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River critical to downtown
Colusa as a river city could tie its past to its future if a downtown development plan previewed at City Hall on Thursday can be brought to fruition.
A thin crowd of 27 residents — including Councilwomen Kay Hosmer and Donna Critchfield — attended the high-energy, fast-paced presentation by Ian Ross of City Design Collective.
The Oakland-based consulting firm was hired using a $35,000 planning grant to develop land-use designs and economic strategies for the downtown area — essentially defined as Market and Main streets from Bridge Street to Highway 45.
Ross said the river has to regain its status as the destination point in order for the downtown to flourish.
"Let's face it, the city grew up beside the river ... but the city has moved away from it," said Ross.
"If you look at the land-use development, the city has turned its back on the river."
Ross is not suggesting the river return to its role as a commerce thoroughfare. That is a role that now belongs to Market Street, connecting the easterly points of the Yuba-Sutter area to the westerly points of Williams, and most importantly, Interstate 5.
Instead, Ross said the river can be the focal point of a new tourist-based economy, turning Colusa into the regional hub for everything outdoors.
"You can position your downtown as a one-stop, go-to place for access to regional assets," said Ross, explaining it as a kind of jump-off place for hunting, fishing, biking, boating, birding and much more.
It would be to the outdoors industry what Napa is for the wine industry.
He created a PowerPoint presentation that brought some of those literary images to visual ones, including open air markets, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and entertainment centers.
A lot of that depends on the city getting its proposed boat launch and docks developed along the state park area — and there is no funding guarantees.
Still, it was the nuts and bolts of the presentation — the grounded elements — which Ross emphasized as the building blocks to that larger image.
He said that starts with having a much clearer and specific idea of what is wanted for the downtown, but insisting that specific plan should be more than what is here now.
"We are recommending more flexibility," Ross said, "by allowing a wider range of activities."
Those activities would be focused in five different areas that make up what the city views now as a single downtown.
The two primary are the Downtown Core: Market Street from Fourth to Seventh streets; and the Riverfront District: running down Main Street, from Fourth to 10th streets.
It also includes the Downtown General: Market street on either side of the core section; Downtown Gateway: the connection from the river access (state park area) into the downtown; Riverfront Neighborhood: the area along Main Street from Fourth to Bridge streets; and the Civic Core: a support area from Fourth to Sixth streets in the Jay and Oak streets area.
Each would have its own kind of uses, blending back into each other, and defined in part by building design.
Ross said flexibility in the kind of uses allowed downtown will be critical. Take limiting zoning regulations away, then let the private sector invest in the mixed-use possibilities.
Investment, Ross admits, is a stumbling point, but not a roadblock. He suggested bringing into one room property and business owners with investment capabilities so they can collaborate on projects.
He said the downtown area can develop its own assessment district, and suggested starting an economic development corporation that would be out looking for private and public funding sources and investors.
The Colusa County Chamber of Commerce is that entity by title, but investment hunter has not been one of its traditional hats.
Some of it, Ross said, falls on the individual property owners and business owners to reinvest in their own buildings and storefronts — and noted that can be as simple as beautification projects.
Ross reluctantly addressed the parking concerns of the downtown, saying that there is plenty of parking, but the downtown lacks a parking strategy.
Part of that is built into the idea that the downtown area must become more pedestrian friendly, everything from access to streetscapes to a general change of attitude.
But it all comes back to the river, which Ross described as "the coolest place in 50 miles."
And, of course, more people need to know about it.
He described the existing marketing efforts of Colusa like "inviting someone to your home and showing them your monthly bills."
"This is not about making Colusa something else," Ross said. "In a real sense, it is about making it what it was."?