Downtown Development in the River District

Walking along Linden Street just north of Old Town, a historic marker welcomes visitors to “the oldest and most significant historic place in the city.” However, many people bypass this part of Fort Collins’ historic district situated against the Cache la Poudre River’s south bank. The vibrant shopping and dining scene of Old Town barely trickles past the south side of the intersection of Jefferson and Linden, though other, industrial businesses lie in this historic corridor. The confines of the Downtown River District are unofficially set from the northern and easternmost portion of Old Town to the Mulberry bridge, though officially, the boundaries are Pine Street, Lincoln Street, Jefferson Street, and the Cache La Poudre River itself.1

The River District and Old Town have been home to industrial and commercial businesses since the 1860s when Camp Collins (later Fort Collins) relocated to the area. A “sutler’s store” was established to sell supplies to the army at Linden and Jefferson, and throughout Fort Collins’ history, grist mills have stood alongside the river, the earliest fed by a millrace. Railroad tracks cut through the center of the River district beginning in the 1870s, and depots helped move passengers and freight. Even before the Agricultural Colony was established at Fort Collins in 1872, the area now called the River District was home to agricultural businesses and industrial ventures that used the river several yards away.2

In 2006, the City of Fort Collins announced a makeover for the Downtown River District, “intended to reestablish the linkage between Old Town and the River through redevelopment in the Cache la Poudre River corridor.”3 The River District will be home to green spaces, shops, and river front residences, transforming the composition and atmosphere of the district from utility and industry to urban leisure. Redevelopment will mean relocation or closure for some businesses in the area and eliminating rundown, vacant buildings. Most of the City of Fort Collins’ promotional literature for the River District characterizes the area as a place where, “…the river, industry, art and history come together to create a new community,” but that new community will leave little room for some of the district’s current industrial land and water users. The owner of Northern Colorado Feeder Supply, Danielle Nater, explains that while he was not forced out, as plans to redevelop the area move forward his company will no longer fit into the setting created by redevelopment, so he is moving his business to a new location a mile north.4

The River District’s redevelopment is indicative of an evolving Cache la Poudre River. When all changes are complete, the river will still generate income for those on its banks, but that income will come from tourism rather than factories. As more of the area’s industrial past fades away in favor of recreational space, urban residents’ interactions with and perceptions of the river have begun to change. Concern for the river’s appearance, health, and cleanliness has started to take precedence, as city planners look for ways to draw people to the river. Through Fort Collins’ center, the river has become a place to relax and play rather than the site of work or a reminder of the waterway’s agricultural past and present as a working river.

  1. “Welcome to Linden Street,” marker at the corner of Jefferson and Linden Streets, Fort Collins; Pat Ferrier, “River District Re-Do Revs Up,” Coloradoan, October 25, 2012; Ferrier, “River District Re-Do Revs Up.”
  2. Ansel Watrous, History of Larimer County, Colorado (Fort Collins: MM Publications, 1911), 226-227.
  3. City of Fort Collins, Fort Collins Land Use Code Article 4, Division 4.17, http://www.colocode.com/ftcollins/landuse/article4.htm#div4d17.
  4. Lindsay Renick Mayer, “River District to get Restyled,” Coloradoan, April 6, 2006; Pat Ferrier, “Feeder Supply Would Move Out of Fort Collins River District Development,” Coloradoan, April 18, 2013; Pat Ferrier, “Feeders Supply Ready to Build Permanent Home,” Coloradoan, June 28, 2014.

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