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Formula stores up for debate

Ordinance would limit chain businesses downtown

Mike Lawrence
Taylor Miller-Freutel prepares a coffee drink behind the counter Wednesday at Starbucks on U.S. Highway 40 in Steamboat Springs. Starbucks is one of a handful of "formula" stores already operating successfully in the Steamboat area. The city is considering an ordinance that would make it more difficult for formula stores to open in downtown Steamboat.
Brian Ray

— City planners have drafted an ordinance that would make it harder for chain stores such as Gap or Starbucks from setting up shop in downtown Steamboat Springs.

The ordinance stresses a need to preserve a small-town atmosphere in Old Town.

“The Historic Downtown Commercial Districts are a special and unique asset within the city which could be impacted by the presence of formula establishments that are out of harmony with the downtown districts and which do not contribute to the small town atmosphere,” the ordinance reads.

Senior Planner Jonathan Spence said work on the ordinance began more than a year ago at the request of some members of the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission.

“We looked at a number of other communities that have formula regulations in place, and tried to draft a definition that is appropriate for here,” Spence said.

Planning staff reviewed formula business regulations in municipalities including Sausalito, Calif., Port Townsend, Wash., and Bristol, R.I., said Spence, adding municipalities with such regulations are hard to find.

“They are mostly in smaller towns that have a very high tourist volume or are perhaps located near other larger towns,” he said.

Steamboat’s ordinance would require formula businesses to meet the standards of a conditional use review, a more stringent approval process than is typically required.

The Planning Commission will review the ordinance at 6 p.m. today at Centennial Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

The ordinance defines a formula business as “a type of retail sales activity or retail sales establishment, including restaurant which, along with 10 or more other retail sales establishments, maintains two or more of the following features: a standardized array of merchandise, a standardized façade, a standardized decor and color scheme, a uniform apparel, standardized signage, a trademark or service mark.”

Spence said Steamboat’s relatively small population is not the ideal market for most formula businesses.

“One of the peculiarities about Steamboat is that we don’t really have a lot of that formula stuff – we don’t have a Gap,” Spence said. “You really need a stronger population base. That’s what they’re looking for. They want to go into places like Littleton that have a massive volume. We just don’t have that.”

But commercial space downtown is about to grow significantly.

Local developer Jim Cook of Colorado Group Realty is spearheading three downtown projects – Howelsen Place at Seventh Street, Alpenglow at Sixth Street and Riverwalk at Fifth and Yampa streets – that will add a total of about 50,000 square feet of commercial space downtown.

Other projects under construction, including The Victoria at 10th Street and The Olympian at Fifth Street, also will add commercial space.

Howelsen Place alone will have 10 businesses, Cook said Wednesday. He disagreed with implementing a formula store ordinance downtown.

“I’m a free market guy,” Cook said. “Plus, I think design guidelines can handle the impact of any formula store that might look at the downtown.”

Cook said some name brands could attract shoppers downtown and increase the vitality of the entire area.

“There are some national (stores) that I can guarantee you, downtown retailers would love to have next door to them, because it would pick up their business,” Cook said. “Would a Cold Stone Creamery be bad for downtown? I don’t think so.”

Spence also noted the positive impacts national brands can have.

“People will go to one of these, and then they’ll shop at the little store next door,” Spence said. “On the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, when The Cheesecake Factory moved in, everybody’s sales went up. : It’s a complex issue.”


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