Sensing many downtown property owners don't have the appetite right now for a new tax, business leaders in Steamboat Springs likely are to delay proposing a property tax that would have funded the entire downtown business improvement district. Stakeholders on Yampa Street, however, still are planning to move forward with a new tax at least for their street.

Photo by Scott Franz

Sensing many downtown property owners don't have the appetite right now for a new tax, business leaders in Steamboat Springs likely are to delay proposing a property tax that would have funded the entire downtown business improvement district. Stakeholders on Yampa Street, however, still are planning to move forward with a new tax at least for their street.

Tax proposal to fund downtown business improvement district unlikely to appear on November ballot

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— With several downtown business owners in Steamboat Springs still recovering from the economic recession, business leaders here likely will delay proposing a new property tax to fund the entire downtown business improvement district.

Downtown stakeholders have for nearly a year seriously considered placing the property tax on the November ballot to potentially generate from downtown commercial property owners tens of thousands of dollars annually that could be used for maintenance and marketing downtown.

A previous ballot measure that would have funded the district in 2007 failed by just six votes.

Today, the uncertainty about whether the Yampa Street promenade will be funded by the city's accommodations tax also is affecting the potential size and scope of the tax question and could result in the creation of a new taxing district specific to just that street where business owners are pledging to help fund and maintain the proposed amenity.

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Board President Tom Simmins said Wednesday that recent meetings he has attended with downtown stakeholders have revealed that although the general business atmosphere downtown gradually is improving, the economic climate still might not be strong enough for a tax on all three downtown streets to be passed.

“I think it's still going to be a tough sell in our economic climate,” Simmins said. “I think it's needed, but it's a tough sell.”

To illustrate the tough climate the ballot measure would face, Simmins recalled a recent brainstorming session of downtown stakeholders where one merchant said she would love to add a bench in front of her business, but she could not afford it.

At least two other merchants at the meeting said they were still in survival mode in the wake of the recent recession and were struggling to pay rent and maintain staffing.

“People are struggling,” Simmins said. “I think asking them to self-impose a tax is going to be tough in November.”

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett said for the tax measure to be successful, proponents need to get more buy-in and make it clear how improvements can benefit business.

"It's not going to happen until people buy into it and feel there is a benefit they are willing to pay for," she said.

Downtown stakeholders have until July 26 to inform Routt County if they plan to go forward with the ballot measure.

The ongoing uncertainty about whether the Steamboat Springs City Council will select the Yampa River promenade to be funded with the lodging tax also is impacting the potential tax proposal.

Some stakeholders on Yampa Street currently are weighing whether to establish and fund their own improvement district to pay for potential improvements there or to fund one citywide with a higher premium put on Yampa Street.

The proponents of the promenade say they still are determined to have stakeholders on the street pay for the maintenance of the improvements with a business improvement district and through signed maintenance agreements.

“It is still possible to do it this November, but you know, we're running into some tight time frames. What's more likely is it will go to a special election in 2014,” downtown developer Mark Scully said Wednesday. “Our preferred structure would be a cohesive group of downtown leaders that come together and then tax ourselves proportionate to the benefit. Yampa would have a premium.”

He compared a potential business improvement district with a Yampa Street premium to the business improvement district established on the 16th Street Mall in Denver, where property owners on the pedestrian mall are taxed higher than property owners on side and parallel streets in the district.

The funding of a business improvement district in Steamboat could coincide with the establishment of a new downtown Urban Renewal Authority, which could finance capital improvement projects through tax incremental financing similar to the way an existing one has been used to pay for such projects as the promenade and median beautification projects.

In proposing new tax revenue streams downtown for improvements and maintenance, stakeholders have the delicate task of weighing the needs of three streets each with their own desires.

For example, while the promenade is the priority of business owners on Yampa Street, the stakeholders on Oak Street have identified sidewalks and lighting as the improvements they would like to see.

Scully said the promenade project and the lengthy vetting process for the lodging tax has served as a “detour” for what originally was a revitalization plan that encompassed the entire downtown area.

“We need to get back to the broader downtown discussion, and we will,” he said. “We have to.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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