Steamboat Springs Blight may be a strong word, but downtown Steamboat Springs officials and stakeholders plan to move forward with identifying the areas of downtown that need some work.
It's a necessary step if downtown businesses and property owners want to direct any new tax dollars from the downtown area toward public improvement projects. A similar process has been used to fund projects such as the promenade at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
On Thursday night, about 15 downtown property owners and others with a stake in the future of downtown commercial properties heard from Anne Ricker, an expert from the Centennial firm Ricker Cunningham who came to Steamboat to discuss establishing a possible urban renewal authority or other funding mechanism for the downtown area.
If an urban renewal authority were established, it would utilize tax-incremental financing — tax revenues above a certain established baseline — to pay for public improvement projects within the narrowly defined area. Spending public money for such improvements is intended to encourage further investment from the private sector. Ricker told her audience that the investment of public dollars often is needed to close the financing gaps that keep private development from occurring.
The private investment then theoretically would lead to greater tax revenues that would generate more money for the improvement area.
“It has to get spent in the area, and if you are in the area, you’re going to benefit in some way,” said Ricker, adding there were 121 active urban renewal authorities in Colorado in 2009.
Ricker spent about 90 minutes discussing the process for establishing a urban renewal authority and pointed out common misconceptions that can arise.
“There's no new tax,” Ricker said.
The business leaders acknowledged there was work that needed to be done if a downtown urban renewal authority were to be established.
“It’s very critical that we educate the public,” Mainstreet Steamboat Springs board President Bill Moser said.
The next step in the process is defining the area of the urban renewal authority and hiring someone to do a survey. Per state statute, the survey would identify areas of blight in the downtown area that would be addressed with the dedicated tax dollars. There are 11 types of blight, including deteriorating structures, unsafe conditions and floodplain issues.
Mark Scully, the managing director of the Green Courte Partners development group that owns several downtown mixed-use properties and the undeveloped Riverwalk property, said after the meeting that he thinks a downtown urban renewal authority could be established in the next year.
In addition to the urban renewal authority, members of the revitalization group are proposing a new tax on downtown property owners that would act as a funding source for the existing downtown business improvement district. The money would be used specifically for marketing, maintenance and events within the district. That tax question is being proposed for the November 2013 ballot. Such a proposal failed in 2007 by just six votes.
The focus these days is on revitalizing the entire downtown area. Revitalizing Yampa Street specifically has been talked about off and on since at least 30 years ago, when architectural plans were drafted. Revitalizing the effort came to the forefront again in March when Yampa Street business owners and other stakeholders began meeting regularly to come up with a plan.
Volunteers from the Urban Land Institute visited downtown in July and delivered a presentation in September to the Steamboat Springs City Council outlining years’ worth of improvements.
Earlier this month, the downtown revitalization group decided to expand its focus beyond just Yampa Street to include side streets, Oak Street and Lincoln Avenue. Some Oak Street property owners had expressed concern that they would be taxed to fund benefits that would help competitors on Yampa Street without any work being done on their street.
Talks of improving the downtown area also have accelerated in recent months as the city moves forward with a plan to sell its emergency services building on Yampa Street to Big Agnes and Honey Stinger.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com