Town of Dillon/Courtesy photo
An effort to make Dillon more walkable could begin with a project to turn an alley near Village Place into a pedestrian plaza with opportunities for pop-up markets and events.
After conducting a survey of residents and visitors and an analysis of the Dillon town core, representatives from Clark & Enersen, a design firm hired by the town, returned before the Town Council on Tuesday, March 21, with recommendations on how to improve walkability.
“We’ve decided that the best recommendation is to implement a very solid, strong, central core in the town core because all these user groups all have different interests,” said Kevin Small, a landscape architect with Clark & Enersen. “But what they all have in common is they all probably like ice cream and pizza and pop-up events and things like that.”
The project team led by Small received direction from Town Council at a previous meeting to come up with a plan that connects the town park, the marina and the amphitheater, he said.
To assess the public’s wants and needs, the design firm conducted a survey that allowed for both in-person and online responses. The survey received more than 250 responses, “which is pretty unheard of in our experience,” according to Helen Davidoski, a landscape designer with the firm.
“The two common themes that really stuck with us were people are passionate about this community and what it is today — the local mountain town pride in their community as it is,” Davidoski said. “And many people are in favor of strategic development, making this walkable but maintaining that character of the space and improving daily amenities, parking, walkability and all that.”
Taking feedback from the survey and aiming to connect the town’s main amenities, the design team proposed a central core area they dubbed “The Deck.” This proposal would transform the alley near Village Place into a fully pedestrian plaza, where pop-up vendors and events would attract people and, in turn, businesses, according to Small.
Outfitted with string lights, firepits and potentially even a small stage, The Deck would be a central point that — with some recommended improvements to walkable routes — connects to other amenities in town, such as the town park, the marina and the amphitheater, Small said. As an example, a person leaving the amphitheater after a concert might be attracted to make their way up to The Deck after the show to find some food or a drink, he said.
Town of Dillon/Courtesy photo
Pop-up events or town-sponsored gatherings similar to First Friday get-togethers held in Silverthorne could initially attract people to the area, Small said, with the goal of ultimately enticing businesses to take up shop in the area.
“Now there is at least a reason for people to go there whenever those events are,” Small said. “And maybe the next coffee shop owner thinks, ‘You know what? I think I can make this work.’”
A strong partnership with a business such as an outdoor coffee shop could go a long way to establishing the area from the get-go, Small said. He also noted a large parking lot in the area could be used as a “flex space” that could sometimes be converted into a spot for events while still serving as parking most days.
Polled by Mayor Carolyn Skowyra, most council members appeared to be interested in pursuing a project such as The Deck. Noting that the town often programs a lot of activities in the short summer months, Skowyra suggested marketing the proposed area as a year-round spot.
“Summer is two months long,” Skowyra said, “so it would be great to say we’re not just thinking about summer here. We’re thinking about a year-round walkable town — come experience Dillon outside — all year long.”
Council member Brad Bailey asked whether there would be major infrastructure costs associated with a project such as The Deck.
Town Engineer Dan Burroughs responded that “it’s a very easy project,” adding that the main piece of infrastructure required would be a boiler system to heat the pedestrian walkway to keep it clear of snow and ice in the winter.
Finance Director Carri McDonnell noted that there is about $750,000 available for such a project already available in the budget this year, with at least an additional $200,000 available next year. Small said the firm could design options to fit whatever the town’s budget is, including possibly phasing the project.
Bailey also asked whether it would be possible to get the project under way by fall of this year. Burroughs responded that it could be possible.
But, noting that a developer has proposed a major redevelopment of the town core, including areas that would be adjacent to The Deck, council member Kyle Hendricks said he would want the two projects to match and sees no reason the council has to move fast.
“I think we should hold off and see what is coming down the pipe with this larger project,” Hendricks said. “We don’t need to be in a hurry.”
He also raised concern that the proposed location near Village Place might not be the ideal place for such a project.
“It doesn’t seem like a good place to be spending a lot of money,” Hendricks said. “Where are people going to walk? The post office?”
Bailey disagreed, saying, “If you build it, they will come.”
“We’ve got to create an artistic downtown to attract people to attract vendors,” Bailey said. “Then, hopefully, it is a self fulfilling prophecy from there.”
If a project like The Deck comes to fruition, Davidoski said it is the design firm’s hope that it would be an area that also connects residents and visitors to other parts of town.
“As a stand alone this will be a destination,” Davidoski said. “But hopefully if the whole walkability plan is recognized then it is operating both as a destination and the thruway.”