DESIGN AND PRESERVATION IN ACTION IN CENTER!


Contributed by Marianne Stuck, Design Workshop

Since partnering with DCI in 2018 as a Challenge Community, the Town of Center has made significant tangible steps towards improving the quality of life of their residents. Initial steps included correcting the budget shortfalls, hosting placemaking events with DCI that resulted in six vacant downtown buildings receiving new owners, and making the infrastructure improvements necessary to support both current residents and future growth. Together, the partnership between DCI and the Town of Center has continued to work very closely and has been integral to the initiatives this fall.

DCI organized a two-day master planning and policy summit in the Town of Center on October 18-19th where two teams discussed preliminary master planning work along with codes and anti-displacement policy. The master planning effort has resulted from a partnership of the American Planning Association’s Urban Design and Historic Preservation Committee working with Downtown Colorado, Inc. to conduct the First Design and Preservation Rapid Assistance Team (D-PRAT) focused on creating an informed vision for the community in both redevelopment and new development opportunities.

Urban Planners are uniquely suited to address a variety of issues facing our communities. They have the training and tools to facilitate conversations about the future design and development of our cities and towns. In particular, preservationists and designers have the ability to talk about change. The American Planning Association’s Urban Design & Preservation Division brought these skills to the Town of Center, Colorado, in a pilot program called the Design-Preservation Rapid Assistance Team (D-PRAT). 

The goal of the project was to support the Town in brainstorming options for downtown revitalization and to outline a conceptual master plan for a 90-acre property the Town recently purchased and annexed. 

The specific objectives for the D-PRAT team included:  developing land use concepts for the 90-acre annexation area (the “North 90 Addition”) adjacent to the historic downtown core; analyze future housing typologies and housing affordability; explore downtown revitalization opportunities; and propose historic preservation strategies. A nationwide team of experts met with the town leadership and several organizations. The in-person workshops included a tour of the community, discussions with high school students, and a presentation to the Town Board. The in-person team worked with the virtual UDP Division team members who provided critical assistance with maps, graphics, and brainstorming support. 

The final project goals included: help the Town think of ways to respond to future housing needs; create new opportunities for education, interaction, and resiliency; celebrate the historic character of the original downtown; and provide for improved quality of life for the Town’s residents.

The final land use concept included an extension of Worth Street, the town’s historic “Main Street”, through the North 90 Addition and creation of a grid street pattern to tie into the existing town grid. The proposed land uses included a new commercial and mixed-use core extending from the existing downtown commercial district, a new town hall/community center in the downtown, new community park, a small industrial area at the periphery, and a mix of housing types and densities throughout the addition area. The recommendations for the existing commercial area included improving the streetscape along Worth Street by adding pedestrian friendly amenities, enhancing and restoring building facades, potentially add a new median, and promoting infill development. Finally, the team laid out a plan for developing an organization to manage the commercial district and a historic preservation program for the Town. These recommendations lay out a plan for the Town of Center to balance preservation and growth, enhance the town’s sense of place, address housing needs, and empower the future of the community. Overall, the D-PRAT found that the Town of Center has a unique identity, engaged youth, and strong leadership. With the right planning tools, the Town of Center will be a focal point in the San Luis Valley and in Colorado.

This first D-PRAT program opens up a new path for planners and designers to work with underserved communities to tackle historic preservation and urban design challenges, and address needs that exist in many small towns throughout the country.
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