Much ado about downtown Dillon |

Much ado about downtown Dillon

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

DILLON Take a walk on a weekday morning through downtown Dillon and try and count the number of for lease signs posted in the windows of commercial buildings there. For a town dependent on sales tax revenues to fund its infrastructure, these signs already abundant, and increasing in number represent a huge problem in search of a solution.Never an architectural showcase, Dillons town center seems to get shabbier every year, and, in what may seem an incongruous move for a resort town in a highly affluent county, the town council recently approved money to fund an urban blight study of the area.A blight study which would catalogue and evaluate the presence of blight conditions like deteriorating buildings, defective street layout, and poor lot accessibility is the first step in the potential creation of an urban renewal district. Establishment of such a district would enable Town government to promote redevelopment in a variety of ways, including creative tax allocation, condemnation authority, and specialized zoning.The study is just the beginning of the process, Dillon town manager Devin Granbery said. A designated urban renewal district would give the Town a larger set of tools with which to address the problem, he added.The recent change in composition of Dillons Town Council may increase enthusiasm for the move: three new Council members Ron Holland, Mary Forsythe, and Doug Roessel all own businesses located within the downtown area.Like many other small municipalities all over the country, retail movement to the outskirts of town has taken its toll on what was once the center of Dillon. Dillon Ridge Marketplace, complete with chains such as City Market, Borders and Bed Bath & Beyond, may keep the Town afloat financially but it does nothing for the town core. Most Summit County residents have no reason to visit Dillons downtown.The town of Avon often considered the high-rent base of the upscale Beaver Creek ski area experienced a similar impact on its traditional core when Home Depot and Super Wal-Mart opened on the edge of town. The Town Council there commissioned a blight study and created an urban renewal authority last year in an attempt to arrest further deterioration of its downtown.As far as Dillon is concerned, none of this will happen overnight, Granbery cautions. The preliminary study itself will take three to five months. He estimates an actual urban renewal authority if created will operate on something like a 20-year time frame.

Whether or not the Town goes the urban renewal route, local developers continue to come up with ideas for the area. At a recent meeting, the owners of the old High Country Health Care building presented Town Council members with a plan to scrape the modest 40-year-old structure and replace it with a much larger edifice containing some upscale retail space and four individual million-dollar condominium units.This is a key element of the core development, owner Eddie OBrien told the council. OBrien and co-owner Mark Richmond came to the Town requesting ownership of the publicly owned swath of landscaped property that lies between the existing building and the sidewalk. Without access to that area, any new structure would be limited in size to the footprint of the old building.The Council responded with interest to the plan, but several members emphasized that more investigation into the feasibility of selling Town-owned land to developers was necessary.Facilitation of such sales would be one benefit of an urban renewal authority, Granbery said.Scraping and redevelopment of the Ristorante al Lago building on Lake Dillon Drive is also a possibility. Owner Ivano Ottoborgo presented a sketch plan of an ambitious mixed-use development for the site to the Towns planning commission earlier this year.Other projects recently presented to the Council include a preliminary plan to raze the Best Western Ptarmigan Inn and replace it with a large residential development.

When they showed the Council their plan for the High Country Health Care building, Richmond and OBrien touched on the unfortunate present reality.Theres not much going on in Dillon right now, Richmond said. To even want to build commercial is pretty risky.The areas most prominent development La Riva del Lago, formerly Dillon Center is perhaps a case in point. Located on Main Street, the mixed-use building that houses the towns bowling alley was renovated and expanded to great public fanfare. Front Range real estate developer Abbas Rajabi added 37 residential units, underground parking, and gave the whole structure a massive facelift.To date, most of the commercial space remains vacant and six of the residences unsold. In January, Rajabi was issued a temporary foreclosure with a debt of more than $4 million before the demand was withdrawn in March.Some things are looking up, though. The state public defenders office will soon be moving to the old Jones Harris site on the ground floor of the Dillon Tech Center. Even though it wont generate any sales tax revenue, at least the office will add some warm bodies to the Town, property owner OBrien said.That space has been vacant for nine years, he said. Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-4651, or at

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