Our View: Using the right formula

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The city of Steamboat Springs and the Main Street Steamboat downtown business organization are wise to work together on an ordinance that establishes regulations for future retail stores in the city.

At a meeting today, Main Street officials will take public input on the proposed ordinance and then make recommendations to the City Council. The meeting is at 3:30 p.m. at Bank of the West.

The ordinance being discussed specifically targets "formula stores." The city's preliminary definition of a formula store is a store or restaurant among a chain of 10 or more that contains these features: a standardized array of merchandise, a standardized façade, standard decor and color scheme, uniforms for employees and standard signage along with a trademark.

Steamboat has a handful of retail outlets that meet the definition of a formula store - Overland Sheepskin, Images of Nature, Fuzziwig's Candy Factory, Great Outdoor Clothing, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Blimpie Subs and Salads. The big fear is that, with five major downtown developments under construction or planned, there could be a sudden concentration of new formula stores in the downtown area.

Why does this matter? Because our government funding depends heavily on sales tax success, and our sales tax success depends heavily on enticing visitors to shop here. A glut of brand-name formula stores - Barnes and Noble, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Old Navy, Starbucks and American Eagle Outfitters, for example - will not distinguish Steamboat as a shopping destination. Rather, they will simply give visitors the same shopping options they can find in Omaha, Dallas, Des Moines and, for that matter, Summit County.

That's not to say all formula stores are bad; only that our government, which depends so heavily on retail for funding, is wise to establish some guidelines for regulating such stores before they destroy the unique character of our downtown shopping districts.

Here is what an ordinance can do:

n Establish design standards, not only for formula stores, but for all businesses. This allows the community to set the terms upon which a formula store can enter the market.

n Establish limits on signs. Many formula stores market their brands with large signs that can obstruct views and dominate buildings. Limiting the size, style and placement of signs is another way to give the community greater control over downtown's appearance and appeal.

n Apply the ordinance citywide. Using the ordinance only in the downtown area could inadvertently create a formula store shopping district elsewhere, which could undercut downtown vitality.

n Require formula stores to go through a conditional-use process. This step would give the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission and the City Council greater control of what kinds of formula stories enter the market.

Don't misunderstand us - not all formula stores are bad. In fact, we believe identifying and recruiting the right kinds of formula stores can increase traffic and enhance the shopping experience downtown. Given the escalating cost of leasing space downtown, formula stores may be the only retailers who can afford certain commercial spaces. Tracy Barnett, program director for Main Street Steamboat, said part of the group's long-term strategy is identifying and pitching the right stores, whether they are formula or independently owned.

We support the free market as much as anyone, but we also support smart government. Putting policies in place that protect our community standards and our sales tax base certainly qualifies as the latter.

Comments

JustAsking 7 years, 5 months ago

If "formula stores may be the only retailers who can afford certain commercial spaces" this is a problem that the city council has obviously overlooked when they approved these projects. What were they thinking?

Retailers who can't afford this space will end up congregating away from the higher rent, higher demand property. This could result in a retail slum possibly on the west end of town. They might move out altogether and establish businesses in Hayden or elsewhere in the county that would force shoppers to commute to the businesses.

Those that do stay will obviously have to charge more for their goods to stay there. Well, I guess those businesses would ultimately end up stronger and better residents of the community:.or the City Council could require the developers to include "affordable retail space" in every project. in order to preserve diversity in the high rent area.

Naturally, the added benefit would be to keep this group from charging more for their products. As a matter of fact, if they start to make too much money we could kick them out of the space. Now why did the city council miss this one?

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id04sp 7 years, 5 months ago

High-rent retail spaces are not going to work in this town at this point. When we go the way of Aspen and they have such things for sale as a record album cover (no record inside) autographed by each of the Beatles on sale for $5,000 then maybe it will be different.

It may be that the marketeers of our commercial realty community have sensed that the day of the Steamboat "local" is about to pass away, and that they will all be replaced by people with more money than sense (like in Aspen). It's also possible that investors are getting in on the ground floor and are willing to lose money for a few years in anticipation of long-term profits when they re-sell.

We should keep track of who is purchasing those spaces. The records will be available via the Clerk and Recorder and Tax Assessor web sites. If they are being snapped up by "way out of town" investors, then you can be sure it's all for speculation by people who have money to lose without feeling it. After all, if you live in New Jersey and you "own" a business in Steamboat, every time you purchase a first-class airline ticket to come out for a weekend of skiing, you can deduct that as a business expense. Really.

Most of us don't know what it's like to have money sitting around that we will never spend. Real estate is a great place to let it sit.

Those of us who have been here for a while, and who came for the fresh air, wide open spaces and natural beauty don't really understand the mindset of a person who would move from a concrete canyon in the northeast to a high-density development such as this one. Some people WANT this kind of urban blight, and now it's being provided for them. When you can sell a 1 bedroom apartment in Manhattan for a million dollars, why NOT move to ski country and live in a condo upstairs from the office where you do financial planning for wealthy new-comers?

When you hit the 35% tax bracket, lots of things suddenly look attractive. If you can put your money into property where the capital gains tax is only going to be 15% (even 20% if it comes back), you're making money just because you'll pay less tax on the income when you sell the place, PLUS you get other tax deductions for depreciation and business expenses.

If you put $500,000 in a bank (which was $769,000 before you paid 35% tax on it) you'll pay 35% on any interest you earn each year. Investing it in property that will increase in value over time, and that provides deductions for depreciation and business expenses in the meantime, will provide a much higher return in the long run.

You want to stop this kind of thing from happening in Steamboat? Write to your congressmen and tell them to reduce the top tax rate to 25% so that investment in local commercial real estate is not a good deal.

(Who'd have thought that taxing the rich would hurt people like us, huh? Well, here it is, hurting us.)

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brucestover 7 years, 5 months ago

Steamboat Springs will never be a shopping destination. Regardless of the type of formula stores who dare run the gauntlet of regulations and ordinances we stack in front of them, Steamboat does not have the population, location next to a major highway or desire to become a shopping destination. To repeatedly fall into a "sky is falling" syndrome every time a developer talks about a new project is a waste of time.

"Why does this matter? Because our government funding depends heavily on sales tax success, and our sales tax success depends heavily on enticing visitors to shop here. A glut of brand-name formula stores - Barnes and Noble, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Old Navy, Starbucks and American Eagle Outfitters, for example - will not distinguish Steamboat as a shopping destination."

To sit back and arbitrarily say that the people don't want stores like "Barnes and Noble, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Old Navy, Starbucks and American Eagle Outfitters" is unfair and probably wrong. Those are precisely the stores that are successful because people do want what they sell. When people we know in Steamboat talk about driving to go shopping for their family, those stores are on the list when they talk about shopping. Their tax dollars never hit the Steamboat economy. Do you really think that another "$300.00 a sweater" shop is the answer because it is not part of a successful chain?

Tourist dollars will always be welcome here and regardless of how high the prices are they will pay. A large part of the market in Steamboat is not addressed simply by Walmart and FM Lights. And that part of the Steamboat market spends a lot of money on the family's needs somewhere else.

We support the free market as much as anyone, but we also support smart government. Putting policies in place that protect our community standards and our sales tax base certainly qualifies as the latter. Require formula stores to go through a conditional-use process. This step would give the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission and the City Council greater control of what kinds of formula stories enter the market. It sounds like you (the Pilot) support the free market as much as anyone who supports a governmentally controlled free market. I am not sure how giving the City Council greater control of what kinds of formula stores are allowed to enter the market is supportive of a free market. My understanding of free market is less governmental interference and more competition. You also have not demonstrated how restricting these stores will "protect our community standards." I am also not sure how restricting stores like "Barnes and Noble, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Old Navy, Starbucks and American Eagle Outfitters" will protect our tax base. We will draw many more tax dollars from Routt and surrounding counties with these formula stores than with another cute, unique, tourist oriented, high dollar retail shop.

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phidgt 7 years, 5 months ago

First of all, can we please stop talking about the unique, old style, western ranch town that used to be here? That place no longer exists. It was killed about ten years ago.

Secondly, a major corporation such as the Gap already knows how to contend with city ordinances. If they are hell bent on putting in a store, they will.

Thirdly, who else is going to be able to afford the rent of these new retail spaces? The chain stores who don't have to survive off of the profits of one store, that's who.

I agree that it would be a shame for there to be a Starbucks on every corner (we already have 4 or 5 of those). I am, however, looking forward to some variety.

Lastly, if Tracy Barnett and the rest of the downtown businesses are so concerned with the look of Mainstreet, could we please do something about the dingy, burnt out lights on the trees lining Lincoln Ave?

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workerbee 7 years, 5 months ago

I think that the "dingy burnt out lights" were taken off the trees a couple weeks ago, I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure they were. My complaint would be the tacky flags that Mainstreet spent some godawful amount on, in the teal and purple-what in town goes with teal and purple, do we really need flags telling people that it's mainstreet (when it's not) and the poles that they put them on were way to crowded to start with. I think that they are ugly, out of place, and a huge waste of money. Sorry to go off topic.

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another_local 7 years, 5 months ago

Much as it may seem to be the case, rents are not set by landlords, they are set by the market; Asking is not the same as getting.

If formula businesses were really intersted in being here in large numbers we would have them already. Nothing is stopping them. In the future this may be more of an issue.

Most of the commercial space coming on line is not for sale so looking up the clerk and recorder site is not going to tell you much that has not already been in the newspaper.

Formula retail is not the only kind of retail that can afford the rents that are proposed (remember asking is not the same as getting) however, competent retail is the only kind that can, regardless of whether it is formula or not. Furthermore, the rents proposed are not expensive in the world of retail in premium markets.

Affording the rent has a lot less to do with what is charged for the products you sell than with how many people come in the door. Raised prices is not what what will allow retailers to survive. The market is too efficient for that.

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agentofchange 7 years, 5 months ago

Hello all ! I was at the meeting yesterday, and here is what I observed. First off, the reporter made it sound like it was Jim Cook's show. NOT!! Jim was informative, candid, and frank. Thanks Jim! From merchants and food vendors: "pure fear". They reminded me of someone who bought an "exclusive territory franchise", and someone was invading their "territory". Please protect us government !! From Mainstreet: A house divided. Some wanted the most restrictive rules possible (with the promise, that in the event they over stepped the goal, then they could always reduce the restrictiveness of the rules) RIGHT !? Some wanted something in the middle. The fence sitters (don't want to offend anyone) Others (like myself) want no action on the part of the city. We are true free traders. Now here is the real kicker... what we have here in River City is a Planning Department AND CITY COUNSEL just chomping at the bit to be the "FIRST" ones in Colorado to write a "RESTRICTIVE LAW" regarding the legalized restriction of FREE TRADE !! They want to be the first! They want to go to the "MUNICIPAL DOG AND PONY SHOWS" and show the rest of the State and World how they fought off the evel "predatory" (whatever the heck that means) competition !! That's what this is all about!! We may even get the Denver TV stations up here, wouldn't that be something !? How exciting, how stupid !! Further, when I asked planning if they need a public vote on the issue, the answer was NO ! By the way, some of the crowd at the meeting, not only want to keep competitors out of down town, but all of Steamboat!! YIKES! What about the consumer at large? By the way, the City already has a "Draft" in the works... It is coming, like it or not, the dogooders and the protectionists are going to get their way, if there's any one from the Department of Justice out there... HELP ! By the way... Parking anyone ? Parking anywhere ?

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Watcher 7 years, 5 months ago

Just Asking's comment re: This could result in a retail slum possibly on the west end of town.

Bring it on. I would LOVE to see much more retail on the west side of town. A Costco would be really nice. I do however resent the slum remark. Shows me that snobbery is still and probably will remain a hallmark of many who live east of 13th street; our own little Mason/Dixon line.

Put me down for unrestricted free trade. City Council should stay out of this one.

If city council wants to get involved in a project it should be doing something about the bottleneck at 13th and Lincoln. I've been waiting for a disaster to close down the entire town since all east/west traffic must pass through this one intersection. Not only would it close down the town but it would prevent emergency vehicles from getting in or out of town. Now that the Library expansion is back on track, (a project I didn't vote for.) there is only one place to logically put in a downtown bypass. Yes, you heard right, a bypass to the entire downtown area!! I guess Howelsen Hill it is.

This should give 'Downtown Steamboat' something to think about.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 5 months ago

Watcher- couldn't agree more. It sucked when Clark's Market closed. What they need out west is a Super Target or something like that. Supermarket mixed with everyday item shopping would be great out there. We need something to compete with Wal-Mart, too. Wal-Mart has great prices, but a crappy selection. This is why my wife and I love shopping in Silverthorne or Denver. So much more to pick from on shopping. Makes a nice weekend drive.

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JustAsking 7 years, 5 months ago

To "Watcher"

You obviously missed the sarcasm in my post and took the content literally. The parallel with the "affordable housing" mandates and reasoning went right over your head.

My point is government meddling in the free market process just does not work in the long term. While the motivation may be altruistic the results are always flawed. "Affordable retail space" is just as absurd as "affordable housing."

One the surface what seems like a good idea to some just doesn't pan out over the longer term. If you doubt this take a look at the "affordable" program in depth: Entitlements to a very few that ultimately offer them little ,if any, benefit.

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steamvent 7 years, 5 months ago

Ever actually walk around downtown? It is filthy. I have no idea why the City (taxpayers) need to fund improving downtown when store owners and operators can't pick up trash and push a broom. There are a few stores that stand out because they do maintain cleanliness in front of their business, but a few doesn't cut it.

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another_local 7 years, 5 months ago

Steamvent, I assume you are talking about the BID? If that is the case, only the property inside the district would be taxed. The rest of the city would not be paying. The money would not go for street sweeping. You are correct that some business owners and property owners need to pick up the pace on the appearance they present and clean-up. There are some ugly spots.

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phidgt 7 years, 5 months ago

I would like to know if Tracy Barnett and Co. have taken the time to read this thread. It appears that the Mainstreet folks are completely out of touch with the real problems that currently exist on their precious mainstreet. Lincoln Ave is a filthy, congested mess. Forget about riding your bike downtown. If a freight truck doesn't kill you, the exhaust certainly will. How about a project that will have thru traffic bypass downtown altogether?

As far as the downtown businesses are concerened, they need some competition. While there are a few exceptions, most of the restaurants are filthy, have no service and the food - let's just say you never know what you're going to get. Our selection of retail stores is, quite frankly, stale.

I actually try to avoid downtown Steamboat as much as possible and usually only go into town as far as Safeway. Perhaps Tracy Barnett and the rest could stop worrying about the future and pay a little more attention to the here and now.

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HolySmoke 7 years, 5 months ago

I think its funny that you all want diverse food options downtown and when you do have a great establishment offering a clean&fun environment it gets replaced with a another crappy burger joint. Remember the Swiss Haven..ever eaten at Braun's? What's going to happen to localy owned Epilogue when the new Barnes and Noble comes in? I guess they will have to lower their prices to compete because a free market economy is good for us right? At least thats what THEY keep telling us.

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workerbee 7 years, 5 months ago

Umm Swiss Haven and Braun's both went out of business due to the location that they were in being torn down. Swiss Haven would also fall into the "formula store" there are other locations around the state. And Braun's sucked anyways-how was that diverse? Same old menu, and not clean!

I shop at Barnes & Noble now for most of my books anyways-neither of the stores in town has a selection of what I am looking for. Unless it is a unique or impulse buy and then I shop Epilogue.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 5 months ago

Can't say I was a fan of Braun's either. Swiss Haven...I just can't stand the smell of fondue that permeated the place. Not saying it was bad restaurant, but just a personal dislike of that particular smell. Thing is, those businesses never made it, for one reason or another. I'd love to have an Old Chicago's here or an Outback Steakhouse. Don't get me wrong, I love the majority of our current steakhouses, but Outback just had a special flavor that captured my taste buds.

I know my wife would love a Barnes & Noble here. I order thru book clubs anyway, any longer, so it doesn't matter to me. A Home Depot would be a Godsend for this town. ACE is better now than before as True Value, but getting stuff for the house in a Home Depot in Denver was great. They helped me with a lot of stuff I have no training in and made me feel comfortable on certain do-it-yourself projects.

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workerbee 7 years, 5 months ago

Yum Outback would be good!!! You're right there is something about that place, the flavor of the steak-now I want one! It would fill the affordable gap that we have. I hate the Old West, refuse to cook my own steak if I'm paying for it, the Ore House is hit or miss, when it's good it's really good, but I feel like I have to have two or three bad experiences in between every good one there. Other than that it is mostly more upscale fine dining restuarants that have a good steak-Giovanni's Antonio being my favorite. But let's face facts, not all of us can afford an upscale meal all the time, and sometimes you just want a good steak at an affordable price!

We got a lot of help from the Home Depot when we were remodeling as well. A lot of the stuff we did through BMC West, and they were super helpful there, and it was cheaper. But a lot of things weren't cheaper and therefore we went out of town and gave Eagle County our sales tax money instead. I found that Ace didn't have a lot of the stuff that we needed "formula store" anyways, and we did all of our paint through Sherwin Williams another "formula store" but they were very helpful, affordable and had great customer service.

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bolter 7 years, 5 months ago

All the new downtown projects (Olympian, Howelsen Place, Riverwalk, Victoria, Alpenglow) look the same. Ironic---formula developments that WON'T RENT to formula stores.

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oofcboy 7 years, 5 months ago

you think they would put a home depot in oak creek? that is closer than avon. and it would start alot of talking among the oak creek folk

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