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It’s music to our ears

The Labor Day weekend is upon us. Time to relax, take a few days off, put the problems on the back burner, take a hike, go on a picnic or road trip, spend time with the family. Attend the Four Corners Folk Festival.

The festival is in its 14th year — a flagship event in Pagosa Country. FolkWest has made the festival one of the most prominent in the country and the event draws music lovers from far and wide to the site atop Reservoir Hill.

Thinking of the festival and what it means to the area, leads us to reconsider one of the hot topics in town — economic development.

A letter in this week’s SUN from Angela Atkinson deals in part with the lack of a clear vision for the town of Pagosa Springs. What does the town want to be? This is a question that should be answered prior to making efforts to enhance development of any kind.

In these quarters, our vision is clear: Pagosa Springs should look to a future based not on massive residential development, but rather on the enrichment of the area’s most important, and only consistent industry — tourism.

It is easy to understand: minimal growth of population, maximum development of high-quality amenities and marked improvement of the downtown business district.

The implementation, however, is not easy to figure. How do you increase tourist traffic (people who come here, spend their money, and return home — then do it again) without the amenities? And how do you convince businesspeople to commit to a downtown location without the increased tourist traffic?

Right now, we have a world-class geothermal water resource. A visitor comes to town, spends money for lodging, spends money to enjoy one of the spa and pool facilities, goes to one of a few restaurants for a meal or two, and …what?

Where are the higher-end retail options, open seven days a week and on many evenings? Where is the extensive variety of dining establishments? Where are the numerous entertainment options?

Yes, we have a few. But nowhere near enough.

How many visitors return? How many would return were the situation different, more expansive? How many new visitors could we attract?

And what can government do to move the situation along? Urge further residential development in an area already glutted with available homes and a huge inventory of vacant land? Or produce a plan geared to commercial, tourist-related development?

How about a downtown development agency, its creation prompted and fueled by government effort and funds?

How about projects to improve the infrastructure necessary to convince investors that Pagosa is the place to be — trails, streets, landscaping, sidewalks, signage, a new sanitation plant?

How about playing on the success of the festival on Reservoir Hill this weekend, by making Pagosa an even more desirable entertainment center in the region. Commit to the creation of a better-designed, more productive site on Reservoir Hill. Begin plans now to produce a quality amphitheater at the top of the hill, along with an improved roadway and a parking/shuttle system — an amenity that would convince a variety of promoters to use the site throughout the temperate seasons.

FolkWest would certainly utilize such a site, as could organizations such as Music in the Mountains. Other types of musical productions could be booked, with the goal of bringing crowds to the area every week from late spring through early fall.

That translates to people coming to Pagosa Springs to enjoy what could be one of the greatest venues in America — people who have to book into local hotels, who need to eat at local restaurants, who shop at local stores … who will return.

There is money out there to help with such a project, especially if any additional stimulus plans are created. What are needed are the vision and a plan, and the planning should start now.

Hot water, a rich downtown business environment, and a world-class entertainment venue.

It’s music to our ears.