The Steamboat Springs City Council was right to direct city staff to begin the process of creating an urban renewal authority to pay for improvements in the area around the ski area's base.
However, we would caution the city not to rush the process.
Members of the Base Area Reinvestment Coalition, the group advocating for the urban renewal authority's creation, want the plan approved before the end of the year so that taxes can be collected next year and work can begin as soon as possible. We understand their urgency and could support such a timeline, but only if a few key issues can be resolved in the next few weeks. Most notably, those issues include a better understanding of the financial ramifications of the urban renewal authority on the county and Steamboat Springs School District and the city's financial commitment to the authority.
The Base Area Reinvestment Coalition's plan is to create a URA that includes businesses within walking distance of the base area. The renewal area would issue bonds for capital improvements, and tax revenues from new development and redevelopment within the area would be dedicated to paying back those bonds.
Essentially, a portion of property tax revenue increases resulting from increases in valuation within the base area would be reinvested in the base area to enhance and rebuild public infrastructure such as lighting, sidewalks, transit facilities and streetscapes. The URA would have a lifespan of 25 years and is expected to generate $5 million to $10 million during that time.
We think there is significant merit to the plan. Foremost, it generates revenues that aren't likely to come from other sources for sorely needed upgrades in the base area. Second, the URA would encourage base area property owners to invest in improvements and redevelopment.
True, the property owners have the most to gain from improvements to the infrastructure at the mountain area. But the indirect, and perhaps greater, beneficiary would be the community as a whole, whose economic success remains tied to the success of the ski mountain. Improving the area around the base of the mountain is key to that success.
The city has the power to create a URA without voter approval. Ironically, the URA would not directly affect the city because the city does not have a property tax in place. Instead, it is the county and school district that would be giving up some portion of future revenues if the plan is approved.
We think it is important to understand more specifically what the affect will be on the county and schools before the authority is approved.
Also, as the county suggested, the city could commit a percentage of increased sales tax revenues within the urban renewal authority to the improvement program. It would be a wise step for the city to take, showing that it is committed financially to a program it is willing to commit others to.
Long-term, the URA has the potential to be the catalyst that spurs the overdue overhaul at our base area. We support it, as long as the program does not prove to be a hardship on our schools and county government and the city is willing financially to support the authority.