By Tom Hacker

Centerra developer McWHINNEY, criticized in some Loveland circles for eroding downtown’s economic vitality, has stepped up with a major investment in a signature downtown project.

McWHINNEY’s philanthropic foundation has committed $100,000 to support the Rialto Bridge, the three story, 20,000-square-foot building that will have its space split between private and community uses.

The building would take the place of two one-story retail buildings just west of the Rialto Theater on Fourth Street, and include new facilities that would make the city-owned theater more fully functional, as well as restaurant, office and community space.

The McWHINNEY gift brings within easy reach the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado’s goal of raising $700,000 to pay for a public share of the project.

“You have no idea how great this makes me feel,” said Phil Farley, chairman of the Community Foundation’s Loveland Fund, the group leading the fundraising effort.

“We’re knocking on $600,000, and we haven’t even gone to the public with this.”

The impetus for the McWHINNEY contribution came from Jay Hardy, the general manager of Centerra who also has a history steeped in downtown revitalization.

As executive director of the Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hardy was instrumental in some of the district’s core redevelopment projects.

“Jay has a really strong bias toward downtowns,” Farley said. “He understands the impact that downtowns have on the overall economy of a community.”

Hardy said persuading the McWHINNEY managing council, the company’s decision-making body, to make the Rialto Bridge investment did not require a hard sell.

“If you go into any mid-sized community, the health of its downtown reflects the health of the entire community,” Hardy said. “When the foundation approached us about being a partner in this I felt it was a major part, as a community member, of what we should be doing.”

McWHINNEY contribution was the third $100,000 commitment to the project, the others coming from the Hach Foundation and the Kroh Charitable Trust.

So far, Advantage Bank has given $10,000 and Bank of Colorado $5,000 toward the Home State match.

Other donations have come from the Loveland Community Fund, at $50,000, and contributions from Loveland fund committee members totaling $66,000.

Hardy said Rialto Bridge, by virtue of its magnitude and forward-looking design, fills the bill as a “signature” downtown development project.

“It’s the right project with the right street address,” he said. “When people think of downtown, they think Fourth Street. This is a great step for the community.”