WITH pre-development plans in hand, Center Town Manager Brian Lujan is busy this February day completing a $10 million grant application as one of the next steps in a land annexation project that town officials believe will help address the housing needs of the San Luis Valley.
It’s the off-season in Center with the town’s agricultural workforce largely in winter hibernation. Lujan sits in his office working through the housing grant application that, if awarded, will pay for needed electrical and gas lines and water and sewer on 90 acres that sits adjacent to the downtown.
“How can the Town of Center house the future of the San Luis Valley?” is the question posed in a final report submitted by MASS Design Group in its PreDevelopment and Engagement Master Plan that Lujan is using to apply for the grant.
Plans for the “North 90” Annexation include extending Center’s existing downtown grid to address the Valley’s housing shortage.
In Center’s version of the modern-day Valley, the town will develop 90 acres of land known as the “North-90” Annexation into a mixture of housing and commercial development that would spark a revival of the community that sits in the heart of potato country.
Already there are curious travelers wandering through, pulled off Highway 285 by the new Frontier Drive-Inn and its development. As the traveler notices the Frontier through its highway marquee, the town of Center to the east is easy to spot and makes the traveler wonder what sits just beyond the upscale modern-day Frontier.
Lujan has had a small army of consultants in and out of Center over the past four years helping the town along with its vision and master planning of the North-90 development and its effort to rejuvenate its downtown.
“We’re right on the cusp and that’s why we’re going after this $10 million horizontal infrastructure grant from the division housing. You can’t put any housing in obviously without that infrastructure, the streets and everything that is involved to start to build neighborhoods. But we’re right there with that,” Lujan says.
Among the newer amenities downtown is a teen center outfitted with lounging sofas, TVs for video games, and a basketball arcade.
There are signs of new life downtown. A new teen center used by the Center after-school program is outfitted with lounging sofas, TVs for video games, and a basketball arcade that makes the space inviting and useful.
Elsewhere downtown, several storefronts are under renovation with promises of new spaces for artists, and a revival of the old theater, among other possibilities.
Lujan at the moment is hoping for a coffee shop downtown and other retail that would help spur activity. But it’s the North-90 Annexation and the dream of those 90 acres turning into a mixed use of housing and commercial development that holds Lujan’s attention as he works to bring in grant money and then other investors into the project.
The plan calls for housing to meet all income levels, a balance between larger commercial businesses with smaller local businesses, and leveraging development of North-90 to expand workforce development.
The push to build housing now to support commercial development is supported by a 2021 San Luis Valley Housing Assessment that shows the Valley in need of about 1,885 housing units for residents and employees by 2026 to meet both existing and future housing demands in the six-county region.
Center is planning to help meet that demand through its North-90 Annexation which it believes will kickstart other momentum.
“That’s really our hope,” says Lujan.
And back he goes looking for more money to make it all a reality.