After five years, Paradise's downtown
continues to take form
By RYAN OLSON
October 15, 2005
PARADISE When Fred Colgrave came to Paradise
eight years ago, he didn't think much of the area off the Skyway
north of Pearson Road known then as the Central Business
District. "I really didn't see it as a downtown," Colgrave
said. "I saw it as a junky place with antique stores."
Colgrave, owner of the Skyway Feed and Pet Supply
store, said it seemed like the town government wasn't doing any
planning and there was no continuity between businesses.
Now, Colgrave sees the area growing five years after
the Town Council created a downtown district.
In April, Colgrave, along with his wife RosaLee, moved
their business from Wagstaff Road to a former movie theater on Foster
Road downtown. Since the move, the store has seen a 30 percent leap
in sales and customers.
"I've got no complaints," he said. "We're
moving right along."
The Colgraves and others are taking second looks at
the downtown area. Barbara and Marshall Ely are relocating their
Back at the Ranch store near Skyway and Foster Road. Several businesses
are taking part in a town program to revamp their storefronts.
Unlike Chico's long-established downtown, Paradise
has only had small business centers that have shifted over the years.
Councilman Sam Dresser said the central business district was identified
as a possible center to a redevelopment area.
"Paradise has kind of hopscotched in sort of
a circle as far as downtown is concerned," Dresser said.
In September 2000, the town established downtown as
the area between the raucous Skyway and the more pedestrian Paradise
Memorial Trailway, from Pearson to Elliott roads. The area includes
the Skyway's business bustle, but there are also several quiet areas
including a 22-trailer motor home park tucked off to the east of
Black Olive Drive.
After defining downtown, the town government, residents
and businesses are working to turn what was once identified as a
blighted and economically depressed area into the heart of the town's
Councilman Alan White said there have been tremendous
improvements downtown, pointing to the new storefronts, increased
occupancy and foot traffic. White was mayor when the downtown plan
"Five or six years ago, the downtown area was
completely dead," White said.
He said downtown looks a lot better with a lot of
business owners now making the investment to revamp their shops.
While the town's commercial facade program can offer up to $10,000
in grants and low-interest loans, the business owners make significant
investments of their own.
Town Manager Chuck Rough predicted very dramatic changes
over the next 10 years including more businesses and improved
streets and storefronts. The town is planning to construct new community
and government centers the planned Paradise Community Park
and civic center. Planning is under way for a clustered wastewater
septic system so the downtown can accommodate specialty businesses,
restaurants and hotels.
"I'm confident that we're really going to see
a turnaround in the downtown and the redevelopment district,"
In addition to facade improvement programs, the town
is revamping sidewalks, adding parking and removing blighted buildings
that are eyesores. The town recently made improvements to the trailway
along downtown's eastern border.
The fledgling efforts seem to be having an impact.
During a March speech, Rough said downtown sales are up and retailers
with redone storefronts saw a 20.3 percent jump in sales. "People
are already commenting to me about the dramatic turnaround,"
After five years, there are still plenty of antique
and used-item stores, which dominate the downtown landscape along
with auto-related businesses like body shops. While some
stores stand out, downtown holds more than 138 businesses, including
three martial arts studios. There are 171 dwellings including several
homes hidden behind Skyway stores.
Sarita Carey, who lives on Black Olive Drive near
Willow Road, said the changes are creating a sense of excitement.
She said she was initially disappointed when she first moved to
the area seven years ago, but the downtown district is starting
to come together.
"I always wanted to live downtown," Carey
said. "So it's neat that it's building out towards me."
Dozens of businesses are making storefront improvements
since Walt's Sports and Trophy was the first one in 2002.
Ed Salome, executive director of the Paradise Ridge
Chamber of Commerce, said he's seen considerable improvements since
he moved to the area 10 years ago. He said the town government has
been innovative in its redevelopment efforts.
"They've really done wonders to get Paradise
back on track," Salome said.
For the Skyway Feed and Pet Supply store, Colgrave
said town officials were willing to work with him on the downtown
move. The town was accommodating on discretionary items while enforcing
"I have to say they have bent over backwards
from the time we started to where we are now," Colgrave said.
The town's redevelopment agency also offered incentives
to relocate because the store could spur economic growth. Colgrave
said his store brings in an average of 230 customers each day
to visit the store and other downtown merchants.
"You couldn't buy that kind of advertisement,"
Rough said the town's pleased with the number of businesses
participating in the commercial facade renovation program. He said
there's a direct correlation between a business's appearance and
its success and the success of the downtown. The eventual
goal is to transform downtown into a distinct commercial shopping
area, with revamped commercial storefronts, improved streets and
"The minute you go downtown, you'll know you're
downtown," Rough said.
The evolution of a downtown
The area around the old Southern Pacific Railroad
depot was one of the first subdivision areas in the town during
the 1920s and 1930s, according to Dresser, who volunteers with the
Gold Nugget Museum. He said the railroad played a key role in transporting
the timber and agricultural products produced on the ridge during
"This was an agricultural area," Dresser
He said the area around the depot was a gathering
area with several of the first Johnny Appleseed Days being held
near there. He said there was an old gazebo near the site.
When Dresser moved to the area in the 1960s, he said the area now
called downtown was a strong business district. He said there were
markets, butcher shops and numerous service stations, including
King Dollar on the corner of Elliott Road and the Skyway. There's
currently one gas station in the downtown the R & J Valero
Bev Crowder, owner of the Skyway Clippers barber shop
on the Skyway, recalled her grandparents shopping downtown when
the town's grocery stores and post office were located there. She
said there was angled parking along the Skyway, where traffic moved
"I can remember back when we were kids and there
was lot of shopping here," Crowder said.
Things began to change as businesses grew and development
on the ridge increased. Dresser said the Paradise Pines development
in Magalia increased traffic on the Skyway and businesses began
to move away.
The Safeway store, originally located north of downtown,
jumped over to Clark Road and others followed.
"The downtown has changed position and character
several times over the years," Dresser said.
As stores moved away, he said the central business
district began to fade.
As the downtown dimmed, so did retail sales. In 1986,
the 75 retailers in the central business district were responsible
for 16.8 percent of the town's retail sales, according to the 2000
master plan. In 2000, officials found 85 retailers located
within the larger downtown boundaries contributed 10 percent
of the total retail sales.
Before the Town Council approved the revitalization
plan, officials noticed downtown's deteriorated status, calling
the area blighted and "economically depressed" in the
In addition to sagging retail sales and blight, the
2000 master plan found 13 elements for improvement. Items included
underutilized commercial and residential property, poor pedestrian
and parking options, inadequate wastewater disposal capacity and
no central gathering place.
In September 2000, the Town Council approved the Downtown
Revitalization Master Plan for the area known at the time as the
Central Business District. The plan was an outgrowth of the town's
1994 General Plan that identified the district for revitalization.
An earlier effort in 1986 to create a revitalization district never
got off the ground.
In 2002, the town formed the Paradise Redevelopment
Agency to fund improvements for a 693.7-acre revitalization area,
including downtown. In addition to capturing property tax revenue
increases to fund redevelopment, Rough said the town is seeking
grants, having received about $1 million so far.
To turn around the downtown and transform it into
the center of the town's redevelopment, the 2000 master plan made
11 recommendations addressing the problems. The master plan was
created after the town government held five public forums to gather
input, Rough said.
Rough said different people are attracted to an area
for different reasons. The town's redevelopment effort is geared
to cultivate anchors such as businesses, a park, restaurants and
a civic center.
"You've got to create a series of anchors to
turn around the downtown," Rough said.
The town will build its $1.5 million park centered
on the old depot during the next year.
Rough said the new park will be one of downtown's
anchors, with many groups already expressing an interest in holding
their events there.
A planned civic center would incorporate the town
government as well as a police station and a fire station into a
block along Black Olive Drive across from the park. Rough said the
building could be a community center, accommodating other public
Part of the downtown development is geared to help
businesses. Rough envisions a wing of the civic center being set
aside for retail while a group is interested in creating a downtown
retail center to incubate new businesses. The redevelopment agency,
along with other groups, provides businesses with planning support
and other advice.
Rough and other town officials would like to see more
mixed-use buildings a business on a first floor and residential
on upper levels. Rough said the town would also like to encourage
more housing development.
While there are various projects downtown, many town
officials pin downtown's future development to the construction
of a clustered septic system. One or more clustered wastewater septic
systems would increase the available land for development and make
certain types of business feasible.
"We've always identified that combined septic
treatment system as absolutely essential to the revitalization of
downtown," Rough said.
White said he didn't see additional development without
Salome said the clustered septic system offers the
most potential to downtown.
"It'll be a big step in the right direction,"
The development of a new wastewater treatment system
is just getting under way. One of the town's current successes is
the commercial facade renovation project. Rough said the relative
youth of the redevelopment agency and the downtown buildings gives
the town and businesses opportunities to reinvent themselves.
"We have a lot of flexibility in how we do that,"
While there are some guidelines, the town works with
business owners on the storefront renovations. Rough said there's
no specific theme, although some businesses are looking to the Old
West for inspiration.
While businesses are sprucing up their buildings,
Crowder said she would've preferred some sort of theme, perhaps
related to community events such as Gold Nugget Days or Johnny Appleseed
"If they had some kind of a theme, it would attract
people," Crowder said.
Resident Carey said she enjoyed the individual identity
of the separate buildings as long as there are some controls.
"A little individuality is fine," Carey
said. "I don't want it to look like a cookie-cutter."
As development continues, some residents and business
owners point to problems, including speeding traffic on the Skyway
and higher rents.
While new opportunities are luring new blood downtown,
the changes are prompting some business owners to pull up stakes.
A short distance away from the Skyway Feed store,
Crowder relocated her barber shop to Clark Road on Oct. 8. She said
a new landlord wanted to double the monthly rent for the small red
building at 6165 Skyway where she's been for nine and a half years.
"In a way, it's kind of sad to move because I've
been here for so long," Crowder said.
However, she said the move will be good she'll
still be centrally located near Pearson Road with better parking
and easier traffic.
Crowder said there's been a lot of business turnover
with new landlords increasing rents. Despite the improvements, she
said it's still hard to define downtown and that the planned Skyway
Plaza development would have a greater economic impact on the town.
Crowder said she won't miss the speeding Skyway traffic.
"I probably have a lot of gray hair listening
to squealing brakes all day long in here," she said.
More than 23,000 vehicles travel on the Skyway north
of Elliott Road each day, according to a 2003 traffic count conducted
for the Butte County Association of Governments. However, considerably
fewer vehicles tread on downtown's interior streets.
Pedestrians currently walking downtown often share
the streets with cars. Most of the streets in the downtown district
lack the wide sidewalks that stretch the length of the Skyway.
Traffic is a concern for Jayne Keith, who lives on
the private Tulip Lane on downtown's eastern side. She said a car
struck and hurt her 11-year-old son last week while in a Skyway
crosswalk to get to the Terry Ashe Center.
While making downtown more pedestrian-friendly is
one of the goals of downtown revitalization, Keith said she would
like to see more stop signals for pedestrians and a lower speed
"It's great what we're doing downtown, but it's
not going to help if we're killing our pedestrians," Keith
Not the commercial heart
While Paradise's downtown is taking shape, White said
he doesn't think it will be the commercial center of the town. He
said the developments along Clark Road will probably continue to
drive the town's economy. White said a strong downtown could be
a hub for pedestrian traffic with the park and boutiques. He said
downtown could be a draw and keep shoppers in town.
"By improving our downtown, we will reduce leakage
to other cities," White said.
Dresser predicted unimaginable developments over the
next 20 years.
"This is an opportunity in motion," he said.
"If you have the vision and you share the dream and you're
still relatively young enough to invest in it, you've got a long
way to go."
Colgrave sees the town taking off and growing as more
business people see the potential of downtown.
"The incentive is what we the business community
makes it to be," he said.
Colgrave said downtown isn't ready yet it needs
more "people-friendly" amenities such as sidewalks, outdoor
seating and perhaps an ice cream parlor. He said the area around
the park could be a "Mecca" for the town.
"All of that in there has the potential to become
the heart of downtown," Colgrave said.
Staff writer Ryan Olson can be reached at 896-7763
or rolson -at- chicoer.com.