The making of a ghost town

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .


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These photos could very well become the new picture postcards of Evergreen. They tell a story about how a ghost town looks in its early stages of neglect and deterioration.

Without a city government (and I’m certainly not promoting one!), when things fall apart, they don’t get fixed.

There isn’t any clout in working with State and Federal entities to repair flood-damaged bridges. Nearly four years after flooding, we are still looking at cones, barriers and a one-lane bridge leading to the Lake House. Barriers along the lake trail keep visitors and locals alike from walking around the lake because of erosion undermining the embankment.

There aren’t any teeth. Volunteer groups have tried and tried over the years to address the issues but have been relatively unsuccessful at getting much done, whether it be improving sidewalks or crosswalks, or getting flood damage fixed.

Volunteers cut and pulled thistles at the lake last fall, and Evergreen Parks and Rec agreed to make thistles a priority this year. That was the start of my realization that Evergreen had begun to look like it was being neglected from every angle, wondering what visitors must be thinking.

It was an entrepreneurial spirit that enabled downtown Evergreen to become a wonderful collection of little shops and places to gather years ago. But the volunteer spirit that has kept downtown alive is about to die – just like the time and temperature sign owned by Evergreen National Bank. It went out nearly a year ago and has never been lighted since. Stories from bank employees are that they can’t find the key to reset the time whenever there’s a time change, and it would cost $6,000 to do something about it. It’s not a priority.

There isn’t any muscle – except for those flexed between landlords who don’t speak to each other or property owners who have been at odds with the county over private matters for decades. Evergreen suffers as a result.

For MANY years we endured a closed-up Evergreen Crafters building with windows papered – deemed unsafe for public use ten years ago when Evergreen Crafters was suddenly relocated across Main Street. Then parts of the abandoned green building were torn down, leaving a small, unsightly cottage surrounded by debris. It sat that way for a year or more – the once-charming, focal point of Main Street.

Then, several months ago, the cottage gave way to a yellow frontloader surrounded by construction-style orange-net fencing, which I regard as the newest piece of permanent artwork in town – commemorating absentee landlords and their bitter disputes with the county. Planters of colorful flowers have been replaced by weeds four feet high. Owners are calling it a “pocket park” in the works.  

Sadly, what other landlords have attempted to do to keep downtown alive is being overshadowed by the unsightly focal point that the former Crafters building has become over the past decade, compounded by flood damage and a time-and-temperature sign that doesn't work anymore.

Imagine if that were your next-door neighbor for ten years. 

I’m hopeful that the proposed Local Improvement District (LID) will help reverse some of the neglect that’s occurring, give Evergreen a lift, and rise above the individual squabbles that have taken their toll on Downtown Evergreen.

It will NOT add another layer of government because the County Commissioners will be that governing authority. It will NOT cost Jeffco taxpayers in any measurable way because not a single employee will be added to the payroll as a result.

But it WILL enable some things to get done because the Commissioners can enter into contracts that volunteer groups cannot. The $1 million in revenues generated by a one-cent sales tax may not be sufficient to accomplish everything, but it WILL allow the Commissioners to bond against anticipated taxes to take on improvement projects.

It WiLL elevate Evergreen’s status with CDOT from rural roads like those south of Fairplay to those that pass through municipalities.

A one-cent sales tax (being proposed as a revenue stream to fund improvements under a LID) may affect the average Evergreen resident about $25 per year, if that. It will NOT be assessed against groceries, services, or gasoline. Most of us do not think twice about driving to another part of Jefferson County, Denver, or Lone Tree for the privilege of paying twice the tax we pay in Evergreen.

At 4.5%, Evergreen is among the lowest sales taxes in the entire metro area. Of 16 municipalities in the Denver area, 11 charge a sales tax that is 7% or higher; 6 exceed 8% with Boulder, Northglenn and Westminster closer to 9%; only 4 are under 6%. In addition, several malls such as Park Meadows, Colorado Mills, and Belmar have additional Business Improvement District fees or Public Improvement fees tacked on – just look at one of your receipts!

Personally, I would gladly approve a 4% increase if asked to do so! I would support it just as I support recreational facilities I never use and parks and open space for all. It's important to think about the general health of our community.

A multi-page informational piece being distributed by the Ross-Lewis Trust (the main landlord in downtown) is designed to elevate their image as the organization that’s been trying to accomplish things, while taking an adversarial position on the proposed Local Improvement District (LID). I suspect they don’t want the county to have more say in what happens in Evergreen because it would likely be a personal blow to them in their ongoing battles with Jefferson County – disputes that supposedly started years ago over properties in other parts of the county.

No, I don’t claim to know all the details. I suspect the Trust likely has very valid reasons to be at odds with the County. But I do know Evergreen is paying the price.

While there are statistics on how the addition of a park increases property values nearby, I would need to consult the people in Detroit to see how a crumbling downtown might affect property values in Evergreen.

There was a time when the Ross-Lewis Trust brought life and vibrancy to downtown. Under the leadership of Leo Bradley, positive things happened. What the Ross-Lewis Trust has allowed to happen in the past decade would make Leo roll over in his grave. Their demonstration of concern for Evergreen is certainly nothing to write home about, but if you want to do so, I have some picture postcards you can use.