City Designates Creative District

By: Michael Varnum, Salida SteamPlant Director

The creativity of Salida’s community drew me to the city, first as a visitor, and later as a permanent resident. Our small Colorado municipality is recognized as a state leader in the arts. This is greatly due to our community’s commitment to emphasizing our existing historic downtown as a center of commerce and to a strong contingent of creative enterprises reusing this existing built environment to live, work and conduct business.

Salida’s unique growth, during the recent economic downturn, is due to a community comprised of numerous independent business owners as well as arts, cultural and non‐profit organizations. Our downtown neighborhood has been transformed into a focal point for attracting visitors and celebrating and strengthening Salida’s unique identity.

On Jan. 30, the City of Salida requested certification of our community’s downtown core as a Creative District by the State of Colorado, per the guidelines of House Bill 11-1031.  The purpose of the bill is to enhance local economic and civic capital. The state is home to more than 186,000 creative workers and 8,000 creative enterprises, making it the 5th largest employment cluster. Creative districts provide a tool to maximize and leverage this asset.

If our grant is accepted, Salida will become one of less than 10 Districts to receive funding and technical assistance from the Colorado Office of Economic Development to develop branding, marketing and funding strategies. The state’s expectation is that each district will achieve measurable local impacts in terms of the retention and attraction of creative enterprises and jobs, improved retail, dining and gallery sales and continued downtown revitalization.

With the Creative District distinction, the City can further work toward its vision of a self‐sustaining historic downtown core that is supported by and energizes creative entrepreneurs, independent retail and residential development; promotes adaptive reuse of historic buildings; and provides a focal point for celebrating and strengthening the community’s creative identity.

These ideals are described in the City’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan and its 2007 Historic Downtown Improvement and Economic Development Plans. Its goals are to promote, support and expand Salida’s existing creative industries with the purpose of driving economic growth and enhancing the quality of life of the creative entrepreneurs living and working in its historic downtown and central business zone. The City seeks formal state designation with the objectives of branding, organizing and marketing what already exists to increase the significant positive impact of this existing hub on the local economy.

On Feb. 7, per the application requirements, the Salida City Council passed a resolution formalizing the District boundaries and expressed commitment to the project. The resolution recognizes and emphasizes the positive impact of Salida’s unique and vibrant downtown on the local economy and lays out a future vision of a municipality that strategically targets creative activity as a viable economic development strategy.

The City has already shown great leadership in using its civic and creative capital to transform a downtown in disrepair into a vibrant hub of creative activity, commerce and community. The state distinction of “Creative District” will allow Salida to fully implement its goal of promoting, supporting and expanding its existing creative industries.

During the grant application process it was amazing to learn how many creative industries are within just a few blocks of where I live and work. While developing this application, Crissy Supples, the SteamPlant Marketing and Social Media Coordinator, Dara MacDonald, the interim City Administrator and Community Development Director, and I were assisted by many community members who share our passion for Salida. Many groups wrote letters of support for the project. It makes us proud to be part of such an innovative and creative community.