Connecting a mountain town to the river
Outside Buena Vista, Colorado, on the site of a former garbage dump, 40 acres of riverfront land sat vacant for years. It took two nature-loving developers—risktakers with a background as competitive kayakers—to see what it could become.
Following a public design charrette run by Dover, Kohl & Partners, construction began on South Main—a New Urbanist town extension that reconnects the small mountain town to the Arkansas River. Today, its central South Main Square is surrounded by mixed-use buildings and provides a gathering space for residents and visitors. Neighborhood streets are oriented to allow views to the mountains and riverfront.
“As someone who has lived here for some time, I’m just in awe at all of it,” says Dennis Giese, Chairman of the Chaffee County Commissioners. “I just stopped by the Buena Vista Roastery coffee shop, and I looked up and down Main Street and there were people everywhere. Young people, young families. And that’s what South Main has brought.”
The developers have delivered on key principles established by residents during the charrette: maintaining public access to the river; creating a high-quality riverfront space; establishing visual and physical connections with Main Street and downtown Buena Vista including a dramatic view of a historic cupola with background mountains; and creating a walkable neighborhood through a mixture of uses, network of pedestrian connections, and human-scale streets.
“We love to walk, and living in South Main allows us to walk most anywhere—for work, errands, and just for fun,” say residents Wil and Christine Franz. “Everything is so accessible–local businesses, great hiking and mountain biking trails, and the river, of course.”
South Main feels like a natural extension to the town because the architecture draws from the local vernacular. By providing a connection to the river, South Main helps to complete the town. When visitors come from Buena Vista and beyond for events, they get to walk South Main’s streets, learn about the vision for the neighborhood, and experience firsthand the qualities that make it a great place to live.