Loveland downtown celebrates progress, looks to next steps

LOVELAND — Members of the Loveland community celebrated the progress made in the downtown area since the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado facilitated a discussion with an Urban Land Institute fellow 10 years ago. And Wednesday night another ULI fellow told them it’s time to make use of what’s been built so that the downtown becomes vital again.

Tom Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh and an eight-term member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, toured the downtown area Wednesday and delivered his suggestions later that day to a group of about 250 people at the Rialto Theater. But first, the Community Foundation used a video to update the group about what’s been accomplished.

Tom Murphy, senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute, spoke to Loveland community members about downtown redevelopment Wednesday night. Ken Amundson photo.

Those accomplishments include development of an extension of the Rialto Theater, live-work spaces for artists near the Loveland Feed and Grain building, efforts to rehabilitate the Pulliam Community Building and the $75 million Foundry project under construction on two and a half blocks of downtown.

Murphy suggested several next steps:

  • Programming — “How do you program what you’ve built so people come down here every night?”
  • Maker spaces — Murphy said he has seen a cohesiveness between technology and art, and Loveland needs to create maker spaces that bring the two creative disciplines together.
  • Partnerships — He encouraged the community to continue to develop its private/public/philanthropic partnerships.
  • Supporting leaders — “Nothing happens unless someone steps up to lead. When they do, support them.”
  • Have a vision — “Know what you want. If you don’t know, it means you’ll take what you get.”

Murphy as a senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute has traveled to 70 cities over the past year and he came away with a clear understanding that what worked for cities in years past will no longer create the type of urban environments that today’s people want.

He said that General Electric, Caterpillar, Panasonic, Kraft, Motorola, Marriott, and Google have all moved their headquarters in the past three years out of the suburbs to downtowns. The reason: “They’re chasing talent,” he said. Today’s worker likes to live in an urban area where the job, shopping, entertainment and home are all within walking or biking distance. In order to find workers with the skills wanted, companies are forced to move to them.

He spoke at length about the lessons learned in Pittsburgh, which at one time led the world in manufacturing. But starting in 1960, that all changed. The factories closed, leaving behind relics of the past and piles of slag. From 1970 to 1990, the city lost 60 percent of its population. And 20 percent of those remaining were unemployed. The young left for opportunity elsewhere.

“We had to think of the city in a different way, because the rules had changed,” he said. Demographics changed. “Millennials make different decisions than their parents,” he said.

Pittsburgh was broke, but it figured out how to put together the money to buy land. It created a Cultural Trust District to replace a red light district. “Now, two million people a year go there for cultural performances,” he said.

A 250-acre slag dump created over decades of steel manufacturing was an eyesore and inhibited re-development. “At the first meeting we had about it, 200 people came and told us they wanted to keep the slag dump,” he said. A tax issue intended to finance purchase and re-development failed with 70 percent of the vote against. The city figured out how to buy it without a new tax and turned it into Summerset at Frick Park, a popular housing project on which city turned a profit.

He encouraged the community to stay ahead of the trends to build a downtown that meets current and future needs.

“In the past 10 years, you’ve surprised yourselves. But you can’t rest on your laurels. You have to keep working,” he said. “You’d never put up a sign saying ‘Welcome to Loveland — a mediocre city.’ But you do that (send that message) with what you build. Don’t settle for mediocrity but reach for the best.”