October 1, 1998

Counterpoint: Region’s economic center shifts from Fort Collins

The winds of change quietly began to blow several years ago. Now, hurricane season is gathering force. Soon, the economic center of Northern Colorado will shift from Fort Collins to U.S. Highway 34 between Loveland and Greeley.

As the sun sets on the 20th century, the economic power base of Fort Collins also fades. Fort Collins was once home to the economic engine of Northern Colorado, its foundation Colorado State University. In the 1970s, it developed the Foothills Fashion Mall as a regional shopping complex and attracted Hewlett-Packard Co. as a major employer. In the 1980s, it wooed Anheuser Busch, to the chagrin of then Gov. Lamm and the neighboring city of Greeley.

Yet from this prosperous base, Fort Collins has failed to protect its regional shopping status. In the early 1990s, then city manager Steve Burkett polled City Council to see if the city wanted to pursue the coming outlet mall. The unanimous answer was to send the mall to Loveland. Soon, base jobs were turned away, as Hyundai’s proposal to build a $3 billion fabrication plant was turned down.

Most recently, Fort Collins adopted CityPlan, a master plan for controlling growth over the next 20 years. The plan proposes residential densities, which are not marketable in Northern Colorado. The costs of both residential and commercial development have become prohibitive. These density requirements and added costs have pushed residential development to Windsor, Loveland and Greeley and to the rural areas of Larimer and Weld counties. Job creation has been stunted because of the development costs now assigned to any commercial project.

The outlet mall’s location in Loveland seeded the shift of the economic power base. Suddenly, Loveland has become a magnet for sales-tax generation along U.S. 34. With its sales-tax base now entrenched, Loveland has improved its utilities to handle future growth.

At the same time, Greeley has recognized the inevitable Northern Colorado growth trends. With water and sewer utilities already capable of adding capacity, Greeley worked on its road network. While improved linkage to Denver International Airport has been slow, the Colorado Department of Transportation has funded major expansion of U.S. 34 to the west as it joins Interstate 25, and improvements to the U.S. 34 Bypass as it heads west from the city. Not surprisingly, Greeley has annexed major portions of the lands adjoining these highway improvements.

Developers Chad McWhinney and Dan Stroh will bring parcels along U.S. 34 and east of I-25 to Loveland for annexation. Their design is a mix of commercial sites and a business park.

Just to the east are 670 acres under development by Harrison Resource Corp., already annexed to Greeley. This TriPointe site, with its available road network and utilities, will also be developed as a business park. Expect Loveland to annex the remaining land along Highway 34 to the Weld County line where it will meet the Greeley annexations. The economic focus of Northern Colorado will stretch along U.S. 34 beginning at the Loveland foothills and continuing to U.S. Highway 85 in Greeley.

Fort Collins cannot compete. Its business-park sites are practically nonexistent. Its reputation for exorbitant development costs is too well-known. The shopping opportunities and the business-development locations along U.S. 34 will soon be superior as this area prepares for the sun to rise on the 21st century.

Former Fort Collins mayor John Knezovich is a certified public accountant.

The winds of change quietly began to blow several years ago. Now, hurricane season is gathering force. Soon, the economic center of Northern Colorado will shift from Fort Collins to U.S. Highway 34 between Loveland and Greeley.

As the sun sets on the 20th century, the economic power base of Fort Collins also fades. Fort Collins was once home to the economic engine of Northern Colorado, its foundation Colorado State University. In the 1970s, it developed the Foothills Fashion Mall as a regional shopping complex and attracted Hewlett-Packard Co. as a major employer. In the 1980s, it wooed Anheuser Busch,…

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