City of Craig looking to establish Urban Renewal Authority to revitalize some areas of town
Craig hopes to form an urban renewal authority to revitalize some areas of town that city officials think need the help.
Establishing an area gives incentives to a developer to make improvements, build or fill an empty building and spruce up an obvious eyesore in the city, such as the mall. In fact, the mall is a big reason why Craig is interested in such a plan, said Peter Brixius, Craig’s city manager.
Not only are former county commissioner Frank Moe and his wife, Kerry, interested in the mall for his super-sized Yampa Valley Adventure Center, another business is interested in developing in the area as well, Brixius said, although he declined to offer any other details because plans aren’t set. The adventure center and the other developers’ plans could co-exist in the mall area, Brixius said, and both projects sparked the idea for a urban renewal district, or several, actually. This is the first time Craig’s looked at establishing an authority.
“We can see the benefit of attracting those people to initiate the projects by offering this as an incentive,” Brixius said.
Frank Moe declined to comment other than to say he’s under negotiations with the mall owners and he’s also looking at other property in Craig. He calls the project “big but doable” and believes it could be finished in 18 months. The center would feature an indoor gun and archery range and pro shop; an indoor climbing center; a tag arena, mini bowling, golf and a Top Golf swing suite; a pool hall and trampoline park; an outdoor retail and rental store; a visitors center featuring dinosaur attractions; a restaurant and ice cream, candy and chocolate factory. The Moes hope to seek out other investors and partner with private businesses to fill all those services.
The city hasn’t done much more than looked at areas that could benefit from an authority, such as the mall, the old K-mart building, some areas downtown and some industrial areas, Brixius said. The city is working with a consultant to identify the areas, so details could change dramatically, and it could take a year to set all of them up.
“They don’t happen overnight,” he said.
That’s because Craig hopes to offer so-called property tax increment financing in those districts, and that means all the entities that benefit from property taxes, such as the fire department, the library and the county, will have to agree to the proposal. A board of individuals representing those taxing entities would run the authority.
Tax increment financing is essentially a deferral on the property tax increase that comes when developers improve an area. Property taxes are set based on the value of that property, and improving it immediately makes that value jump, if not skyrocket, in value, making the taxes jump as well. Developers would agree to pay that increase back in a time period of, say, 25 years or so, rather than getting hit with that cost all at once. The agreement allows developers to make money off their investment first and, in theory, set some profits aside to cover the increase in property tax. The agreement eases the tax burden, and a big expense, that comes with improving a piece of property, Brixius said.
But the benefits of doing that come with improving the property, and that’s big to a city, not only for the economic boost something like the Moes’ project could provide but by injecting life back into an area that was nearly dead. Many cities use an urban renewal authority to improve properties.
“Using the space adds vitality to a business district,” Brixius said. “That’s what you’re looking for. You want to draw people back into those areas. You don’t want it to look like a failing area.”
The city would only allow this benefit in certain areas the authority deems a blight, something that would otherwise discourage developers from investing in an area. Empty buildings tend to be blights, especially if they’ve been empty for a while, as they are hard to maintain and can attract unsavory critters or people.
The county is seriously considering using the K-Mart building as its new headquarters as well as a new courthouse, and if that happens, the authority wouldn’t take effect since the county isn’t subject to a property tax. Moe, in fact, was seriously considering the K-Mart building before looking elsewhere since the county was deep into a $120,000 study to examine the property.
Even if an authority won’t be established overnight, Brixius did say the city was trying to expedite it so Moe and the other developer could confidently move ahead with their plans.
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