prepare a final design and pro- duce construction documents. The Boulder, Colorado-based firm of Downing & Leach was selected with town board approval. With con- tinued consultation with the consultant and task force, Downing & Leach provided the town with drawings, models and construction documents.

    This final plan and recommendations were then submitted to the Frisco town board in May of 1982. Because of continued participa- tion and support by board members within the task force, the plan was quickly accepted and the proposed improvements were put out for bid. Construction began the following month in June and was completed by September. The

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    task force met two more times to address new problems during construction. When these problems were resolved, the group dissolved, having completed its goal.

    According to town records, Frisco spent ap- proximately $1.4 million on West Main Street improvements. Another $1.2 million was spent for the construction of a new town hall, located at the west end of the core area. According to building permit records, approximately $15 million of private development occurred on West Main Street during the next two years. West Main Street improvements were fi- nanced through a sales tax revenue bond. In 1979 Frisco raised its sales tax from 2 to 4%, with the revenue generated earmarked for cap- ital improvements.


    Today Frisco is alive and well with an ac- tive, attractive and pleasant West Main Street (see Fig. 4). The infill of new businesses is continuing at a steady pace with quality build- ings. Although many of the businesses still ca- ter to tourists, several professional-oriented business exist as well.

    In the view of Gerry Engle, the effort to re- vitalize West Main Street was a success for sev- eral reasons. First and foremost, the planning process that drew community participation worked well. Enthusiasm remained at a high level throughout the planning process. The forum for inducing citizen participation, Citi- zens of Frisco Planning Frisco, was clear and organized. The West Main Street task force proved to be fair and accessible.

    Secondly, once the problems of West Main Street were exposed and discussed, a clear plan of action and goals easily evolved. With a clear goal, a timetable was established. The project was not allowed to drag on endlessly; it de- manded action.

    The last key factor in the success of the proj- ect, according to Engle, was the interaction of the key participants. There was stability, along

    with cohesion and cooperation. The town staff was organized and enthusiastic. There was consensus rather than dissension among the town board, and many board members took an active role within the task force. Also, the role of the consultant as an objective third party greatly facilitated the planning process. Mayor Doug Jones was aggressive, motivated and de- termined to see the project through to comple- tion. And, in the words of Engle, We had a good group of citizens to work with.


    West Main Street today is not without chal- lenges and competition. Since the early 1980s the philosophy of what West Main . Street should be or could be appears to be changing. As was true with earlier American rural towns, the main street was the center of activity, the business leader and the focal point of town. This appeared to be the goal of the revitaliza- tion process in Frisco. The idea that West Main Street would be the major shopping and activ- ity center of Frisco was prevalent. It was in- tended to be the major draw and attraction in itself.

    Recent and proposed commercial develop- ment north of West Main Street appears to be changing that philosphy. The development of a large discount chain store on Summit Boule- vard, just north of West Main Street, already has had an impact. In addition, over another 22 000 m2 of retail space is expected to be con- structed within two years. The principal ten- ants of these developments will be major man- ufacturers retail outlets, such as L.L. Bean. The intent will be to attract people from surround- ing areas as far as Denver, 125 km to the east. Bruce Bowman, current Frisco town planner, expects 25 000 people weekly to be drawn into Frisco who otherwise would not. The results of this will be to create a distinct and separate major commercial district adjacent to West Main Street.

    It is now anticipated that West Main Street

  • Fig. 4. West Main Street, 1983.

    will become more of an accessory business dis-

    This situation closely parallels the scenario

    trict, drawing much of its clientele from the de- velopments &r Summit Boulevard. This ap- pears to deviate from the original goal of the revitalization effort on West Main Street.


    Cole, B., 1982. Frisco West Main Street Design Kit. Colorado Services Collaborative, unpublished.

    with Citizens Committees, Colorado Municipalities, Jan-

    Cole, B., personal communication, 1988. EngJe, G., 1984. Citizens of Frisco Planning Frisco: Working

    of many large urban cities in the United States. For more than a decade, large new suburban shopping malls have drawn shoppers and life out of inner cities. Whether or not this is the case in Frisco remains to be seen.

    uary-February 1984. Engle, G., personal communications, 1988. Gilliland. M.E.. 1984. Frisco! A Colorful Colorado Commu-

    nity. Frisco Historical Society, Alpenrose Press.


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