Our view: Yampa Street has been a long time coming | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Yampa Street has been a long time coming

At issue: Last week marked the official end of a project that resulted in dramatic pedestrian improvements on Yampa Street. 

Our view: The perseverance of city of Steamboat Springs department heads and city council members, along with a handful of business visionaries, has delivered on the potential of Yampa Street.

Editorial Board • Logan Molen, publisher • Lisa Schlichtman, editor • Tom Ross, reporter • Alice Klauzer, community representative • Cameron Hawkins, community representative Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com.

Depending upon your perspective, the completion of traffic and pedestrian improvements on Yampa Street have either been four — or 34 — years in the making. Now, that it’s done, we think the re-birth of Yampa Street is worth celebrating throughout Independence Day week.

For decades, community leaders have vowed to increase the connection between the Yampa River and a more accessible and appealing business district on Yampa Street.

The city of Steamboat Springs, led by City Manager Gary Suiter, Planning Director Tyler Gibbs and City Engineer Ben Beall, brought the $6.9 million project to the finish this month and many other local officials worked on the project before them.

We don’t have to tell you that it hasn’t been easy. The Yampa River Core Trail, the refurbished Fifth Street Bridge and the pedestrian bridge over the Yampa at Ninth Street all improved connectivity in the area. Yet, Yampa Street languished for decades without a consistent network of wide sidewalks and marked crosswalks  needed to truly make the street pedestrian friendly. 

Sidewalks, curbs, parking and bike lanes for Yampa Street were addressed in the city’s $439,000 downtown streetscapes plan put together by Britina Design Group in May 2007. That same plan was used in the design of the recent Lincoln Avenue makeover.

In order for the plan to happen, a previous City Council took a deep breath and gave up on the unpopular idea of funding downtown improvements by capturing an increment of existing property taxes through its urban renewal authority.   

One of the longtime goals for the Yampa Street project was to eliminate the commercial “dead zones” represented by the former Yampa Valley Electric Building between 10th and Ninth streets,  the ambulance barn on the river bank and the building holding the police department and fire department at 840 Yampa St.

The garage bays where the electric cooperative once kept its fleet of repair trucks is now a lively dining and retail area. The staff of the Steamboat Pilot & Today is excited at the prospect of joining them downtown this summer in its new office suite, entered from 10th Street.

Significantly, the new Yampa Street provides pedestrians and cyclists with the same stature motorists have enjoyed.

Beall explained this month how newly-painted blue lane markers make it official — cyclists are approved to ride down the middle of Yampa Street, and automobile drivers are being called upon to share their traffic lanes. Pedestrians now have wide sidewalks and narrower crossings up and down the street. We like it.

Construction on a new police headquarters on Steamboat’s west side is underway. Someday, when the fire department is able to relocate to a modern fire station, somewhere outside the commercial district,  the goal of replacing those government offices with sales-tax generating businesses will be nearly complete.

The private sector has also been a proponent of the renaissance on Yampa. Veteran Steamboat commercial broker Jim Cook has long been an advocate for Yampa Street. Mark Scully and Green Courte Partners, developers of Howelsen Place, set the tone for wide sidewalks on Yampa Street a decade ago.

Several presidents of the board of Main Street Steamboat have pushed for improvements on Yampa Street, and former longtime Main Street Steamboat executive director Tracy Barnett tried to get property owners in downtown to approve a business improvement district to take care of the new improvements. We still have hope that will someday happen.

Finally, in the midst of the most disruptive street work on Yampa Street in the last four years, late City Council President Mary Brown took on the thankless task of appeasing business owners up and down the street while customers struggled to get to their doors during construction.

We’ll miss Brown’s ability to build consensus, but she will always be one of the people remembered for persevering to deliver the community of Steamboat Springs a newly vital commercial district along the Yampa River.

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