Downtown Longmont now a Creative District

Artisans, musicians, and creative entrepreneurs have long felt at home in Longmont, and over the years many have set up shop or studio downtown and gone to work. To be sure, this community’s creative energy has been stirring for generations. Now, the passion of the people has some serious backing, with Creative Colorado Industries (CCI) having, in September of this year, designated downtown Longmont a Creative District.

This coveted status comes with some tremendous benefits to downtown, not the least of which is a $10,000 grant. The Longmont Downtown Development Authority (LDDA) is tasked with spending it well, but executive director Kimberlee McKee says there’s much more to it than that. “We have developed a sustainability plan, including stakeholder outreach, community engagement, seeking grant funding and working with artists and organizations to fulfill the Creative District plan,” she explains. “We will use these funds to begin implementation of these initiatives. We get additional state resources, including trainings, webinars and connections.”

When McKee began in her post with LDDA in 2011, the Board of Directors was just adopting the Creative District plan. It was, as she says, a “vision and a roadmap” for what the community wanted to see downtown. The board, volunteers, and downtown businesses and organizations have given much support – so much that most of the Creative Plan has already been implemented and LDDA was recognized at the state level for its work. “I hope that this designation is just the one of many bursts of momentum we see in the Downtown District,” says McKee. “I hope to see the City, economic development partners and creative district stakeholders working together to raise the bar and accomplish more each year for our community. And I hope that anyone in the community that has not been supporting the businesses, the arts, the restaurants in downtown lately — come see our progress and make it a point to support local businesses in our community.”

Three years of hard work toward the Creative District status were not without wrinkles. In June, the district’s first application was denied with a review panel stating LDDA’s sustainability plan needed work. Longmont retooled and due to a lucky internal communications glitch was, in fact, able to reapply three months later. This time Colorado Creative Industries was satisfied and granted Creative District Status.

“Achieving certified district status is a rigorous process that requires high levels of community buy-in and commitment,” says CCI program manager Christy Costello. “In addition to benefits in the form of direct funding and professional assistance, training and networking with peers, Longmont stands to reap many benefits from growing their local economy and attracting new business to improving the quality of life for residents.”

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What does this mean, practically, for downtown’s creative tenants, residents and shoppers? LDDA will work with CCI and the state of Colorado for the next five years as a certified district. McKee and staff will continue to receive support and resources in exchange for further implementation of their Creative District plan. “This designation is a constant reason for us to embrace the creative industries in downtown and keep that in the forefront of everything we do,” she says. “Creative Industries goes beyond performing arts. We will also focus on culinary arts, entrepreneurs, software developers, designers, filmmakers – any creative-based professions. In the next few years we will work to show the committees how everything we do in the district we do creatively – regardless of business type.”

Kay Carol Gallery & Priscila Arts Studio (KCP Gallery) at 364 Main Street is the only community arts co-working space with a gallery, art and music studios plus workshop space in the western United States. “Having the Creative District designation is a way to draw more local artists and creatives to take the risks to get their arts going as a dynamic and sustainable part of their lives,” says gallery manager Sarajane Helm. “The status is encouraging artists in business that the city is taking serious interest in developing support for artists’ individual and community efforts in this locale.”

The city has of late seen craft food and beer related businesses in the Creative District. It has added more working art studios and galleries and, McKee says, will continue to focus on these synergies, as well as work on attracting more creative industries employers to the district.

Longmont is planning to develop an artist “incubator” program in the studios at the Roosevelt Park Apartments mixed-use complex, invite more restaurants and breweries, and work closely with the Longmont Area Economic Council to attract businesses that align with the Creative Arts and Culinary target industry they identified in 2014.  The city will begin the west side of its alleyscape and breezeway project, too.

The Downtown Longmont Creative District has a family tree of sorts. It is guided by the LDDA and a committee of stakeholders. Joanne Kirves of the Longmont Council for the Arts leads this committee. (Kirves has been a leader in getting this certification.) McKee also recognizes the work of dedicated volunteers and organizations such as the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Longmont Museum, Firehouse Art Center, Visit Longmont, City of Longmont, local business and gallery owners. “Each has worked to make the Creative District successful by providing the type of art and cultural offerings that are important in our community,” she says. There are also several active committees, including Placemaking, Programs, Marketing, Block Captains, Downtown Longmont Community Ventures, and Arts Administrators. In 2015, a Retail Committee will be added.

This momentum has not gone unnoticed by artists that are impressed with the activity they are seeing from the Downtown Longmont Creative District. “This designation has begun to change the perception of Longmont,” says McKee. “We see new interest from business and property owners. This has created a vision for the center of Longmont that has a lot of buy in.”

Marcelo Fernandez of KCP Gallery hopes to see more public and visible art, murals and creative vibrancy throughout the district; and funding streams at multiple levels that truly are accessible to fund more artists and projects, rather than more committees. “The town has a cash and carry reputation in terms of art,” he says. “The status will hopefully increase the reputation of Longmont as an art buyers destination for unique and quality arts. As parking is an issue, public transportation could be used later in the evening to bring local visitors and buyers to the downtown arts events.”

“Creative Districts are great examples of how the arts create exciting places for people to visit and live,” says CCI’s Costello. “These districts not only increase quality of life, they also help with economic vitality of the area and attract people from all over Colorado and the country. The Creative Districts strategy is a way to organize and focus the attention of a community in a celebration of unique and authentic assets. It is part of a diverse portfolio of economic development strategies that can help each community achieve sustainability over the long-term.”

The buzz over downtown Longmont’s Creative District status is as loud as the voices of those who want to make it something grand. Thankfully, those voices are a veritable choir of Longmontonians ready to act and see creativity in full bloom downtown.

Christina Cappelletti of KCP Gallery puts it best: “We have music, arts, eats, drinks and inspiring creative events – all made right here – going on and in development all the time. Longmont and local area creatives are innovative and welcoming, in contrast to some exclusive enclaves. We’d rather do it than talk about it.”

What are your thoughts about the revitalization of downtown Longmont and the new Creative District status? Connect with LDDA online at facebook.com/downtownlongmont. Learn more about all the Creative Districts in our state at coloradocreativeindustries.org.