A downtown revitalization is stirring in Sterling
The Colorado community has seen a net gain in downtown businesses
Published: 2016.03.29 02:50 AM
As in many small towns, when folks in Sterling watch a live performance, they are likely sitting in the high school auditorium or maybe the mixed-use event center/gymnasium at the regional college. While Sterling locals attend comedy nights at restaurants or concerts at the First Presbyterian Church, downtown revitalization supporters are dreaming of a community performing arts center to anchor the awakening city center.
Logan County Economic Development Corp.’s Trae Miller, the group’s executive director for the past year, is working toward a new cultural and artistic venue as part of a revitalization of downtown Sterling, where some buildings have remained empty for decades. Miller optimistically foresees a transformed 1906 Woolworth Building – the 13,000-square-foot facility that has sat vacant for 30 years – becoming a new downtown cultural center by spring 2018.
“The concept is constantly evolving, but it will continue around the idea of benefiting the entire community and bringing traffic downtown,” Miller says.
When Miller started with the LCEDC in February 2015, he was adamant that bringing in new businesses to downtown Sterling would be difficult so long as the Woolworth Building sat vacant with windows boarded over with plywood.
“How are we going to revitalize downtown when a building in this condition is sitting in the heart of our downtown?” he asked of the empty structure a half-block from the stately, domed Logan County Courthouse. The 1910 Renaissance Revival courthouse went through its own $5 million renovation in multiple phases from 2000 to summer 2013.
In comparison, the Woolworth Building was “unsightly,” with a “waterfall” of a roof leak, according to Miller. Economic development leaders decided no private entity would ever buy, nor renovate it. At first, organizers thought the 110-year-old building might need to be razed, but an informal evaluation by city building officials determined it was still structurally sound. Still, transforming it would be a lengthy and expensive undertaking.
“One of the things we kept coming back to was, ‘Who else is going to take this on?’” says Miller, whose office is located in the building next door. Leaders decided that utilizing a nonprofit status would create the best odds of getting the property back in use again.
Business owners Alan and Cindy Hoal, Sterling natives and renovators of multiple buildings throughout downtown, bought the Woolworth Building in May 2015. The couple remembers their respective grandparents taking them as young kids to the snack counter at Woolworth for a milkshake or piece of pie. As teens they bought 45-rpm records at the store.
“We thought it would make such a huge difference in the future of downtown,” Alan Hoal recalls. “The community has been good to us for all these years, and we wanted to give back.”
After initial site cleanup and improvements to stop deterioration of the building with help from the Sterling Urban Renewal Authority, the Hoals donated the property to the nonprofit LCEDC in December. Locals joined in to build a temporary, wooden construction façade where a resident artist painted a mural.
The Hoals’ latest rehab purchase is the 1921 Simkins Grocery, a small structure on Main Street across from the courthouse that sat closed since the early 1990s.
Revitalizing downtown Sterling is a collaborative process including work by the Logan County Historical Society toward the 2013 designation of an eight-square-block Downtown Sterling Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Shannon Haltiwanger at History Colorado. In the district, building owners could be eligible for state and federal tax credits and grants from History Colorado’s State Historical Fund.
Sterling is overseeing a downtown beautification project on a 700-foot stretch of run-down railroad property, says Kim Sellers, executive director of the chamber with offices in a 1903 renovated Union Pacific train depot. The streetscape project will include five new bronze statues as well as curb, gutter and landscaping improvements. Sellers sees these collaborative efforts improving the energy level and sense of community downtown as well as the willingness of investors to take a second look. Although businesses come and go in many Colorado downtowns, Sterling saw a net gain within the last year including two beauty shops, a photography studio, yoga studio, tattoo shop and bike shop, Sellers adds.
Another longtime Sterling couple, Mike and Denise Schaefer, college sweethearts from their days at Northeastern Junior College, were inspired to renovate another downtown building across from the courthouse into a new community hot spot. The Schaefers, owners of a successful auto body shop in town, are renovating a 4,400-square-foot building erected in 1951 and opening a Sam & Louie’s pizza and pasta franchise in the space.
“I’ve always loved that building,” says Denise Schaefer, who originally was only going to be the building’s landlord. “As it happened, the place was so big, it didn’t make sense to rent it out.”
The couple attended a tasting hosted by the economic development group and were sold on the food and philosophy of Sam & Louie’s. They plan to open the 175-seat restaurant this May with a staff of 30. Although the unemployment rate in Logan County is low at 2.7 percent, the restaurant owners are receiving resumes for new staff without advertising.
“We would like to see the community grow, and we wanted to be a part of the whole process,” Denise Schaefer says. “Bringing people to old town is going to be very beneficial to the businesses around us.” cb
Logan County is a glorious place to view these special residents of the North Sterling State Park (located just northwest of Sterling).
Every year, folks visiting the area can view these majestic birds in their natural habitat.
The bald eagle – so named because of its white head – is found only in North America and is one of the continent’s largest birds of prey. Here in the United States, the bald eagle is recognized as the country’s national symbol, a distinction it has held since 1782. Young bald eagles are dark brown in color when they fledge the nest at about 12 weeks of age. Their head and tail feathers turn predominantly white in the fourth or fifth year. Adult males weigh about eight to nine pounds. Females are slightly larger, about 10 to 14 pounds. The birds’ length is 31 to 37 inches with a wingspan of six to 7.5 feet.
Bald eagles are seldom seen far from water - large rivers, lakes and seacoasts. In Colorado they are often found near reservoirs like North Sterling State Park and along major rivers (South Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande, Yampa, Colorado) during both the summer and winter. During the breeding season bald eagles defend territories and most frequently can be found nesting in large cottonwood trees. In the winter bald eagles communally roost in large trees for warmth and protection.
In addition to fish (self-caught or stolen from other birds), bald eagles eat sick and injured waterfowl, muskrats, squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs and often eat carrion and road-killed animals.
Nests can be seven to eight feet across, usually in tall trees high above the ground. Bald eagles often choose dead limbs in tall trees, possibly because their view is not obstructed by foliage. Nests are often found near water. Female lays one to three eggs, which are dull white. The incubation period is about 35 days, with both the male and female keeping the eggs warm.
For more information about eagle viewing and other birding activities, click HERE.
(Thanks to Logan County resident, Lee Birgenheier, for the photos.)
Sterling is the eastern gateway to the Pawnee Pioneer Trails Scenic & Historic Byway in northeastern Colorado.
This region is a vast open textbook of nature with its own distinct and fragile beauty, the result of a landscape sculpted by geologic forces, whose effects have been held tenaciously in check by hardy and resilient vegetation. Traveling across the Byway, one may imagine how this short grass prairie was viewed by Native Americans, frontiersmen, early cattlemen, 19th and early 20th century homesteaders, and those who faced the Dust Bowl and Great Depression of the 1930s.
Today's stewards of the prairie include farmers and ranchers, the U.S. Forest Service, and an increasing number of former urbanites.
The Byway offers historic attractions and recreation areas along the roadways. Visitors can experience solitude and explore nature through bird watching, wildlife study, photography, and hiking.
Simply driving along the Byway, visitors encounter pleasant agricultural communities while traveling through 100 million years of geologic deposition artfully exposed and rearranged by wind and water.
- Start with a full tank of gas and a spare tire since services are unavailable in remote areas after business areas.
- Bring drinking water/appropriate clothing since weather conditions can change rapidly.
- Use binoculars to observe wildlife. Young animals and birds must not be disturbed.
- From March 1 - June 30, the north overlook and cliffs near the Pawnee Buttes are closed to the public by the Forest Service for raptor nesting protection.
- Climbing on the Buttes and other cliffs is discouraged due to crumbling sandstone.
- Collecting artifacts, vertebrate fossils, arrowheads or barn wood robs our heritage and is prohibited on Pawnee National Grasslands.
- Take trash home or use the designated receptacles.
- Be alert for livestock on roads since much of the area is open range.
- Remain on the designated Byway route to avoid trespassing on intermixed private lands. A map is recommended if visiting the Pawnee National Grassland. (MAPS ARE AVAILABLE AT THE LOGAN COUNTY VISITORS CENTER IN STERLING.)
- Avoid traveling the graveled routes during bad weather since they are dangerous when wet.
Click HERE for more information and map.
Vision: Sterling will be a model, on the Eastern Plains of Colorado, of good health and opportunities for physical activity.
Mission: To provide the infrastructure and leadership to make biking, walking and running prominent activities for residents and guests of Sterling.
The Sterling Loop Committee continues to move forward on the development of a multi-use trail that will loop around the City of Sterling. The trail is proposed to interconnect all RE-1 Valley Schools, as well as Northeastern Junior College; it will tie in three parks, including Pioneer and Columbine; and it will tie in Overland Trail Recreation Area, Overland Trail Museum and the Logan County Shooting Sports Complex.
Check out this video that shows the first leg of the proposed trail:
The committee has identified three objectives to meet their mission.
- To build a multi-use trail around the perimeter of Sterling by 2020
- To develop weekly trail use and bicycling activities
- To raise awareness about the trail and the trail's potential
In conjunction with the trail project, the City of Sterling has submitted an application for the Colorado Department of Transportation "Safe Routes to School" grant, which is a non-infrastructure grant that provides instructions to physical education teachers and others about riding, repairing and safety related to bicycling so they will instruct students about these topics. If awarded, the grant will provide three bikes to each of these Sterling schools - Ayers, Campbell and Sterling Middle School.
A Tread for Trails event will be held May 14. Please watch for details.
Historic Woolworth Building Redevelopment Next Step in Downtown Sterling Revitalization
Through the generosity of Alan and Cindy Hoal of Sterling, the historic Woolworth Building property in downtown Sterling has now been conveyed to the Logan County Economic Development Corporation (LCEDC) for redevelopment.
Photo courtesy Sterling Journal Advocate
The main goal for the property redevelopment is to achieve preservation of the historic building through viable adaptive re-use as a multi-purpose community gathering place.
This building is a key component in the overall redevelopment of downtown Sterling. Through funding from Sterling Urban Renewal Authority and property owners, many downtown structures are being rehabilitated with new facades and interior renovations. As one of the largest buildings in the center of downtown, LCEDC will lead the project to establish downtown Sterling as the commercial, entertainment, and cultural heart of the community and region.
Old Town Bistro
Additionally, the redevelopment will help to preserve and promote Sterling's history and heritage. Establishing a National Historic District designation was the first step addressing this goal and as a contributing State Historic Building, the ability to renovate and redevelop this building will help preserve the historic relevance of the structure and ensure it doesn't continue to deteriorate to a point of unavoidable demolition. The building, first constructed in 1906, has changed in size, function and use, but has been vacant for more than 30 years. It has approximately 13,000 square feet on the first floor and 5,700 square feet on the second floor.
Initial public input on the Woolworth Building came from a Logan County Chamber of Commerce sponsored visioning session in 2015 on the downtown area. The next steps are for LCEDC to hold a February community meeting, develop an online survey, and reach out to the community regarding the vision and purpose for the property. LCEDC received a technical assistance award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessment. The assessment has been completed and the report identifies the cleanup work needed. The specific report recommendations will be addressed at the LCEDC Annual Meeting on Jan. 25, 2016.
According to Dr. Jay Lee, president of Northeastern Junior College and president of LCEDC, "We are excited about the possibilities that the Woolworth Building may bring to Sterling and Logan County. We all know that the building has been sitting vacant for a long time and that its location is prime downtown property. It is tragic that this wonderful location has become an eyesore. There are great possibilities with this space. LCEDC is willing to lead the effort to move forward on this project and make something great happen for Sterling and revitalize our downtown. We look forward to completion of this project and of what the future holds."
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