Possible Woodward move could serve as growth catalyst

By now, everyone understands how important it is to keep Woodward Inc. in Fort Collins for job-retention reasons. But the location of a new headquarters for Woodward could spell redevelopment for a still-struggling area of downtown and deliver a boost to the local real estate market.

The Link-N-Greens golf course is located near the intersection of Mulberry and Lemay, just a short trip up Riverside Avenue from the gateway to the North College area, a section of town long in need of redevelopment.

Efforts have been made, and are ongoing, to bring the North College area up to speed with the rest of downtown and the rest of Fort Collins as a whole, but these things take time.

To help matters along, the section of College Avenue north of Old Town has been designated as an Urban Renewal Area by the city, meaning that redevelopment efforts in the area can make use of tax-increment financing, a powerful incentive.

King Soopers Marketplace opened in June 2011 with hopes of serving as a catalyst for the area, and the store has done well, but bringing Woodward and its possible 1,000 employees closer to the area is an altogether different — and bigger — matter.

Employers like Woodward are the sort that instill a sense of confidence in everyone around them, because of their stability and longevity. Woodward creates primary jobs for employees that are well-educated and well-paid, with disposable income to spend at downtown businesses.

All those dollars mean good things, of course, for the downtown area, but a Woodward relocation closer to Old Town would unquestionably spur even more growth.

The logical place for that to occur is not to the south, where CSU sits, but to the north, spreading the retail-heavy, sales-tax generating love from downtown Fort Collins to the North College area.

In addition to more retail activity, it seems likely that multi-family development would also follow.

Large local players like Brinkman Partners and McWhinney are both building multifamily developments in Fort Collins, and both companies are the type that are always on the hunt for the next opportunity.

Aside from local players, firms from outside the market, like Alabama-based Capstone Development, which is developing the student housing project The Commons, seem to be increasingly interested in Fort Collins.

The shift from student housing to multi-family housing geared toward the young professional isn’t a large one.

Of course, many of Woodward’s employees aren’t young bachelors and bachelorettes, but instead are older professionals with families that may require single-family housing.

A number of these workers likely already have housing here in Fort Collins, but the potential for a larger workforce and for relocation of current workers closer to the facility means a boost in the housing market, and in turn, more benefits for the north part of town.

Beyond all that, the Downtown Development Authority stands to benefit if Woodward moves its headquarters to a spot closer to the downtown area, according to Allen Ginsborg, principal at New Mark Merrill Mountain States and the developer working on the Link-N-Greens property.

If Woodward decides to relocate to the property, word on the street is that it would petition for inclusion in the DDA boundary, which would have to be expanded to accommodate it, making it eligible for TIF as well.

Of course, Woodward, with third-quarter net income of $28.3 million, is the kind of company that doesn’t really need TIF help. But let’s suppose it uses TIF anyway. That could mean some extra bucks for the DDA.

The Fort Collins DDA’s funding comes from two sources: TIF revenue and five mills of property tax. The property tax revenues are used mostly for operational expenses, and the TIF revenue is what enables the DDA to conduct its programs throughout the year.

This year, the DDA’s TIF funding was reduced by 56 percent as a result of a statute change at the state level. The organization is operating on a 2012 budget of $2.7 million, compared with $5.7 million in the previous year, leaving less money for public projects.

Logic follows that including a giant like Woodward within the DDA’s boundary would result in a jump in TIF revenues for the authority, meaning less time spent saving up revenue to get popular projects, like the popular Alley Enhancement, back up and running sooner.

This also means more money for the DDA to invest in public-private partnerships, like the one it has with the Brinkman-developed Mason Street Flats mixed-use project.

Molly Armbrister covers real estate for the Business Report. She can be reached at (970) 232-3139, at marmbrister@ncbr.com or at twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR.

Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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