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Gazette Premium Content Council plans tax funding for retail center, Powers extension

RICH LADEN Updated: May 11, 2010 at 12:00 am

About 200 acres of undeveloped land on Colorado Springs’ suburbanlike north side was designated as an urban renewal site Tuesday by the City Council.

A chance to use tax revenue from a future retail complex on the property and to earmark the money for a long-sought extension of Powers Boulevard outweighed concerns about the project, council members decided.

The council’s 9-0 vote came after nearly 41/2 hours of discussion about the propriety of declaring a vacant parcel as an urban renewal site, the viability of the retail complex and whether competition from the government-assisted project would harm other local shopping areas.

But Councilman Darryl Glenn summed up the feelings of several colleagues when he said simply: “It’s the road.”
City government staffers and Springs developer Gary Erickson had proposed declaring Erickson’s property, southeast of Interstate 25 and North Gate Boulevard, as an urban renewal site.

Erickson and two partners have proposed a 2.8 million-square-foot retail complex to be known as Copper Ridge at Northgate; the developers and city staffers say it would attract upscale stores and other retailers, provide an incentive for shoppers to abandon drives to Park Meadows Mall and allow city government to capture tax revenue now being lost to Denver-area retail centers.

The urban renewal designation approved by the council will allow most of the future Copper Ridge sales tax revenue to be earmarked for completion of a 4.5-mile stretch of Powers from Colorado 83, through the Copper Ridge site and onto I-25.

For years, local officials have waited for the Colorado Department of Transportation to fund Powers’ completion. During Tuesday’s meeting, however, El Paso County Commissioner Wayne Williams, the current board chairman of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments regional planning agency, detailed CDOT’s financial woes and why other projects rank ahead of Powers when it comes to funding priorities. The final northern leg of Powers might not be funded by CDOT until after 2035, Williams said.

But Copper Ridge could be used as a tool to accelerate Powers, council members said. City administrators estimated the retail complex could generate $141 million in tax revenue over 25 years — enough to fund a bond issue for the $81 million cost of the Powers’ extension.

The council’s action was a first step that Erickson said could lead to Powers’ completion by 2013.

The city next will negotiate an economic development agreement with Erickson that council members said will contain two key conditions. Copper Ridge must attract its first anchor store by 2015 and its second by 2018, while the city will conduct a financial review before the Powers’ bonds are issued. If those conditions aren’t met, Copper Ridge will lose its urban renewal status.

Erickson told council members several retailers with whom he’s negotiating warned him they wouldn’t come to Copper Ridge without the access Powers would provide. Erickson said he’s negotiating with outdoors retail giant Cabela’s, while partner Kevin Hawkins told the council the developers are meeting with fashion store Nordstrom.
Without key retailers as tenants, inventors likely would be reluctant to buy bonds for the road project, Erickson said. Those investors are on the hook for the bonds if Copper Ridge doesn’t pan out, and city taxpayers aren’t liable, city officials assured council members Tuesday.

The council’s decision wasn’t without controversy. The Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority last month rejected the Copper Ridge plan, saying only decaying areas deserved urban renewal status.

Authority board member John Olson said that giving Copper Ridge a leg up could effectively put other shopping centers out of business, creating more blighted conditions.

Developer Kevin Kratt, who built the University Village Colorado retail center on Nevada Avenue land that was declared an urban renewal site in 2004, complained that council members were threatening his project’s finances. If Copper Ridge woos his potential tenants, Kratt said, he’ll fall short of generating tax revenues, which would jeopardize repayment of bonds issued to help fund his project.

But Doug Stimple, CEO of Springs homebuilder and developer Classic, said the need to complete Powers is vital for the region. Forget the philosophical debate about using an urban renewal designation in a new part of town, Stimple said.

“This is economic renewal,” he said of Copper Ridge and the Powers extension.
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