Downtowns are the lifeblood for many cities. Cultural events, festivals, shopping and dining make the perfect backdrop to long summer days and festive holiday seasons. When a pandemic shuts down much of a city’s ability to celebrate local business by drawing in shoppers and diners with seasonal events, it can be crippling. Sean Hawkins, executive director of Loveland’s Downtown District, knows this well. He and his staff have gotten creative in promoting Loveland’s Downtown despite 2020’s challenges.
Q. Tell us about yourself.
A. I am originally from Louisville, Kentucky, and graduated from the University of Kentucky and University of Montana. I first came to Colorado in 1996 to visit friends in Gunnison and came back again in 1998 to go to the wonderful Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I’ve been working in downtown revitalization for 20 years and got my start in Missoula, Montana, and have worked in Corydon, Indiana and Yakima, Washington. I have a wife, Jessica, who does marketing work for Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, and a wonderful little two-year-old son, Jack.
Q. When did you arrive in Loveland, what drew you here and what were the challenges facing Downtown when you arrived?
A. We moved to Loveland in August 2018. I had looked at jobs in Erie and Denver before this, but Loveland had the right feel for me. When I arrived, there was a lot of enthusiasm from the folks I met about the Foundry opening. I agree, it was a huge push for a smaller community to pull off
such an ambitious project. Experience has taught me, though, that there is no silver bullet to revitalizing a downtown district and that it takes years of commitment, investment and relationship building to truly build a great place. We can do that here. I am most interested in making 4th Street one of the best main streets in Colorado. That will take time, vision,
patience and commitment.
Q. Tell us about your pre-COVID accomplishments for Downtown Loveland.
A. Before COVID, our initial push was to focus on building a sense of place in downtown and issuing a regular invitation to come enjoy downtown’s offerings. We placed holiday lights in trees on 4th Street for the first time in 2018, we took the lead to program the Foundry Plaza with One Sweet Summer, hosting a Wednesday night concert series, blues nights, kids days and more, and we worked with our retailers to promote shopping local with our Shop Local Saturdays. Getting started, I spent a lot of time building relationships with community members and business leaders. Experience has taught me that without building that relationship fabric, your chances of success are limited.
Q. All of that obviously came to a screeching halt in March with the shutdown. Yet, your team managed to salvage a summer that included
live music. How were you able to do this while other communities chose to largely close down for summer?
A. Our organization had a whole summer of events booked that we were ready to announce in late March and we, simply and with much heartache, threw the plan away. In April and May, we took time to listen to the challenges our businesses were facing, and we created a program to provide $150,000 in rent assistance to over 30 businesses.
Next, we worked with the City of Loveland on what we could do to facilitate safe community activities. Our Saturday Night Dine Out series was born out of that cooperation. From July to September, we hired almost 100 bands to perform next to expanded outdoor dining options on Saturday nights and it provided a much-needed sense of hope that we could have a good summer of business. People loved it, we loved it and none of the challenges we anticipated ever happened. The real stars were the community who were very respectful of one another and gave everyone plenty of room to have a good time.
A good seed was planted, and we will probably do some version of it again in 2021. We also did kids art days, yoga classes and piyo classes in the Foundry plaza this summer. We’re currently working on Christmas activities and navigating the rules to make them festive and safe. This year has really kept us on our toes.
Q. Loveland had been garnering some national attention recently,
such as being named one of Reader’s Digest’s 25 Small Towns That Are About to Become More Popular and Livability.com’s 2020 Top 100 Best Places to Live. What has helped Loveland to finally stand apart in Northern Colorado?
A. As I drive and visit places from Denver north to Fort Collins, I see this whole region is bustling with activity. But when I’m home in Loveland and living and working the day to day, I appreciate the pace of our small town. It’s easy to get around, there’s natural beauty everywhere and we have simply the nicest people. We have so much to do within an hour, but it always feels good to be home in Loveland. Like it or not, the secret is getting out.
Q. What does Loveland need to keep moving forward?
A. We can’t let off the gas. If you are truly committed to the revitalization of a business district, you have to accept that it is a long-term approach with many ups and downs along the way. It needs leadership to guide the day to day but also a vision for the future. That’s what we do. Downtown has over $40 million in neglected infrastructure. Our curb appeal needs improvements. We need to find a way to fund the HIP Streets project.
Q. What is your favorite part of your job?
A. Working with our great staff of Abby and Fawn, working with our two boards and City staff. The community of Loveland is very friendly and opinionated, but not in a toxic way. It’s a very refreshing place to work. I feel very fortunate to be here.