“I don’t understand why we always want to talk about ‘growth.’ Why is success measured in growth? […] Growth is not what Grand Junction wants,” Randy Emmons, owner of Randy’s Southside Diner, said Wednesday at the Grand Junction City Council meeting.
Yes, it seems Grand Junction has made it loud and clear that any sort of action that may pull Grand Junction toward the future will be met with kicking and screaming. The Grand Junction City Council decided last week that they will write up a resolution rescinding their August decision changing North Avenue to University Boulevard and on Nov. 1, they are expected to pass it.
What began as the city government’s symbolic gesture of thank-you toward Colorado Mesa University, one of Mesa County’s top 10 largest employers that has an estimated $447.5 million annual impact on the region, has ended with another symbolic gesture, one that points toward the door.
The “Keep North 4Ever” movement began as a campaign to raise concerns of North Avenue businesses has ended with a conspiracy-fueled mob of angry citizens hell-bent on takin’ down the man. They have shirts, they have signs, they have petitions and it seems like they have a lot of free time on their hands.
Community engagement has been what Grand Junction desperately needs, but instead of that energy being directed towards providing better resources for Grand Junction schools or fixing a crumbling infrastructure, they have decided it should be spent harassing the city council about the naming of a street.
University Boulevard was obviously not going to fix Grand Junction’s problems. The change was not expected to fix an aging town; however, it was expected to attract higher quality students whose passion and possible community engagement could help draw the city into the present.
Grand Junction is in desperate need of an industry, and despite a consistent input of freshmen and output of graduates, the CMU students typically do not stay in this town.
And why would they?
Grand Junction has the look and feel of a town the rest of the state forgot about. Had University Boulevard come into effect, it could have signaled to business owners or owners-to-be that Grand Junction is a sustainable area for growth, with an economy solidly (and rather safely) tied to the presence of a university.
College students are good for the economy. Despite the “starving college student” trope, CMU students have more disposable income than working adults. Whether or not Grand Junction wants to be a college town or not, there’s no way to argue with the fact that colleges not only bring employment opportunities and create thousands of potential professionals each year upon graduation, but they also draw thousands of students who come to the city with money to spend.
“I think you need to think about whether you want that little town to stay a little town, or if you want those jobs for your kids and grandchildren, and if you do, get behind it,” Roger Sollenberger, a Grand Junction resident of 25 years, said at that same recent city council meeting.
Grand Junction, however, has made it incredibly clear it has no interest in being a college town. Some may say that they have no ill will toward the university, but some are more candid and will express their ill feelings toward the college and its administrators.
Posts on the “Save North Avenue” Facebook page include not just dates of potential demonstrations, but a large amount of conspiracy-based photoshop work, including one of CMU President Tim Foster wearing a crown, and another of CMU in the center of a black hole into which tax dollars disappear. The posts are aggressive and one-sided but seem to reflect the overall tone the campaign has taken in recent weeks.
“Their potential campaign success has been based on a great deal of misinformation and harassment in the form of nasty, vicious phone calls, emails, letters, mostly anonymous, name-calling, intimidation and threats,” Roger’s wife, Sharon Sollenberger, said.
The Criterion is no stranger to this group’s harassment. When one of The Criterion’s editors reached out to their group for a possible story, they began a conspiracy-fueled witch hunt because they believed she was not who she said she was.
A group of grown adults began calling The Criterion phones, searching for the editor on Facebook, CMU’s email list and scanning The Criterion website. This process led them to leave aggressive comments on a staff writer’s story. The group also tracked the writer down and messaged her personally on her own Facebook account.
It seems hard to believe this statement is necessary, but these grown adults were harassing students, one of whom was just a staff writer.
Could this all simply be about a street? About business rights? Or does it represent a growing division between CMU and Grand Junction? About an older generation of citizens who want to revisit their glory days “cruising” North Avenue as teenagers? No matter what their intention, they’ve grown to become a dangerous force that will convince students to not stay in this town and contribute to the workforce.
They have convinced us.
With all that in mind, it seems it is in the council’s best interest to rescind their decision. This is not a battle worth fighting, and all it has done is unearth a lurking grudge.
The issue, which was once a portend of Grand Junction’s potential to progress, has now revealed a Western Colorado town wishing for the ordinary, striving for indifference and hoping for a time gone by.
Correction, Oct. 23: Randy Emmons’ name was incorrectly printed.