Study touts value of local urban renewal projects

RICH LADEN Updated: January 3, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 3, 2013

Urban renewal projects aren’t just about cleaning up decaying areas; they also pump tens of millions of dollars into the Colorado Springs economy in the form of jobs and tax revenues.

That’s the gist of a recently released consultant’s report, which estimated that current urban renewal projects in the Springs have led to the creation of about 2,000 permanent jobs with annual personal incomes totaling $90.5 million.

Those projects also have generated $1.8 million a year in sales tax revenue to help pay for public safety, open space acquisition and road improvements in the area, the report said.
Ricker-Cunningham, a Denver-based real estate advisory firm that’s consulted several times with the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority and its developers, was hired by the authority to conduct the report. The cost was $3,600.

The report was intended to “reinforce” the value of urban renewal efforts to elected officials, business leaders and other community members, said Jim Rees, a retired city government official who serves as the authority’s staff consultant.

The economic impact report was launched last year before a flap between Springs Mayor Steve Bach and the authority, Rees added.

“Urban renewal not only provides a service as far as cleaning up deteriorating areas and trying to make them more productive and more viable, but there is also quite an economic development benefit,” Rees said.

Stores that make up University Village Colorado, a shopping center that’s a key part of a North Nevada Avenue urban renewal project, employ dozens of nearby University of Colorado at Colorado Springs students, said City Council President Scott Hente, an authority member.

Lowe’s, a University Village anchor, might have built its store outside the city, Hente said.Instead, “you’re attracting those businesses to be in the city limits, which helps the overall economy,” he said.

Yet, there’s no denying some recent urban renewal projects have had problems and others have fallen short of expectations.

A year ago, the authority defaulted on bonds it issued to fund public improvements related to the North Nevada project; the poor economy slowed University Village’s development and sales tax revenues generated by shopping center retailers fell short of projections, which led to the default. The authority since has worked with bondholders to resolve the default.

Three downtown areas were designated by the City Council as urban renewal sites: the 100-acre southwest side in 2001; the City Auditorium block in 2006; and 19 acres southwest of Cimarron and Sahwatch in 2007. None of those redevelopment projects has gotten off the ground.

Rees acknowledged urban renewal shortcomings, yet those projects were shelved by their developers, in part, because of the poor economy.

“I don’t think it’s time to give up on them,” he said.

In his dispute with the Urban Renewal Authority, Bach had questioned fees that the authority charged a developer who had proposed making over the old Ivywild Elementary School into a mixed-use building. Some authority members, meanwhile, balked over his requested release of the agency’s financial records.

Bach’s office said the mayor hadn’t had a chance to review the report. “The mayor views urban renewal as an essential economic development resource, and is hopeful that all of its current projects make substantial progress in 2013,” according to a statement released by his office.

The mayor — whether Bach or others before him — appoints the nine-member authority, which oversees redevelopment projects in the city. The City Council has the final say on which projects are designated as urban renewal sites, with input from the Urban Renewal Authority.

Sales and property tax revenue generated by stores, offices or other new land uses that are part of an urban renewal project can be used to pay for public improvements at the redevelopment site — serving as a financial incentive for developers and encouraging them to tackle such projects.

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• A 58-acre area southeast of Rio Grande Street and Nevada Avenue, near the old Lowell Elementary School on downtown’s south edge, was home to older single-family homes when it was declared an urban renewal site in 1988. About 260 apartments, lofts and townhomes, and 10,000 square feet of office space, have been built in the area over 25 years.

• About 100 acres in southwest downtown, mostly southwest of Cascade and Colorado avenues, were declared an urban renewal site in 2001. Except for the city’s construction of America the Beautiful Park, little, it any, redevelopment has taken place in the mostly light industrial area.

• Gold Hill Mesa, 210 acres southeast of U.S. Highway 24 and 21st Street, was home to a gold and silver milling operation decades ago. Designated an urban renewal site in 2004, it’s now being redeveloped as a residential and commercial project; about 150 residences and home sites have been developed so far.

• Nearly 400 acres Nevada Avenue, between Garden of the Gods Road and Interstate 25, was declared an urban renewal site in 2004. Old motels and small businesses on Nevada’s west side were razed in favor of the University Village Colorado retail center, which includes a Costco Wholesale Club, Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, a Kohl’s department store and several smaller stores and restaurants.

• The downtown City Auditorium block, northeast of Pikes Peak and Nevada avenues, was declared an urban renewal site in 2006. Developers planned a pair of high-rise buildings on the site. Both projects were shelved, and no redevelopment has taken place on the block.

• CityGate is a proposed 19-acre residential and commercial project southwest of Cimarron and Sawatch streets. No development has taken place on the site since it was designated for urban renewal in 2007.

• The Vineyard Data Center Park is a planned 100-acre business park that would house corporate data centers southeast of Interstate 25 and Circle Drive on the Springs’ south side. Declared an urban renewal site in 2011, the project is in its early stages of development.

• Copper Ridge at Northgate, about 200 acres southeast of Interstate 25 and North Gate Boulevard on the Springs’ far north side, was declared an urban renewal site in 2010. A developer plans a large retail complex on the site; Bass Pro Shops, one of the project’s anchors, is under construction.

• The former Ivywild Elementary School, just north of Cascade Avenue and Cheyenne Boulevard, was designated an urban renewal site in 2011. Developers are remodeling the school into a mixed-use center that will become home to the Bristol Brewing Co., along with a bakery, coffee bar and juice bar and office space.
Source: Gazette research; Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority

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