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The Woman Behind Everything Interesting in Downtown Glenwood Springs

Anyone who has recently shopped in downtown Glenwood Springs, Colorado, enjoyed tacos in the pocket park next to Slope and Hatch, or walked across the town’s pedestrian bridge spanning the Colorado River, has experienced what once was simply a vision in Leslie Bethel’s luminous mind. 

In fact, “Everywhere you look throughout downtown you are looking at Leslie’s signature,” said Steve Davis, Glenwood Springs City Councilor and city liaison to the Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority (DDA). 

We know this well at Community Builders. Bethel was the founding Chair of our Board of Directors and served for three years before passing away in December 2018. She infused both a lighthearted and tenacious spirit in everything she did, leaving behind a legacy of vibrant, transformative projects

A Denver native, Bethel received an MLA in Design and Planning from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She returned to work in Colorado where she was awarded the Governor’s Top Award for Downtown Excellence, as well as two notable American Institute of Architects (AIA) Awards, one for her home run placemaking urban design leadership work on Coors Field in Denver

The Impact One Individual Can Have on a Community

Bethel’s urban design career spanned more than 35 years and included the role of Principal-in-Charge at formerly RNL Design (now Stantec) and Executive Director of the Glenwood Springs DDA. Much of her work in Glenwood established successful Public Private Partnerships (PPP) throughout the city—catalyzing development for many years to come.

Downtown Glenwood Springs 7th Street Corridor

Bethel started with both small and large projects—from string lights, planters, and facade improvements, to building a downtown library and community space. She was, “the brainchild behind everything interesting that has happened in downtown Glenwood,” according to Clark Anderson, a close friend and colleague of Bethel, and the Executive Director for Community Builders. 

“Oftentimes, she had to twist CDOT’s arm in order to maximize the amount of placemaking that could happen in the downtown,” explains Anderson. She led the DDA and the City to invest in sustainable urban design and placemaking projects that maintained the downtown’s role as the heart of the community—with private investments to help keep that vision alive.

Glenwood Springs Branch Library

Bethel was a main advocate for keeping the library—a community asset—in the downtown and became a major proponent in figuring out how to make that happen. She claimed that “[the] downtown is the epicenter of a city’s vitality and its primary gathering place. [And] public improvement projects [like the library project] create and enhance shared assets, that raises the value and operations of our community.” 

Photo by Colorado Mountain College

Financially, the project could not have been done without a PPP. So, alongside the DDA, Leslie partnered with the City of Glenwood Springs, Garfield County Public Library, and the Glenwood Chamber to acquire an appropriate location for the library in the heart of downtown

However, for all parties to benefit, the development had to be more than just a library—more like a mixed-use space. Fortunately, Colorado Mountain College joined the collaboration for an opportunity to share the site, securing a new and more efficient administration building for their operations

Now, the former parking lot on the corner of 8th Street and Cooper Avenue is a mixed-use library, art gallery, college, event center, and meeting place accompanied by free parking in a nearby two-story city lot, with public parking directly across the street. The development was completed in September 2013 and has served as a vibrant community hub for locals and visitors. 

 

7th Street and the Downtown Alleyway Project

In the wake of the successful library project, Bethel continued to identify more ways to improve pedestrian and business access in downtown Glenwood. She addressed significant barriers to alleyway usage in the 7th Street Corridor, commissioning an alley study that showed their potential uses throughout the city. 

Bethel incorporated string lights, planters, and outdoor seating into the project, which catalyzed investments in the downtown, and really showed small business and restaurant owners that the DDA was invested in making the downtown a better, more vibrant place. 

Photo by Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority
Photo by Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority

The private sector went on to match this public sector investment by increasing kitchen sizes, improving facades, and upgrading their overall dining experiences. With restaurant owners on board, the DDA was able to extend the sidewalks on 7th Street—taking away a majority of restaurant parking to make room for outdoor seating, greater pedestrian connectivity, and an overall more lively and connected downtown. 

These projects are a great example of public investment fueling private investment and made downtown Glenwood a place, not just a collection of streets.

Extending the 7th Street Corridor to the Confluence

Located right along Glenwood’s newly revitalized “restaurant row,the Confluencethe convergence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers—began to draw more and more activity from developers, locals, and tourists. 

Recognizing this opportunity, Bethel and the DDA partnered with Community Builders, CDOT, and other partners in 2016 to revisit the concepts for the Confluence. But there has been an ongoing challenge identifying the uses that are appropriate for this area in terms of public space, development, and amenities. And in late 2017, the planning effort was put on hold due to negotiations between the city and project stakeholders.

Photo by the Colorado Department of Transportation
2013 Confluence Redevelopment Plan, site rendering

The Story Continues

Bethel did not live to see the extension of the vibrant 7th Street corridor that led down to the Confluence area. And despite her efforts, public opposition to growth and change has left this project at a standstill. 

However, now that the 7th Street Plaza construction is complete—Bethel’s vision for this area has, in part, come to fruition. In October 2019, the 7th Street under-bridge area formally became recognized as Bethel Plaza, in memory of Bethel’s vision and advocacy for a better downtown. 

We are deeply grateful to Leslie Bethel and honored that she is forever a part of the Community Builders story.

Photo by the Colorado Department of Transportation
Photo by the Post Independent

“For me, this has been a highlight of my career and a chapter that will always be in my heart. It’s very rare to have the opportunity to help a community in realizing its vision for a vibrant downtown. Leslie Bethel, Reflections on a World-Class Downtown

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