Downtown Fort Collins has gained certification as part of the state's Colorado Creative District program. (Courtesy city of Fort Collins)

Fort Collins Creative District gains state certification

FORT COLLINS – Colorado Creative Industries, a division of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, announced on Thursday the certification of the Fort Collins Creative District into the Colorado Creative Districts program.

The Fort Collins district is one of six new members of the program, joining 12 existing Colorado Creative Districts, including the Greeley Creative District and the Longmont Arts and Entertainment District.

The Fort Collins Creative District essentially encompasses the city’s historic downtown area – stretching north to the Poudre River, east to Library Park, west to the Lincoln Center and as far south as the new Music District being created by the Bohemian Foundation.

Created in 2011, the Creative Districts Program was established to help the districts around the state build initial organizational structures, funding streams and strategic plans needed to grow their local creative economies. Along with official designation by the state, each creative district receives $40,000 in cash and in-kind services from the state.

Margaret Hunt, director of Colorado Creative Industries, said each district can choose from a suite of services to best benefit their own endeavors. Services offered include things like the Colorado Department of Transportation placing signs for the districts on state highways that run through them, media and promotional assistance, leadership training, and microloans for companies within the district.

Part of the biggest value of the program to the creative districts, though, is the designation itself, Hunt said, particularly as the districts market themselves and seek funding from other outside sources. Three existing districts in Pueblo, Telluride and Lakewood have received outside grants, including a recent $100,000 grant for the district in Lakewood from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Creative districts applying for the state certification must go through a two-year candidacy process. Each must capture its own unique story, have a local government endorsement, and be engaged with a variety of other public entities like economic development, public transportation and social services so that it’s something the community supports and embraces as part of its identity.

Peggy Lyle, director of a local task force’s effort to establish the Fort Collins Creative District, echoed Hunt’s notions about the marketing value of the designation, as well as the cohesiveness it helps provide.

“I think the primary thing is being recognized and really identified as a creative district,” Lyle said. “I think that holds weight for us to talk about the creative industry in Fort Collins in an articulate way. Without that certification and that recognition, it’s just a little bit looser collection of businesses that don’t really have that unifying theme.”

Lyle added that the designation helps lend some credibility to the creative district even within the community, helping magnify arts and culture’s status as an economic driver.

“I think this is the next step in helping us articulate that,” Lyle said.

Aside from Fort Collins, the six newly approved creative districts include the Breckenridge Arts District, Carbondale Creative District, Crested Butte Creative District, Golden Triangle Creative District and Mancos Creative District.

Those six beat out bids from nine other applicants in the latest round, including an application from Estes Park.

“We pick the very best ones, and then we always give the ones that weren’t certified some very constructive feedback and encourage them to apply again,” Hunt said.