Beautifying a brown town

COURTESY PHOTO Craig Stoffel's initial sign designs were criticized for looking generic and "national park-ish." The revisions feature more local touches.

By Luke Groskopf Journal staff writer

Motorists and pedestrians traveling up and down South Broadway are greeted by a concrete jungle - asphalt, sidewalks, paved medians, with little vegetation in sight. By late summer, however, they'll see more greenery.

In June or July, crews will begin tearing up the medians and replacing them with mulched plant beds, improved street lights and decorative art. Work should be finished by September.

South Broadway is only phase one of a more ambitious plan to beautify Cortez. DHM Design, a Durango architecture firm, unveiled a series of concept drawings on Tuesday that covered North Broadway, Main Street, E. Seventh Street and the four main entrances into town.

Planning Director Kirsten Sackett said the South Broadway improvements alone - roughly from Handy Mart to Burger King - are costing the city $600,000. They have already been factored into this year's budget.

The timetable for the other phases is unclear. City sales tax will need to stay strong. It also hinges on discovering grant opportunities and securing sponsorships from local businesses to shoulder part of the cost.

The concept plan calls for more elaborate welcome signs leading into Cortez from Towaoc, Dove Creek, Dolores and Mancos. A popular idea among residents is tailoring each sign with appropriate themes, corresponding to each direction: Ute Mountain Ute from South Broadway, agriculture from North Broadway, outdoor recreation coming in from Highway 145, and Mesa Verde from Highway 160.

The barren, nondescript status quo has left many locals dissatisfied.

City Manager Shane Hale, for one, lamented the poor first impression Cortez's gateways can make on visitors.

"We have these great, picturesque views, but that's not what we show people with they drive into Cortez. Looking at entrances gives (tourists) a slice of what a city is all about. This (effort) is about giving a more accurate reflection of what our community is," he said.

Several residents who attended the unveiling on Tuesday described the entrances as "eyesores."

Craig Stoffel, the designer who created the plan, said the goal is two-fold: on one hand, the need to represent diverse lifestyles and people-groups; on the other, continuity.

"We don't just want a patchwork of different designs," he said.

While creating the plan, Sackett organized three meetings in Towaoc to solicit Ute Mountain Ute feedback. Attendees said they'd like to see tribal symbols like roses, lizards, mustangs, drums, dancing bears and pottery worked into the design elements. One idea for the medians included giant, "half-buried" pots emerging from the earth, with shrubs, ornamental grasses and flowers inside.

They did not want Kokopelli iconography.

If money allows, the tribe and city also wants a pull-off at the southern entrance, with a "shade trellis" and kiosk showing street and topographical maps.

On the historic stretch of Main Street, between Harrison and Maple, DHM is proposing temporary planters, made of salvaged metal, inside the center turn lanes. When not used for snow storage, much of the lane is wasted space.

"They'd be movable, but only with a forklift," Stoffel said.

Business might have the chance to sponsor a planter and be recognized with plaques. Citizens suggested participation from the Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce and Mesa Verde Country tourism office, since both entities benefit from an attractive Cortez. At the city's request, Stoffel is also working on a "plant palette," or list of hardy, drought-resistant plant species for private businesses to use when landscaping. Hale wasn't sure whether the City Council would vote to make the list mandatory for all new developments or merely offer it as a recommendation.

"We aren't there yet," he said.

Sackett was optimistic that support for beautification would grow as people see results. "Seeing the medians come to fruition (will help). They're sick of plans on shelves," she said.

Several citizens mentioned the need for sustained political pressure. The current council is receptive, but future editions might be less so, they feared.

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