Revitalization on the Hill garners support, stirs controversy

A beloved and historic part of Boulder is set to receive an upgrade, causing concern for some who are skeptical about the proposed facelifts.

The area surrounding Boulder’s University Hill district faces two different project proposals — one will build a hotel and conference center behind the Starbucks on University avenue and Broadway, and the other will construct a new boutique hotel and underground parking structure on the site of where 16 different businesses and restaurants like Cosmo’s and Bova’s are currently located.

This is where there seems to be confusion, as both proposals are considered by popular opinion to be projects taken on by the University of Colorado at Boulder. Jeff Lipton, Director of Real Estate for the University, clarified that both projects are two distinct proposals being headed by two different entities.

“This conference center is important for CU so that it can attract more science and academic conferences to the university, which has been difficult now due to a lack of hotel and conference space in Boulder,” Lipton said. “However, CU is not involved on the projects across the street on the Hill.”

Lipton did concede that potential partnerships between the CU hotel and the Hill hotel may happen down the road.

“Synergies could potentially happen down the road, so perhaps CU could have conference attendees book rooms across the street, and vice versa, but again there is no CU involvement in the Hill hotel proposal,” Lipton said.

The city of Boulder is involved in both projects, and Sarah Wiebenson, the Hill Community Development Coordinator for the city had the following information to share in order to better explain what exactly is the goal of each project.

“Accessibility for year-round business is one thing that will be addressed with the proposed parking garage,” Wiebenson said.“The underground garage would provide an additional 250 parking spaces, and it would be operated by the Hill General Improvement District.”

Wiebenson also explained ongoing dialogue with affected businesses in the area, as well as evidence that the residents and businesses in the area support the plans under discussion .

“There have been talks about moving current businesses up into the historic part of the Hill, and that may be a good fit for businesses that want to stay,” Wiebenson said.“The Merchant Association just sent in a letter of support to the City Council, and the University Hill Neighborhood Association also sent a letter, expressing their support for the hotel-garage partnership.”

The proposal for a parking structure and boutique hotel is a plan the City of Boulder has been working on since Spring of 2014. The city identified a solution for two issues facing the Hill: limited parking spaces, and promoting year-round economic vitality.

At the Sept. 6 City Council meeting, the Council approved the letter of intent submitted to the city manager, which moves the proposal closer to breaking ground. City Council Member Andrew Shoemaker summed up the support given by the rest of the council.

“I ran for City Council so projects like this on University Hill could happen, this is really exciting to me.” Shoemaker said. “It’s a really wonderful step forward for the Hill.”

While City Council and the City of Boulder are excited about this plan to revitalize the University Hill area, students and alumni are not so quick to share such enthusiasm. CU Alum Caroline Clark is one of those people.

“As somebody who grew up on the Hill and attended CU, I’m not excited about making the Hill another Pearl Street,” Clark said. “I like the character of the Hill, even if it could use some tweaking. After seeing how tasteless the redevelopment of the corner where Jones Drug was, I’m afraid these types of projects will turn the Hill into a characterless, corporate business strip.”

Other alumni have expressed similar concerns, including those who have not only frequented the Hill, but also lived there during their college careers. Patrick Zeller is one example of that.  

“Boulder is going through an identity crisis, it doesn’t know how to address it, and they’re just following the money,” Zeller said.“The Hill definitely needs some TLC, but by putting in hotels and parking areas that might cost a fortune, you’re gentrifying Boulder and making it difficult for both out-of-state and in-state students to afford living in Boulder.”

Jose Barron is also lived on the Hill during his undergrad career, and understands why CU is pushing for the hotel-conference center development.

“This is going to be a really effective recruiting tool for faculty, and should improve the faculty CU has even more than they currently have,” Barron said.“But, it feels like that is turning Boulder into a tourist destination, and by trying to get more people to visit, it’s just going to make it even more congested.”

Verónica Jiménez Rael worked for the majority of her college career on the Hill, and expressed how the impending proposals could negatively impact future students into not spending as much time on the Hill as she did.
“As a CU Boulder graduate that worked on the Hill for over three years throughout my college career, I can’t even begin to express how ridiculous this idea is,” Rael said. “I ultimately feel that the proposal would backfire: by eliminating the culture of the CU Boulder student, you will see less and less kids attracted to the idea of being a Buff, and that is greatly unfortunate.”

Transcript of the audio above:

This is Daniel Paiz with Under the Flatirons. The City of Boulder is working on reinvigorating its historic University Hill area due to more and more people visiting. We spoke with someone from the city to learn more.

My name is Sarah Wiebenson, I’m the Hill Community Development Coordinator for the City of Boulder.

There’s about 16 businesses in that area right now. The project will probably not break ground for another two years, so this is a very long-term idea.

The other project which you might be interested in is the CU conference center hotel as well.

It’s at the same intersection, which is interesting, so it’s University Ave and Broadway, and that is a proposal to build 15,000-square feet of ballroom space and have a hotel, to basically provide a place for different conferences from around the world, really leveraging all the intellectual strength of CU and all the different organizations that would like to come here, but currently don’t have a large enough facility to host.

CU students might not be so excited, but CU Student Government of External Affairs Marcus Fotenos is making sure all info is gathered before taking a position.

I think, it’s just important to make sure that all the information is accessible by all the students.

We’re working to put together a survey to collect some data from how the students actually feel about this, and I’m sure you as well as me, we’ve heard what students feelings are on it, but we don’t have any true numbers to it, so we really want to do that before we move forward, make sure we collect the data and figure out how students truly do feel about it, and then we can figure out ways to work with the university, to make sure that students voices are being heard.



One response to “Revitalization on the Hill garners support, stirs controversy

  1. Pingback: Sarah and the Hill of Boulder | Cypher Sessions·

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