Center community developing, meeting with MASS

Photo by Patrick Shea Residents, town officials, and business owners met on Oct. 18 to discuss development ideas and ensure that no one is displaced as the town grows.

CENTER — Members of the Center town board and business community convened with residents and representatives from partner organizations to share development ideas on Oct. 18. Meetings and site visits continued on Oct. 19, building on a foundation started years ago.

Shortly after Center Town Manager Brian Lujan took his position, he initiated project development with Downtown Colorado Inc. (DCI) in 2018. Center became one of DCI’s Challenge Communities, and one of the first steps entailed finding people to rejuvenate six vacant buildings. Working with the MASS Design Group (Model of Architecture Serving Society), the combined efforts today target housing and opportunities based on current community needs.

Before the meeting on Oct. 18, students from Center High School went through an exercise that attendees continued in the evening. With eight large-format maps of Center situated around the room, participants used sticky notes to identify ideas and memories from different parts of town. Dozens of notes showed their sentiments.

MASS Design Group representatives printed examples of previously completed projects in other towns and asked participants to identify their preferences. Some pictures showed renovations to provide housing in existing buildings. Although Center has opportunities for in-town housing, developing the North 90 project is the priority. Just shy of 90 acres, the vacant plot offers potential.

Before putting a shovel in the ground, however, community input and intentional planning take time. Lujan and the Town Board already addressed prerequisite issues to make the discussions possible. They tackled the town budget to overcome shortfalls. They continue to improve the town’s water and power systems with plans to accommodate more residents and businesses. They also hosted events that eventually turned vacant properties into private ownership. Speaking at the meeting, one of the new property owners said his building will host art activities and gallery showings in the future.

Participants enjoyed a catered meal during the evening meeting and shared thoughts. One resident lamented having to drive to another town to buy certain essentials. Although Center has the third-largest population in the San Luis Valley, the Worth Street business district does not sell everything locals need. Another resident noted that Center does not have motels or lodging options. When schools travel to compete against the Vikings, they leave town for accommodations at night.

The presenters said they have not generated a “leakage report” yet, which is a way to calculate revenue lost when residents leave town for shopping and services.

Unlike speculation development, the current approach begins and ends with community needs. While other towns target tourism for revenue, Center is not on the beaten path for tourists passing through. Income in tourism towns change throughout the seasons, another reason the development plans for Center address community needs first.