Longmont’s big plans for First and Main project

LONGMONT — After months of public input, study and consulting Longmont officials have unveiled the final draft proposal plan meant to reinvigorate Longmont’s downtown area.

The First and Main Station revitalization project aims to draw new development to the area, both commercial and residential, as well as improve community use and access to businesses, greenways and public spaces.

Centered in the heart of Longmont at the intersection of First Avenue and Main Street, across from the former Butterball LLC processing plant, the redevelopment project will extend approximately a quarter mile in each direction, said David Starnes, redevelopment manager for the city of Longmont, and include nearly 500 acres. The draft proposal includes short-term, mid-term and long-term goals for the area over a 25-year span, Starnes said, and focuses around a transit-oriented development plan.

“The idea is to have ground-floor businesses, then apartment units or condos above,” said Phil Greenwald, transportation planner for Longmont.

It’s a concept that fits with studies showing a Generation Y population of young professionals interested in living close to shopping areas coupled with a growing population of empty-nesters, both groups ready to reduce dependency on personal cars.

The plan proposes mixed zoning for residential and commercial use, a core commercial section and a focus on quality pedestrian and public transportation access. The proposal is expected to go to the Longmont City Council for adoption in late May.

The plan originally hinged on a transit center meant to accommodate the Regional Transportation District’s extension of FasTracks commuter rail to Longmont, a plan derailed by RTD’s FasTracks financial problems.

“We’re still pushing for the train, but this station is now flexible enough to include bus rapid transit if that’s what RTD intends,” Greenwald said.

The transit center would be funded by $17 million from RTD for a Longmont station, Greenwald said, and construction could start as early as next year. Even with no commuter rail, the transit center could serve as a hub to unite existing Longmont public transportation.

The First and Main proposal also addresses streetscape and infrastructure concerns that might deter private developers, such as fixing some flood-plain issues, expanding and improving sidewalks, creating a pedestrian underpass for the railroad crossing next to the former Butterball processing plant and connecting the area via a bike path to the St. Vrain River and nearby trails, Starnes said.

The proposal garnered positive community support at the unveiling, Starnes said, and aligned with public recommendations, such as keeping the historic character of the downtown area, increasing public use spaces and parks and capitalizing on Longmont’s small town, community-oriented feel.

Additional funding for the project will come from urban renewal financing since a portion of the area is considered blighted – funds that can be used for anything considered of “public benefit,” Starnes said. Infrastructure and inward-looking improvements should lay the groundwork for future private developers, Starnes said.

The city has already landed its first big fish: Longmont’s Cheese Importers plans to relocate near First and Main this summer, Starnes said.

Cheese Importers is a “destination” business, drawing more than 60,000 people a year to its current location on South Pratt Parkway where it’s been housed for 26 years, said co-owner Samm White. The business sells 500 different kinds of cheese to retail and wholesale customers.

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