Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and Pitkin County Human Services partnered with LIFT-UP food pantry to evaluate the feasibility of utilizing the county-owned Emma Townsite buildings, among other locations, to help address food insecurity in the Roaring Fork Valley. A consultant, New Ventures Advisors, completed a market analysis and presented their findings to the Pitkin County Commissioners and Open Space and Trails Board on June 6. The boards agreed to continue the conversation about use of the Emma buildings for food storage and pursue partnerships and grants to further this potential use.
The presentation to the two boards, and a summary of New Ventures Advisors' findings are available below. View a video recording of the presentation.
EMMA TOWNSITE VISION STATEMENT
The Emma Store Buildings will honor their historic agricultural roots, the natural environment and character of Emma, and provide a space that is accessible to the community and celebrates the innovative spirit of this location.
Pitkin County commissioners approved the Emma Store Buildings Future Use Recommendation in January 2021 after approval by the Open Space and Trails Board. It provides guidance on potential use of the historic buildings, as well as next steps to reactivate the site.
The Future Use Recommendation was crafted by a Steering Committee, which met over a nearly two-year period from April 2019 to January 2021 to draft the recommendation and establish the vision for the future of the site. Among the potential uses for the store buildings, identified by the committee, are arts/heritage craft center/studio(s), agricultural-related uses, a museum, small-scale community gather spot, and other opportunities. The group agreed that a variety of uses could be housed together in a successful repurposing of the buildings.
OST and Human Services staff met with the Emma Steering Committee members in February 2022 to present the initial food hub concept and gather the committee’s feedback. While there was not consensus within the group regarding support for the concept, the majority of the committee felt the proposal has enough merit to evaluate it further and develop a better understanding of how the potential uses would impact the site, considering traffic generation, safety of the intersection, compatibility with the Emma Caucus master plan and the historic character of the buildings.
Pitkin County received a proposal to partner with the Human Services department to renovate the historic Emma Store buildings for use as a Food Hub. County commissioners and the county's Open Space and Trails Board considered the concept during a joint meeting on March 1, 2022 and supported a feasibility study of the proposal as a next step.
EMMA TOWNSITE STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERS
The Steering Committee includes six members of the public appointed by the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board: Raul Gawrys, Carolyn Shipp, Harry Teague, Mitzi Rapkin, Martha Ferguson and Jason Smith. In addition, Margaret Simmons and Liz Newman represented the Emma Caucus. Sara Nadolny attended for the Town of Basalt and Matt Annabell was the Historical Society representative. Michael Kinsley participated as a member of the Open Space and Trails Board, and Suzannah Reid participated as the county's historic preservation officer.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE EMMA STORE
The side-by-side store buildings along Hwy. 82, just downvalley from Basalt, are among several historic structures on the property. The distinctive brick structures were built in the late 1800s by Charles Mather, an East Coast native who operated a successful mercantile business at the site when Emma was a thriving hub along the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The store buildings fell out of commercial use in the 1920s, but served as the site of community dances for a time, and then as storage for a succession of owners.
The expansion of Hwy. 82 to four lanes, and its rerouting through Emma in order to bypass downtown Basalt, was completed in 1988. The highway project compromised the store buildings. Heavy traffic rattled the brick edifices and the ravages of plowed snow and de-icer caused further damage.
In 2008, the vacant buildings were acquired by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, with financial participation by the Town of Basalt. By that time, the roofs of the store and warehouse had caved in and the walls were starting to collapse. Open Space and Trails quickly pursued two stabilization projects to prevent the complete collapse of the aging structures and make them structurally secure. State Historic Fund grants helped finance work on the buildings. The 12.5-acre property also includes several outbuildings and the historic Mather House, a Victorian residence that is seeing much-needed maintenance in 2020. Installation of a new septic system and well repairs on the property have been completed.
The Emma Open Space Management Plan, adopted in 2017, established agricultural use of 58 acres across the highway from the townsite. That land, also part of Emma Open Space, was acquired in 2000. The Management Plan called for the formation of a Steering Committee to help determine management of the store buildings - a process that began in 2019. The structures are protected from demolition by an historic designation.
The Emma Open Space Management Plan contains much greater detail on the history of the townsite buildings and the open space at Emma.