Release Date: April 19, 2014
Longmont is seeking designation
Downtown Longmont is seeking to join some fairly exclusive company.
The Longmont Downtown Development Authority has asked for — and received — permission to apply for the designation of Certified Creative District from the state's Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
"Envision Downtown Longmont" meeting
The Longmont Downtown Development Authority is hosting Envision Downtown Longmont, a community forum geared toward anyone interested in downtown's future as an arts and entertainment district, on Wednesday, May 14. The forum, featuring several guest speakers, is open to artists, developers, business owners and philanthropists. The topic will be the LDDA's accomplishments and vision for the future in creating a hub for creative industries and complementary businesses and organizations in the downtown. Presentations will begin at 5:30 p.m. although a cash bar will open at 5 p.m. at the Dickens Opera House, 300 Main St. For more information visit downtownlongmont.com.
The LDDA's application is due May 23, and then a panel will review it and the other six applicants and award the designations in June. The designations would take effect July 1 — the start of the state's fiscal year — and last for five years.
The state Legislature dedicated funding four years ago to Colorado Creative Industries to "promote, support and expand the creative industries to drive Colorado's economy, grow jobs and enhance our quality of life," according to the organization's mission statement.
According to data compiled by the state, the creative sector — which can include everyone from painters and musicians to architects and graphic designers — is Colorado's fifth-largest employment sector, with some 8,000 businesses and 186,000 jobs.
The LDDA was already named a "prospective" certified creative district three years ago, the first year it could apply. But earning the five-year Certified Creative District designation would be validation of the downtown's push to becoming an arts and entertainment district, according to LDDA executive director Kimberlee McKee.
It has been a multi-year effort that she and a lot of other people have been working toward, she said
"I think people were surprised that Longmont earned that (prospective designation), that Longmont was becoming an arts and entertainment district," McKee said last week.
Joanne Kirves, a longtime arts community member who currently serves as executive director for Longmont Council for the Arts, said even the "prospective" designation proved that things are moving in the right direction.
More notariety can only help, she said.
"We want people to know. We have hundreds of artists that both live and work here, and we have a very cooperative (arts) community here," Kirves said. "We have people that come over from Boulder, and they can't believe all that's happening over here."
'It's a long-term strategy, not a short-term grant program.'
Following the establishment of the creative districts program by the Legislature in 2011, Hunt and her team were charged with coming up with what Colorado's definition of a creative district would look like.
"There are creative district programs in about 12 states in the United States, and they are defined very differently depending on what the criteria is and what you're looking for," said Margaret Hunt, director of Colorado Creative Industries.
Taking what Hunt called "best practices" from other states, Colorado settled on five basic criteria for being defined a creative district:
contiguous areas that have a mix of uses within their boundaries;
an area that is walkable and distinguished by certain features;
a concentration of arts and cultural organizations and other creative businesses;
complementary non-arts related businesses;
community gathering spaces that frequently feature arts and cultural activities, such as live performances or public events.
The first year the creative districts program was announced, the Denver Arts District on Santa Fe Avenue and the town of Salida were instantly designated Certified Creative Districts, according to Hunt, because those districts already embodied the definition of such a district, and had for a long time.
Hunt said that after a year of refining the creative districts program, five more were named Certified Creative Districts in 2013: Pueblo, Telluride, Ridgway, Trinidad and an organization called the North Fork Valley Creative District, which includes Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford.
The Longmont Arts and Entertainment District — essentially the LDDA — is hoping to join this group of seven.
Initially the state's creative districts program was funded through a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Boettcher Foundation. The state committed to match the money Boettcher put into the program, and it requires each creative district to match the money it gets from the state.
"There is a match required, so for any dollar that we give to a creative district, there has to be a match, either dollar-for-dollar or, in some cases, in-kind," Hunt said.
Hunt said that the state and Boettcher are negotiating renewing the funding contract from the nonprofit.
"Boettcher is very happy with the results of the program so far and with the results they've gotten from their investment," Hunt said.
For being named a prospective creative district the LDDA received $5,000, which is put toward promoting its A&E District through events such as the "Celebrating Longmont Then and Now" event it held in September, McKee said.
But even more valuable than the cash was the 30 hours of consulting that went with the award, she said.
"Although it comes with a stipend, I think a lot of the positives of this program are the other things you get," McKee said, adding that statewide notoriety is also a benefit.
One important criteria for being named a Certified Creative District is that the LDDA — and the other districts who are applying — must submit a business plan to demonstrate how they will be self-sustaining in the future, Hunt said. The creative districts program is not intended to be an ongoing grant program, she said, but rather to provide "seed money" to get these districts jump-started.
"It is a long-term strategy, it's not a short-term grant program," Hunt said.
And awarded districts are required to carefully track what they are doing to fulfill their mission — what kind of impact the districts are having on their local economies, including how many visitors they are bringing in; what kind of new opportunities were created by the creative district designation, either in funding or bringing in new businesses; and what activities are offered to district visitors are all reporting requirements put forth by Colorado Creative Industries.
Hunt calls this required reporting "the carrot in front of the horse" psychology.
"It enables these organizations to make their case before the local people, showing them why this is of value to the community."
Should the LDDA be designated a Certified Creative District, benefits it will accrue include a Boettcher Foundation Leadership Award; two years worth of funding (which local districts must match); the ability to apply for "Colorado Creates" grants each of the five years; assistance from Colorado Creative Industries staff; and being included in national and statewide marketing campaigns. There are even two CDOT signs along state highways that come with the award.
Efforts began a decade ago
The concept of downtown Longmont becoming an arts and entertainment district predates the state's creative districts program. Kimberlee McKee notes that her predecessor, Mary Murphy-Bessler, had spearheaded an effort that was already fairly far along by the time McKee took over in February 2011.
In fact, McKee said, it was only three months after she started that the LDDA board voted to adopt the A&E District plan that was in place. She credits Murphy-Bessler and the many, many volunteers that helped put that plan together.
Kirves was one of those volunteers. She said that the plan was a lot of work by a lot of people, but she singled out McKee for not letting the plan wane when Murphy-Bessler left.
"Kimberlee brought a wealth of knowledge," Kirves said. "She has really been able to walk us through things that, had we tried to do it on our own, without the DDA, without Kimberlee, we would have stumbled."
For Kirves, the designation of Longmont as a Certified Creative District would be the culmination of efforts begun more than a decade ago, when a group of representatives from various arts organizations started getting together casually to discuss how they could help one another.
When that group discovered the LDDA was including formation of an A&E District into its strategic plan, they all came together in a more formalized effort.
"It's always been a community-based project," Kirves said. "It's involved a lot of people. It wasn't something that was done in a board room by just a select few."
Kirves completely agrees with the creative district program as an economic driver for the community, she said — both in jobs (citing several recent galleries that have opened downtown) but also in tourism dollars that the arts bring in.
"I think obviously, we're bringing people to town ... so we know that whether it's a symphony event, or the theater or Second Friday, they do more than just come to a show," Kirves said.
There's also a quality of life benefit that is tougher to quantify dollar-wise, Kirves said.
"For the people that live in Longmont, for them to be part of a community that has a symphony, all these galleries, the theaters, several chorales, it's a selling point," she said. "They don't have to drive to Denver to hear quality music or see fabulous art. It's here in their community."
Steve Carver, president of the Longmont Theatre Co. board of directors, couldn't agree more. He notes that the Longmont Center for the Performing Arts — home base for the LTC — has been generating revenue for downtown Longmont since the 1930s.
"I think it's great," Carver said. "I think anything that can distinguish downtown Longmont in a way that brings more people to downtown Longmont is such a great idea.
"I believe the arts district is really a strong strategy to bring strength to the other businesses in the downtown area. I think in downtown, when one business does well, it spreads to all the other businesses on Main Street."
Contact Times-Call staff writer Tony Kindelspire at 303-684-5291 or firstname.lastname@example.org