City center discussions led to changes for Loveland

LOVELAND — In many countries, what we call downtown is known as the “city center.”  Much more than a geographic reference, it refers to the center of the community, where people gather and citizens connect, through the arts, public events or commerce.

We can point to a current example of how the concept of city center is being fulfilled in downtown Loveland.  Following a decades-long evolution — from department stores to empty storefronts void of much activity to a vibrant area — Loveland today serves as a model for how a community can remake its downtown into a city center.

Looking back to the start of the 21st century, development in Loveland was moving east, to the U.S. Highway 34 and Interstate 25 interchange. There seemed to be little excitement or clear vision for the historic heart of Loveland.  Today, due to the collaborative efforts of many individuals, local government, and organizations, downtown Loveland has become a great success story. 

Starting an important conversation

Ten years ago, the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado tapped the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Washington, D.C., to share its expertise in framing the issues, challenges, and solutions around community development. With strong leadership from our Loveland Community Fund Committee, the Community Foundation organized and sponsored the event titled “Destination Downtown” in November 2008.

The late Bill Hudnut — five-term mayor of Indianapolis and a senior fellow at the ULI — delivered an inspirational and direction-changing talk about the benefits of a vital downtown. Bill made some unforgettable points that resonated with the audience and, perhaps most importantly, with the Loveland City Council. One memorable comment was, “It is the responsibility of the city to steer the boat while the function of the private sector is to row the boat.” He also compared a city’s downtown to a jigsaw puzzle, encouraging those attending to find and assemble the pieces. And maybe the most incisive point was his simple advice to “be what you are.”

For Loveland, long known as a haven for the arts, Bill’s talk inspired the creation of the Lofts at the Feed & Grain funded by the nonprofit Artspace — a project that came together with help from the city and numerous donors, including the Community Foundation and its Loveland Community Fund.

What was the catalyst for change?

Phil Farley, a former member of the Loveland City Council and a former Community Foundation Trustee, said, “The conversation about downtown changed after that first Destination Downtown Loveland event in 2008 featuring Bill Hudnut. The city, a private developer, and the Community Foundation worked together to tear down and replace two non-historical, single-story buildings next door to the Rialto Theater, which became a unique public-private-philanthropic partnership that resulted in the Rialto Theater Complex.”

Much has changed in downtown Loveland in the past 10 years, with the Rialto Theater Center and Foundry complex as notable achievements. City leaders project that The Foundry — which spans three city blocks and will include apartments, a public plaza, hotel, retail, offices, parking garage, and a movie theater — will become a new epicenter for entertainment downtown. And it’s aptly named to reflect the city’s identity as a showcase for fine art, especially sculpture, and celebrates the foundries where many of the pieces are cast.

In August, the first tenants moved into The Foundry’s Patina Flats apartments. The remaining components of The Foundry, starting with the public plaza in October, will unfold over the next eight months. And coming up on Sept. 19, the revitalization momentum continues when the Community Foundation brings former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy to speak at Destination Downtown Loveland 2018. Murphy, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, initiated a public/private partnership strategy to leverage more than $4.5 billion in economic development in Pittsburgh.

A city center is never fully completed.  Join us on Sept. 19th as we continue to explore the possibilities for an even more vibrant downtown Loveland.   

Ray Caraway is president of the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, which serves the region as a steward of donor gifts. It also acts as a convener and facilitator for important community conversations on topics ranging from water to homelessness to regional cooperation.