Durango – We are a gorgeous gathering of about 18,000 people nestled in the San Juans. We consistently maintain a presence on “best small towns in America” lists. And why not? We have an active art scene, outdoor living, a charming downtown, an engaged populace, more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad whistling living history through the streets.
Durango’s population is set to double by 2040, and the city manager and City Council have specific goals to support that growth. Goals like building a resilient economic future, fostering community, and creating districts that embrace Durango’s unique character.
DGO got to wondering: Over the next 20 years, what can we do to collectively build and brand Durango for locals, in addition to the transient tourist population? We researched what infrastructure and entertainment concepts brought economic success and innovation to other population-comparable towns, and did a little daydreaming for what else could be possible in Durango. This is not an article about fundraising, cost allocation, taxes, land allotment, or the years of committees that go into firming out these sorts of town-defining projects. This is an exercise in convivial, creative conceptualizing. Because who doesn’t just love good conversations deliberating bold futures?
What we could implement that other small towns haveA large, permanent, outdoor venueCurrently, Durango does not have a permanent, multi-use, outdoor space for concert and movie viewings. We come close with stage assembly in Buckley Park and Rotary Park’s gazebo and green lawn.
With a mind toward contemporary infrastructure, Durango could battle Telluride for Southwest Colorado’s festival culture. We could build the simple, outdoor venue that people from Albuquerque or Santa Fe would be willing to drive four hours to when they’re not willing to drive six to Telluride. We could strengthen existing festivals in Durango by building a space for inevitably larger crowds.
Rocket Drive-In’s closing proved that an outdoor movie venue could not survive in Durango by itself. But if that drive-in was also a concert venue and party space? Sounds like the Ballroom Marfa, a successful, future-forward, outdoor venue in Marfa, Texas, an arts town of less than 2,000 people.
Can you imagine what we could do with a multi-function outdoor venue? How about partnering with the Durango Independent Film Festival or Animas City Theatre to host themed movie marathons with musical interludes? What about a juried art show sponsored by the Durango Arts Center with art projections spanning a drive-in screen? What about expanding the Bluegrass Meltdown with documentary interludes?
A food festival on a regional dish or ingredientThe Taste of Durango is fantastic, but how about we throw down a new food fest in town? What we’re talking is a free-admission fest that had 20-plus booths of vendors slinging delicious dishes based on the same ingredient.
Whiting, Indiana, has Pierogi Fest. Centerville, Tenn., puts on the National Banana Pudding Festival. Since 1973, Irmo, S.C., has hosted the Okra Strut.
What if Durango had a green chile festival? DGO wouldn’t mind trying green chile ice cream, green chile pancakes, green chile everything. Or a food festival that emphasized craft beer as a cooking ingredient in desserts? What about a rhubarb festival? DGO can see it now … deep fried rhubarb cobbler on a stick.
An extensive artist-assistance programFor the first time, Durango is incorporating arts and culture into its comprehensive city plan. This is a positive development considering that, though Durango has a thriving art scene, many of its artists are priced-out of living within city limits. It’s time to support the artists who bring personality and deep aesthetics to Durango.
There are existing programs we can partner with, like Space to Create Colorado, a state-driven initiative to provide affordable live/work spaces for artists. Bisbee, Ariz., created the Central School Project, which strives to provide affordable workspace to artists while acting as a town cultural center. Collinwood, Ohio, created affordable homeownership for working artists in addition to grants for active art projects. Oil City, Pa., does the same. Paducah, Kentucky’s Artist Relocation Program is in its 17th year and has seen great success in providing affordable live and work space to artists who help to reinvent and a revitalize their downtown.
With a few tweaks to how it houses, supports and celebrates writers, musicians, visual artists, and other creatives, Durango could become a nationally acclaimed, contemporary arts mecca.
What Durango already has or had that we can amp upA town currencyWe’ve all done it – bought something online that could’ve been bought in town. When you don’t shop local, you don’t support the local sales tax. Sales tax, in strong part, pays for services like road maintenance and staffing the library, and having a town currency can encourage people to shop local.
Durango has tried a town currency; through autumn of 2016, we had “Durango Dollars.” People could buy a gift card from the Chamber of Commerce and that gift card could be used at any business in town. Unfortunately, Durango Dollars ended.
Perhaps, we can try the currency program again after contacting towns like Traverse City, Mich., Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Ithaca, N.Y., and Great Barrington, Mass., to see how and why their shop-local programs worked.
Maybe we can appeal to the provincial and tourist markets by creating a limited edition, yearly changing currency bought at a discounted rate that features local, professional artists’ images of the Old West sponsored by Durango businesses. We could create a currency that also acted as a collectible souvenir bought not only at the out-of-the-way Chamber of Commerce, but in the historic district.
Adding extravagance to the Animas River TrailThe Animas River Trail (ART) is a gorgeous example of riverfront reclamation that enhances a town for locals and draws tourists. Vending is not allowed along the ART and events that occur along the trail are permitted and held in adjacent city parks.
Our river walk is fabulous, but what if it had seasonal festivals? What if there was a food cart fest? The First Saturday Art Walk in Gig Harbor, Wash., showcases a riverfront used to build creative community and commerce. What about something like the Animas River Trail Jazz Walk? Spaciously placed jazz groups could play the trail from noon to twilight one weekend a year. Or if parts of the ART were turned into “haunted” areas in October or became a romantic “lovers walk” for Valentine’s Day? What if the ART partnered with the Durango Arts Center to create a performance art festival along the Animas River or 20 Moons Dance Theatre used the riverfront as a venue?
An uber-specific fall festivalDurango has a few fabulous fall festivals, like the Annual Durango Autumn Arts Festival, a beer-centric Oktoberfest, and the family-friendly Three Springs Fall Festival.
What we don’t have is a festival that embraces autumn with a precision point on the macabre or campy nature of October. For a town (usually) lacking in haunted houses, it’d be nice to have an uber-specific October celebration that could heighten our Google factor and bring an autumn influx to downtown.
For example, St. Charles, Ill., has a scarecrow festival. There’s the Circleville, Wisc., Pumpkin Show which focuses on the largest pumpkins grown in the surrounding states. Manitou Springs holds the Emma Crawford Coffin Race and Parade where nearly 100 people build coffins to race down their main thoroughfare in honor of a woman whose coffin slid down an eroding mountain in the early 1900s.
What if we filled Buckley Park with a jack-o-lantern tower so wide and tall it was featured on the Travel Channel? A similar instance has taken place in Laconia, N.H., – which presents 20,000 jack-o-lanterns in a town of only 16,000 people with a festival attendance of 40,000. What if we had a September-built, October-long haunted house-themed art installation in Buckley?
Now what?These are all ideas. They are spit-balling. They are DGO thinking about what we love in our corner of the Western Slope and how we can capitalize on those characteristics to maximize our fiscal growth and recreational opportunities as the population increases. Bonus about that population increase? It’s more people to further support large-scale, city-wide projects.
What ideas do you have? Bring ’em to the city! Bring ’em to us! As Andrew W.K. said, “Life becomes awesome as soon as you decide it does.” You want something in Durango that doesn’t exist? Talk about it, get others involved, and make it happen.