Beth Spokas is careful not to put the cart before the horse. Although talk is under way to form a downtown Community Development Corp., there must first be a project that would benefit from this developmental entity.
Spokas is executive director of the Downtown Partnership – a 4-year-old organization that coordinates activities, projects, and programs to enhance the downtown area, such as the Business Improvement District project. BID is not in the business of fund raising, which is one avenue the CDC would take to finance projects geared toward providing a downtown anchor, such as a movie theatre.
The private sector can’t raise funds, Spokas said, because the profit margins on these types of projects are low. And the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce is not a developmental entity but rather acts as a resource to community businesses. The Economic Development Corp. is responsible for attracting and retaining larger businesses such as technology or manufacturing companies.
The CDC would be an extension of Community Ventures Inc., a nonprofit arm of the Partnership. US Bank’s annual Art on the Streets program is a component of that program.
CDC would be similar to Denver’s Civic Ventures, an organization that has been around nearly 13 years. However, Colorado Springs’ needs are different from Denver’s, said Spokas, in that the downtown area of the Springs still has some areas of growth potential.
A task force of about 10 community leaders and volunteers is now entertaining the idea of this tool, which was used in other cities in the 1980s and ’90s. Spokas declined to discuss the CDC or any specific projects it would address in detail, adding that the CDC may not be the right mechanism for projects the Downtown Partnership has in mind.
Anne Warhover, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, said that the difference between Civic Ventures and other downtown business associations, such as chambers of commerce and business improvement districts , is fund raising. It collects money from outside sources but is not working for concerns from any special-interest group.
For example, Civic Ventures created a housing support office that provides information and assistance to builders interested in developing housing alternatives in the downtown area. It also raised money for planning work to integrate the Central Platte Valley with the downtown area. A third project it was involved in was the creation of a park near Creek Front Plaza by Cherry Creek.
A downtown anchor, such as a shopping environment, movie theatre or cultural institution could serve as a catalyst for other opportunities, said Warhover.
“I think it’s a great way to use entrepreneurial dollars to do any downtown renovations that need to be done,” said Sallie Clark, a City Council candidate for District 3. “It takes the burden off the taxpayers.”