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Let's talk about economic health of our downtown

Business Buzz
By: LindaLou Haines
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Let’s have a dialogue! I’d like to initiate a dialogue focusing on the economic issues of downtown Colfax. It’s not a new concern, I know. There have been discussions, community meetings and editorials in the past. However, the viability of downtown Colfax as a business district remains a concern. What can we do now in the midst of a national economic downturn? And, with so many conflicting interests? To start the process, I have been asking locals who really care about Colfax for their thoughts. It all started with a comment I heard that city leaders believe it’s time to give up on downtown Colfax as a business district and focus instead on the I-80 business corridor. Since then I’ve gotten reactions like “outrageous” to “ridiculous.” “It’s sad, but understandable since I-80 (corridor) is the tax base for the city,” said Connie Heilaman, business owner and Chamber of Commerce President. But Realtor Lynn Tausch believes, “the best thing for downtown is to develop the tax base from I-80. The city needs the I-80 taxes.” Robby Robinson, who “retired” to Colfax in 1974 and has been busy with his business Robinson Real Estate and community organizations since then, doesn’t agree with the concept. “City Hall needs to promote businesses that will be large enough to hire several people and to add to the tax base,” he said. Of the folks I talked to, all acknowledged that the city’s focus has been on upgrading the sewer plant while defending itself against a lawsuit from a neighbor. Thus, the plant has required an extensive outlay of money as well as many, many hours of council and staff time. “The Edwards lawsuit has hog-tied the city and strangled it to the point that everything else in the city is being ignored,” commented Robinson. Frank Klein, who worked in real estate before he retired, had these thoughts. “To bring new business into town, couldn’t the city offer help with loans and offer tax breaks and other incentives,” he asked. “And, how about a partnership with the hotel owner to get the rehab of the hotel back on track and opened? It would be a draw to Colfax as a destination. And, what is the status of the plans for a train museum and rolling (train) stock downtown as another draw for tourists?” Heilaman agrees that there’s a need to focus on the history of Colfax as a railroad town. “We have a gem (of a city) here,” she said. Jenny Duncan believes the current economic slump started when the historic Colfax Theater closed. “It was an anchor for the downtown and it brought folks from all over into town,” she said. Tausch wants to find ways to encourage people to spend time in the downtown district. “Let’s put benches in front of businesses downtown to encourage people to linger here, to eat their meals they bought at McDonald’s here,” she said. “I’ve seen people with their McDonald’s meals eating them up at the Gold Run rest stop. We need parks and benches in town to keep those folks here.” So, those are the visions of some of this city’s business leaders. But, the economic future of this city depends upon those of us who are here now. Nobody outside the area is going to do it for us. What can we do? What can business owners do? Perhaps former business owner and charter member of the Colfax Historical Society Helen Wayland has the best perspective about local businesses. “They need to continue offering unique products and good service,” she said. “But, we need to promote those unique qualities better.” And, residents have a huge role in our economic health by supporting the existing local businesses. “Remember that dollars spent here in Colfax are re-circulated back into the community many times,” said Wayland. OK, now it is your turn. What do you think? LindaLou can be reached at lindalouise@exwire.com.