'Downtown is forever'

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS -- A viable downtown area is crucial for economic development, according to Brad Segal, president of Progressive Urban Management Associates.

Tourists are drawn to art, history and uniqueness and developers nearly always tour a potential location's downtown area, he said.

What downtown business owners are doing to ensure Craig's downtown maintains its historic connections and remains attractive and inviting would score high points on Segal's list of what it takes to compete in tough economic times.

Segal was the keynote speaker at a Colorado Municipal League session that challenged cities to keep their downtown areas vital in the wake of competition from outlying shopping malls.

CML hosted its 82nd annual conference this week at the Steamboat Springs Sheraton Resort and Conference Center.

The event drew hundreds of elected city officials and city staff members.

Segal outlined "The 10 Keys to Create a Competitive Downtown" -- all common sense recommendations that many cities lose sight of, he said.

He urged city officials, civic leaders and business owners to partner to form a clear vision and set measurable goals and get a clear understanding of the market area.

Creating an environment that attracts people is a critical first step, one that the city of Craig and downtown business owners partnered to take on seven years ago when they invested in a $400,000 sidewalk renovation project that included installing benches, new trash cans and lights equipped to hold banners.

What that also includes, Segal said, is making sure the area is clean and safe, that parking is adequate and easy to find and ensuring there is adequate signage.

"You've got to make it user-friendly to strangers," he said.

But locals can't be forgotten. Locals often times forget the benefits and uniqueness of what a downtown area offers and need to be reminded often and invited to participate in changes.

"Re-educate the community on the new and evolving roles of downtown," he said. "Strong downtowns are really an asset to developing economy."

Improving a downtown areas is something that is accomplished by taking small steps, Segal said.

Changes should be incremental, organic and entrepreneurial, building on what already exists.

"Large projects follow, they don't lead," he said.

"That downtown is really the heart and soul of a community really is key," he added.

"Suburban concepts will come and go, but downtown is forever."

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