Real Estate & Construction  February 25, 2011

Promoters plug power into pickle plant plans

FORT COLLINS – The stalled economy shelved a potential public art and downtown gateway project that some would like to see the city of Fort Collins put back in the spotlight.

“We just want it to be on the forefront of some of the projects they’ve put on hold, because this is a gateway into Fort Collins and kind of brings in that side of town,´ said Jane Nevrivy, chair of the city’s Art in Public Places Board.

In comments submitted in support of the adoption of Plan Fort Collins, the board in late December sent a memo to the mayor and city council noting that the shelved “Pickle Plant Project” – which could include a functioning solar farm – would provide a “functional, environmental sculpture that serves as a gateway to downtown Fort Collins.”

The project would be located on a six-acre site at the northeast intersection of Mulberry Street and Riverside Avenue that was for several decades the home of a pickle plant. The Art in Public Places Board noted that the project could provide solar-generated electricity to the city’s nearby water reclamation facility or be fed into the city’s power grid.

The Pickle Plant Project was just in the beginning planning stages when the economy began to slow in 2007.

“It has been a project in the works for a while, but it’s been on hold for a while,´ said Ellen Martin, city staff liaison to the Art in Public Places Board.

Martin said the December memo to city council “was the Art in Public Places Board’s opportunity to voice support for the project and pick it up and move it forward.”

Martin said early planning for the project started modestly and then picked up momentum when artist Robert Tully suggested it could also be functional.

“It was a project that was small to begin with and then we started dreaming larger when the idea of a working solar farm was suggested,” she said.

Colorful history

Tully recalls the excitement that began to build during the project’s planning.

“There were a number of ideas suggested but the one that struck me was to make it a grand vision of a gateway with a solar farm and artwork, too,” he said. “Along the way, I realized the pickle plant had a colorful history. My idea was to hold onto that and build the solar farm around it. For me, it’s important to keep our history because we don’t have a lot of it.”

The Art in Public Places program was created in 1995 with the mission of enhancing and encouraging artistic expression and art appreciation. More than 50 works, ranging from large metal and stone sculptures to pathway inlays, have been placed around town since then, with two created by Tully at Timberline Road just south of Mulberry Street and at Soft Gold Park on West Hickory Street.

No estimated cost has been projected for the proposed Pickle Plant Project, which would consist mainly of solar panels arranged in an artistic pattern around the last remaining building on the site.

But Tully noted that, as a functioning solar farm, the project could pay back its investment by providing electricity to the city. And that would make it unique, he said.

“There aren’t many artworks that could actually pay for themselves,” he said.

The Art In Public Places Board also noted in its memo to council that the project would support FortZED “as an innovative clean-energy project” and that the site “could be used for educational tours as well as potential testing for new types of solar panels.”

Supports FortZED

FortZED is a collaborative effort among the city, Colorado State University and the private sector to make a defined area between the CSU campus and downtown Fort Collins a “zero-energy district” with businesses and other power users conserving and creating as much electricity as they consume.

Tully said one possible beneficiary of a Pickle Plant solar farm could be the city’s water reclamation facility just east of the site on Mulberry Street.

“It would support that (FortZED) concept and offset a good part of the water reclamation facility’s electricity use,” he said. “It definitely supports the FortZED goal.”

“I think it’s just a perfect thing for the city to get involved with,” added Nevrivy. “When you can tie into a project like (FortZED), everybody wins.”

But so far, the project has not been on FortZED’s radar, said Judy Dorsey, president of the Brindle Group, executive director of the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster and an active participant in FortZED.

“I have not been in the loop on the Pickle Plant Project,” she said. “It has not been presented to FortZED as a project.”

And the city-owned site might become a private development at some point.

Christina Vincent, city planner, said the former pickle plant site has development issues. There is currently no easy access to it because of train tracks running between it and Riverside and.

“There isn’t any formal proposal or anything scheduled at this point,” she said. “I think we’re just waiting for the right development project to come forward. It’s a site we own, but we’re not interested in being the developer of it.”

Meanwhile, the Art in Public Places Board is pushing to convince the city to convert the unused site into an attractive downtown gateway that celebrates the city’s agricultural history and its commitment to green energy.

“It’s a great site and certainly not used very effectively right now,´ said Martin.

“It would be a landmark – a very distinctive landmark,´ said Tully.

“Our mission is to enhance our community as much as we can culturally, and to build an identity for the city of Fort Collins,” Nevrivy added. “I think every city wants to make a statement about itself.”

FORT COLLINS – The stalled economy shelved a potential public art and downtown gateway project that some would like to see the city of Fort Collins put back in the spotlight.

“We just want it to be on the forefront of some of the projects they’ve put on hold, because this is a gateway into Fort Collins and kind of brings in that side of town,´ said Jane Nevrivy, chair of the city’s Art in Public Places Board.

In comments submitted in support of the adoption of Plan Fort Collins, the board in late December sent a memo to…

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