Economy & Economic Development  February 12, 2010

Estes Park faces future with no urban renewal authority

ESTES PARK – Estes Park voters decided overwhelmingly last month that the town’s urban renewal authority was no longer the financing vehicle needed to keep moving the town forward.

Formed in the aftermath of the devastating 1982 Lawn Lake Flood, the URA helped Estes Park rebuild its downtown where tourists flock each summer to spend the money that keeps the local economy thriving. But in a mail-in ballot, a record number of voters resoundingly said they wanted to end the Estes Park URA and that the creation of any future URA should require a public vote.

Town voters cast 61 percent of their ballots to repeal EPURA in the Jan. 12 special election.

Bill Van Horn, a local businessman and former town public works and planning director, helped lead a successful petition drive to put EPURA’s repeal on the ballot. An attempt to get the measure on the November ballot failed, but Van Horn thinks that waiting until January to vote was actually better for the town.

“Looking at it in hindsight, it probably allowed for more debate on it than had it gone to the November ballot,” he said.

The Town Board of Trustees had reauthorized EPURA for another 25 years in 2008, and approved a budget of $20,400 for 2010, but Van Horn and others decided to take its continued existence to the voters. “All I wanted to do was have a full and open debate and let the people decide, because it’s their tax money,” he said.

EPURA’s public improvement work was funded through property and sales taxes collected from within the district. Opponents of EPURA claimed it was diverting money that could have gone to other entities, such as the school district, hospital and library.

Argument resonated

That argument resonated with voters. The situation was compounded by some recent missteps by EPURA officials, in the view of Van Horn and other local business owners.

“I felt it was something that at least should be discussed before going forward for another 25 years,´ said Van Horn, who strongly supported EPURA’s original creation. “URAs have very special powers intended to get into a dire situation and then get out.”

EPURA had been criticized as nothing more than a fundraising tool for projects in areas that didn’t meet the definition of blighted. One recent project involved the expansion of the grandstands in the town’s fairgrounds, which Van Horn said ended up costing three times its original estimate. Van Horn said EPURA had become “a puppet of the town board” because any project over $100,000 needed board approval.

Wil Smith resigned as executive director of EPURA in October for personal reasons. Lowell Richardson, Estes Park deputy town administrator and interim executive director until it formally dissolves in July, said the authority provided more than $18 million in downtown public improvements during its quarter-century run.

“It literally contributed to just about every piece of redevelopment down there,” he said. Projects included streetscape improvements, new parking lots, acquisition of property, a new performance park and a conference center.

Another $32 million was collected by EPURA that Richardson said was turned over to the town through a series of intergovernmental agreements to help fund the authority’s operations, hire staff and purchase equipment and materials needed to maintain the funded improvements.

In October, a fire destroyed several shops in the historic and iconic Park Theatre Mall in downtown Estes Park. Rebuilding the area might have seemed to be a perfect opportunity to use EPURA, but owner Sharon Seeley said officials did not offer any assistance.

“They never approached me to offer me any help,” Seeley said. “They didn’t come to me at all.”

Richardson said EPURA might have been able to offer some help to Seeley back then, three months before it was voted out of existence, but no longer. “What I believe is, without EPURA, that option no longer exists,” he said. “EPURA, unlike the town, could have provided some financing.”

Richardson said not having EPURA, which had the ability to form public-private partnerships, could slow down any effort to rebuild the fire-damaged area.

“The town of Estes Park certainly doesn’t have those kinds of funds to put into the downtown area,” he said.

Poor management

Even some of EPURA’s supporters admit it was becoming mismanaged prior to the repeal vote. “I found the enthusiasm and leadership within the EPURA board to be lacking,´ said Charley Dickey, owner of Rustic Mountain Charm, a store in downtown Estes Park. “The focus and direction (was) vague. EPURA had done a poor job of community involvement and education.”

Given EPURA’s accomplishments, Dickey said he believes another financing mechanism – such as a downtown development authority – will likely be needed to replace it. “The impact of the abolishment of EPURA will not be felt immediately,” he said. “It will take years for the effects to be seen clearly. When a town stops growing it starts dying – just like any business. The progress must continue through other means now.”

Rich Flanery, board president of the Estes Valley Partners for Commerce, said the economic development group did not take a position on the EPURA vote because “there were quite a variety of opinions.”

But Flanery said the town is taking a hard look at what comes next.

“I think that’s a very good question, and that’s what we’ll be focused on to see what community leaders establish in the future,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll find a vehicle that will address what’s needed.

“It’s certainly an important issue, because we all want to see our community and our businesses do well,” he added. “I think everyone’s looking to the future and saying, ‘Where do we go from here?'”

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Heli-One ready for jobs, work liftoff

Local firm acquired by global helicopter maintenance outfit

Centerra feels the need, the need for high-speed

FRII partnership makes McWhinney sites Web-ready

Million delivers letters of interest

Water districts write in support of Green River pipeline project

‘Success comes to those in front of the inevitable’

Chad McWhinney talks about growth, future opportunities

Midtown study starts with Foothills Malls question

Findings to be presented at March meeting

Marijuana dispenser contemplates regulation

Wild West scene needs to be cleaned up with clear rules

Bank interest growing – acquisition interest, that is

Stressed assets now prime targets for takeovers, mergers

Android dreams of expanded apps

Open-source rewrites business model for all mobile computing

Economy poised to change with positive signs visible

Market correction at March should signal future heading more

ESTES PARK – Estes Park voters decided overwhelmingly last month that the town’s urban renewal authority was no longer the financing vehicle needed to keep moving the town forward.

Formed in the aftermath of the devastating 1982 Lawn Lake Flood, the URA helped Estes Park rebuild its downtown where tourists flock each summer to spend the money that keeps the local economy thriving. But in a mail-in ballot, a record number of voters resoundingly said they wanted to end the Estes Park URA and that the creation of any future URA should require a public vote.

Town…

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