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Pueblo, A City for the Creative

Much of this doesn’t exist…

It’s Sunday brunch time and the new local coffee place is filled  with a few college students trying to finish the last of their term papers before they leave for break as well as a few professionals on their laptops pretending to work while watching YouTube.

The menu is sparse for a coffee shop and the prices are well, Oregonian in nature, but the place is full on a Sunday.

The low winter sun shines on a nice young couple just off a morning hike in Beulah who stretch with purpose as they get out of their Subaru. They drove down from Monument for the day to hike and then to amiably walk around the downtown.

On the agenda a bookstore, the clothing shop, the silkscreen poster shop, the local pottery and then off to a brew pub for a quick pint before heading back up. Maybe they’ll stop off at the Italian deli in Bessemer that they heard about on public radio station just last week.

It’s open now on Sundays because there are people everywhere after the story on the new food culture of Pueblo was shared like wildfire on social media.

“Finally! The recognition Pueblo deserves is getting more play in Denver and Colorado Springs,” the new mayor of Pueblo says to herself.

“All that hard work of spending close to $1.5 million in tourism dollars is working.”

She was panned heavily by the Pueblo Chieftain for advocating for a big increase in tourism dollars but over the last year with the city working closely with the creative arts and tech industry, focusing less on heavy industry and more on creative ones, properties once thought too expensive to own now boom with new businesses.

The new plan worked as a new paper goods place has just opened in Bessemer. A few years ago, these storefronts were embarrassingly vacant considering they near a highly travelled portion off Interstate 25. Thousands of cars a day ignored the exits and kept going for a few more hours until reaching Santa Fe.

Now the inexpensive buildings are seeing new tenants — artists, jewelry makers, coders — young professionals needing inexpensive rents to fuel their new start-ups.

Just over the bridge into the Eiler’s Neighborhood is a new block-house design building. It’s a start-up investment firm taking a chance on the new renewable energy firms relocating to affordable Southeast Colorado after a few counties banded together to lure satellite offices of the largest renewable energy businesses in the world to the region.

It’s a unique marriage among renewables, the cannabis industry,  cryptocurrency businesses and surprisingly Evraz, who all need the same thing — cheap, affordable energy. Just years ago Pueblo had the highest energy rates in Colorado; now with the focus on renewables, Pueblo offers the cheapest energy rates in the state.

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At least on Main Street none of this matters today. It’s a warmer day, and the “Pueblo-made” sign on the jewelry store has drawn in the customers. It was another great weekend of business for the boutique. It doesn’t hurt that former Pueblo Community College trained chef, who had a stint at the Broadmoor, has returned home to open his dream kitchen offering new takes on Pueblo favorites.

The menu is filled with adjectives blending the names of local farms around the region with Southwest favorites. The restaurant has spurred on a rejuvenation around the downtown core because of last year’s profile in the New York Times about how Pueblo is reinventing its culture not by trying to be a franchise city, but by locals — creatives seeing potential in rust belt cities.

The long-lines, constant customers and curious parking situation have been a mixed blessing. A few, who moved back into Pueblo from Pueblo West to be closer to the action are buying up the downtown lofts and signing the leases on the new apartment buildings going up.

With the new development Pueblo has become a three-crane city but now some are worried the surge in energy and growth will strip Pueblo of its feel.

Rumbles of gentrification surround the growth. But on the east side, the spread of success slowed at the Fountain Creek.

The old Safeway still sits empty. For a time, there was talk of housing a new creative collective for the workspace. In would have been copied from the fantastical Meow Wolf art collective in Santa Fe since that profitable art space was fashioned out of a bowling alley. Then there was the East Coast grocery chain that was bandied about but it never came to fruition.

But with the creatives moving in generating the demand for more college educated jobs, Colorado State University – Pueblo finally consumed more of the northside and the eastside. Student housing, student pubs and cafes generate energy that are seeping over Highway 50 into 8th street.

Some look back and wonder what happened, what was the change. The answer was Pueblo realized the enormous creative talents that existed in Pueblo and rewarded them.

Pueblo said to itself, no company is going to come in and save us but the people that build things, make things, bake and cook things, paint and mold things — the people that create an experience, a dream, a song, a feeling of nostalgia — we want to be those people and we want others to come here to see what we create. And we want to be a place that when one leaves here, they leave with a piece of something that was made in Pueblo and inspired by the Steel City.

Much of this should.

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