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The task force that has worked for the last year and a half towards establishing a Downtown Development Authority asked the Pagosa Springs Town Council for its assistance at Tuesday night’s meeting, and the town agreed to give the group $10,000 in order to re-engage the expertise of Downtown Colorado, Inc.
“Colorado statute establishes Downtown Development Authorities as a tool to focus resources on enhancing downtown areas throughout Colorado,” town manager David Mitchem began. “It’s a tax implement financing tool. It’s a method in which property owners actually tax themselves, and the increment between where you start and the growth in tax revenues is dedicated back to the downtown district for development.”
Shari Pierce, who was one of the delegates from the task force present at Tuesday night’s meeting, later explained that a DDA would not place any new taxes on downtown businesses. Instead, the authority would siphon off any increase in tax revenue caused by a growth in sales or increased property values resulting from the establishment of the DDA. If there is no growth, the DDA will collect no revenue.
“The task force has been working with Ken Charles from the Department of Local Affairs,” Mitchem continued, “and has some original work with Katherine Correll and her group, Downtown Colorado, Inc. Ken Charles believes there has been enough maturing of the thought process and the concept that it would be worthwhile to bring DCI back to Pagosa Springs for further work, so the downtown task force is before council today requesting funding to support that consulting effort. The request is for ten thousand dollars and is to further assess the merits of a Downtown Development Authority.”
Local businessman J.R. Ford, also one of the task force members, added, “We understand that Wal-Mart’s coming, we understand that Tractor Supply is about to open and we would like to take some steps, as business folks, that would be progressive and get ahead of the curve instead of waiting. From a retail standpoint, we want to be able to create our own niche.”
Ford explained the task force has looked at including everything along Pagosa Street from 1st Street to 8th Street and a portion of Lewis Street, but the idea is to let people decide who wants to be included and who doesn’t.
“All along we thought there might be some (people) downtown who might not want to be included,” Ford admitted.
Pierce added that she had recently told Correll about the plan to start with a smaller district and then allow others to join in later, and Correll was doing research to find if that is legally allowed.
Correll led a team of DCI advisors on an initial assessment of the community in November of 2012. The Chamber of Commerce and the Community Development Corporation sponsored that trip, and while the DCI group suggested a number of possible improvement ideas for the town, most of those efforts have lost momentum over time.
The task force pursuing a DDA, however, is the only local group that has remained active, having met regularly every other week since DCI’s first visit.
When councilor Tracy Bunning asked about the response from downtown merchants, Ford explained, “We’ve had some problems getting people to show up at some meetings and hear how we want to do it, so then we thought by bringing this group down again, it’ll give us a broader scope for people to really see how this would work.”
Pierce clarified there are approximately 10 names on the task force email list, but usually only five or six show up at any given meeting. Councilor David Schanzenbaker is one of the group’s more active members, and Kathie Lattin expressed some interest in getting involved.
Ford went on to say that the task force has divided up the downtown area so the various task force members could talk one-on-one with individual business owners, and while the overall response is positive, there are some concerns about how much revenue will be collected by the district and how those funds will be spent.
Ford then described some of the preliminary ideas for improving the district, such as widening sidewalks, improving the landscaping and creating more parking lots. “We’ve looked at a lot of different ideas, but we didn’t want to get too far along until we could get the rest of the neighborhood together to talk about what they could see, also.”
“One hundred percent of the people we have talked to,” Pierce confirmed, “the business and property owners, have wanted to do this. We’ve probably talked to thirty. Where we are finding there’s some confusion is in relation to the funding and not understanding what these (DDAs) are or how they work. DCI wants to come down and explain that.
“She (Correll) explained it to me, and I said, ‘Oh, good. Now I can tell this to so-and-so,’ and she said, ‘Please don’t do that; let us do it when we come there so we can make sure that it’s being done properly, so there’s no question.’”
Schanzenbaker explained one of the problems the task force has had so far is getting historical information on tax revenue generated by businesses within the proposed district and suggested now is the appropriate time to get the state-level experts such as DCI or DOLA involved.
Local merchant Tom Beavers mentioned that the effort to form some type of special business district in the downtown area has been going on for a long time. “The downtown has been neglected for at least fifteen years. Things happen here and things happen there and people want to do things with the downtown but it just hasn’t happened.”
He went on to talk about community identity, uptown and downtown cohesion and the need for infrastructure.
“I am so relieved and encouraged,” councilor John Egan said, “to know that you’re taking these steps and really looking into the future of the downtown area and trying to get your arms around it, because you’re right — with the kind of growth we are seeing uptown, downtown needs some repair and to think about what it is as a business community.”
Jerry Smith, another local businessman, pointed out that much of the money used to hire DCI to come down here and help with creating a DDA would actually be spent locally in the form of hotel nights and meals in local restaurants.
In the end, town council agreed and voted to shift money around in the town’s budget so the task force could have the $10,000 it was requesting.