Downtown URA plan gets strong support from local business community
January 21, 2015
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs City Council made it clear Tuesday night that it wants to soon invest in some major improvements like sidewalks and lighting in downtown Steamboat.
But before the council moves forward with any significant investment or advance a plan from the city to use tax increment financing to fund as much as $12 million worth of projects, it wants some more time to scrub the list of potential improvements and explore a wider range of funding options for them.
The council expects to resume the dialogue about downtown investment options in March.
The council’s resolve to invest in downtown came at the end of a two-hour-long discussion about a potential urban renewal authority in the downtown commercial district.
“As a caretaker of that asset, you have to make investments into your asset,” council President Bart Kounovsky said as he expressed support for investing in downtown Steamboat. “You have to, otherwise it will wither and die.”
He said discussions about improving downtown have been driven by the community now for 30 years.
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But as city staff reminded the council Tuesday night, many of the downtown improvement plans have sat on shelves for decades because they never were funded.
Today, city staff is proposing to capture some future sales and property tax growth from new development in the downtown corridor to spend on public infrastructure improvements like public restrooms and sidewalks.
Council member Scott Ford has been opposed to the URA plan and wants to explore other alternatives, while others members like Kenny Reisman, Tony Connell and Scott Myller have offered initial support for the idea.
“This is the right thing to energize our community,” Myller said. “I really think this will raise the boat. I think it will raise all boats.”
Business leaders show support
Local business leaders packed Citizens Hall on Tuesday night to show their support for the URA.
“Twenty-four years now, I’ve heard about all the things we’re going to do downtown,” longtime local Realtor and developer Jim Cook said. “Now is the time for the community to step up. This is a defining moment in my opinion not only for the community but you as a city council.”
“We need to reinvest in the doorstep of our community, and that is downtown Steamboat,” Cook added.
Cook and 18 other people ranging from Steamboat Ski Area CEO Chris Diamond to Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Jim Clark spoke Tuesday in support of the city investing in major infrastructure improvements downtown.
Many speakers alluded to the success of the URA on the mountain that has been used to construct such projects as the promenade.
“It’s a unique tool and there’s very little downside,” former city council member Jon Quinn said about the URA and a TIF. “Everybody ends up benefiting from this in the long run because property values increase and there will be more investment. We have this great success story we can point to up on the mountain.”
Other supporters said the improvements were needed to keep Steamboat competitive with other mountain communities and to solve basic safety issues like unfinished sidewalks.
The council also heard from four community members who were opposed to the URA plan.
Among the opponents were the leaders of the Steamboat Springs School Board, who argued the plan would negatively impact the financing of the school district.
“Please find a way to not make us more dependent on the state” for funding, School Board President Roger Good told the council.
City staff and other community members who have studied URAs say the use of a TIF would not negatively impact the schools, but rather benefit them by increasing property values and sales tax revenue.