Why In The World Should Urban Renewal Be Expanded Another 25 Years?
The First in an Informational Series
By: Wil Smith, Director, EPURA & Ron Wilcocks, Commissioner and Vice-Chairman, EPURA
Urban renewal, the Estes Park Urban Renewal Authority or EPURA, was created in October of 1982, after the Lawn Lake Flood wreaked havoc in downtown Estes Park. Improvement to downtown Estes Park, a place people tolerated to get through to Rocky Mountain National Park, was talked about prior to the flood; however, the flood was an impetus to actually doing something to improve downtown.
Promulgated fallacy: EPURA was created to clean up after the flood. Now that they’ve done that, shouldn’t they go away? Governmental creations always seem to hang around forever and never go away!
Fact: The Lawn Lake Flood of July 15, 1982, was cleaned up long before EPURA was created and EPURA had nothing to do with the clean-up. EPURA was created to improve downtown and make it function better and be more aesthetically pleasing, for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. With the help of EPURA, the Town has transformed itself into a destination, one of the most vibrant mountain communities in Colorado.
What has EPURA accomplished? EPURA’s major accomplishments are many and include the Elkhorn Avenue streetscape, the Riverwalk, Riverside Plaza, multiple parking improvements, the Conference Center, redevelopment of Bob’s Amoco into Riverspointe Downtown, improvements to Tregent Park, enhanced entrance to the Stanley Historic District, monumental sandstone signs at the Visitors Center and Performance Park. EPURA has also accomplished non-development improvements, such as purchasing the Knoll portion of the Knoll-Willows conservation area, 20 acres of permanent open space in the center of Estes Park. EPURA has invested over $18 million cumulatively in projects over 25 years. Within the urban renewal area, over those same 25 years and in large part a direct result of EPURA led improvements, the sales tax has increased more than double that investment to $38 million. Not only does downtown look and function better. Those improvements were an excellent investment!
Logical question from casual observer: Those accomplishments are truly wonderful. You have improved downtown immeasurably. Isn’t it time for you to wind down and go away?
EPURA response: It would be a tragedy to the Estes Park community not to continue to use EPURA to accomplish future community improvements, because EPURA is a most effective way to do that. All our competitor resort communities in Colorado are utilizing urban renewal authorities to continue to enhance their towns. Eliminating EPURA would significantly hamper Estes Park’s ability to continue to improve. The Town government would be hard-pressed to do what EPURA does, with its myriad of other financial obligations and demands for its resources.
Inquisitive casual observer: What could be left to accomplish?
EPURA: Well, the Town Board adopted a new Urban Renewal Plan that notes a rather long wish list that includes things like improving the Moraine Avenue streetscape to Elkhorn Avenue standards, other downtown streetscape and infrastructure improvements, implementing the beautiful plan for improving Cleave Street, additional downtown parking including parking structures, additional Stanley Park improvements and a myriad of possible projects listed in The Urban Renewal Plan for the Estes Park 21st Century Urban Renewal Project.
Casual observer: Why do you say EPURA is a most effective way to do these projects? Couldn’t the Town do them just as well on its own? Why do you think you have so much to offer?
EPURA: Well, we have a pretty good track record of aesthetic excellence, a lean and mean one-person staff that doesn’t cost all that much, a tried and true consulting team and a very effective means of financing our work. EPURA can bond to accomplish large and long term projects sooner than they would otherwise happen, whereas the Town cannot. EPURA has issued bonds in the past and completely paid them off with no burden to local taxpayers.
Casual observer: Aha! You admit that you steal money from the taxing districts! I guess that is pretty efficient for that band of thieves you have as a Town Board! Steal from the taxing districts and give it to the Town! You are some perverted Robin Hood!!!
EPURA: You have been misled. EPURA steals nothing. The tax increment EPURA uses to pay for its improvements is created by EPURA by its improvements that make the property more valuable, hence the increment. Then, more increment and more improvements. And then, after 25 years, all the taxing districts benefit by receiving the tax increment (increase) that EPURA has created for them. The improvements also significantly improve the business climate and work to increase the sales tax base too. What a deal!
Casual observer: You haven’t created anything! That increase in value in property and sales tax would have happened anyway!
EPURA: Sure it would. You mean that the $18 million we spent on streetscape and Riverwalk and other amenities hasn’t improved the property values of the adjacent properties? Are you saying that these improvements haven’t had a significant positive effect on the sales tax that is generated? Significant increases in both property and sales tax receipts are correlated directly with the work that EPURA has done over the years.
Casual observer: Well, the property values might have gone up, but property values always go up.
EPURA: Like in much of California, Phoenix, Vegas and most of Florida, right? Actually, without investing in improvements it’s quite possible for property values to go down. Think of a house that is not maintained or improved. After some time, its value will plummet. The same is true with sales tax from business. If the business is neglected and not invested in, then it usually declines and ultimately fails. Do we want this for our business community? If businesses decline and fail, so ultimately do our sales tax receipts and our Town services.
NEXT TIME: How does tax increment financing really work? Or, are we really fleecing our fellow man?