Donning green hard hats during a short-lived break from the storms Monday, Mayor John Warner and other town leaders gathered in front of the peeling panels of the Roberty Whyte House and each tossed a shovelful of dirt to celebrate the start of work on the final renovation of the Breckenridge Arts District.
During a brief statement to a crowd of supporters, Warner thanked members of the Breckenridge Town Council for their foresight in accelerating a project once expected to take 20 years to complete. Monday’s ground breaking launched the start of construction on the last phase of the build out and enhancement of the downtown arts campus, which is now set to be finished in 2014, just 10 years after it began.
“These individuals have shown a real commitment to getting things done in the last year or two,” Warner said of the council. “We’re going to see some incredible things coming from the town of Breckenridge in the next couple of years and the (Breckenridge Arts District) is the first of several. These people had the vision to recognize this as a significant opportunity to round out our economic sustainability through arts and culture.”
The arts district is a collection of historic buildings located between Ridge and Main streets that provides space for visiting artists, public workshops and classes. Town leaders plan to invest an estimated $3 million over the next two years reworking the area to create a cohesive campus that is inviting to pedestrians.
The makeover will include the restoration of five existing historic structures, the construction of two new buildings and aesthetic improvements such as walkways, plazas, sculptures, green spaces and lighting, all intended to tie the campus together.
“Breckenridge will be on the map as a destination for the arts here very soon,” Jen Cram, who administers the arts district for the town, said at Monday’s ground breaking.
But the project has the owners of private art galleries in Breckenridge concerned that the revamped district might cause fallout for their already struggling industry. Those in the for-profit art world worry that if town officials mandate that the district be self-sustaining that it could pull business from their own market.
“The jury is still out,” said Gary Freese, who owns the Breckenridge Art Gallery on Main Street with his wife Janet. “But we are extremely skeptical as far as what the intent is and what the mandate will be on maintaining that district. It’s got to be sustained and unless they’re budgeting dollars to sustain it, then those funding avenues will be potentially in direct conflict with galleries.”
The arts district facilities are primarily dedicated to art demonstrations, classes and workshops, rather than the sale of pieces, but Breckenridge officials say town leaders do expect the department to break even.
The mayor said the arts district is not intended to take business away from the private galleries.
“We really just want to grow the pie, not really compete,” Warner said.
Officials hope the arts district will eventually extend outward, connecting to the Blue River Plaza and the Riverwalk Center to the west and the old CMC building to the east. Those facilities, as well as the Breckenridge Theater building, are slated for large-scale improvement projects in the next few years as well.
“We’re going to see some incredible things coming from the town of Breckenridge in the next couple of years and the (Breckenridge Arts District) is the first of several. These people had the vision to recognize this as a significant opportunity to round out our economic sustainability through arts and culture.”
Mayor John Warner