Years have passed since the 2006 inception of the Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Authority, with relatively little to show for its efforts. But according to Mayor Marc Snyder, who also serves on the URA board, those efforts could be picking up as soon as this year.
“Unfortunately [the URA’s beginnings] coincided with the Great Recession, so we’ve laid low for most of the recessionary period,” Snyder said.
The authority was formed to address the blighted area along East Manitou Avenue between the U.S. Highway 24 interchange and the historic gateway arch. Snyder said that a year after the authority was created, its board was prepared to incentivize development via tax increment financing and tours were planned to court potential developers.
“We had the shuttle rented,” he said. But then the economy quickly soured, sending developers and banks into hibernation.
Now, they appear to be waking.
In order to create the authority, the area in question had to meet legal criteria for blight and its leaders had to develop a revitalization plan.
“The URA plan calls for up to 200,000 square feet of commercial property, 200 residential units and buildings up to four stories high, which is not currently allowed under the Manitou Springs building code,” Snyder said, adding that amending some height codes is one area currently being addressed by the board to facilitate development within the 50-acre URA zone. Snyder said he would like to see commercial and office properties occupy the first couple floors with residential options above.
He said the TIF could generate millions in incremental property and sales tax over the URA’s 25-year operating window. The TIF could be used for the redevelopment of a project or to complete public improvements within the district to include new parking, curb and gutter upgrades and burying the utilities, Snyder said.
“The URA plan creates a vision for how to redevelop without being over-prescriptive,” Snyder said. “We want to be inviting for investment but not too detailed as to scare [developers] off.”
A slow start
According to Farley McDonough, co-chair of the URA board and owner of Adam’s Mountain Café in the Manitou Springs URA area, progress, even if minute, has been made.
“I know it looks like we’ve been spinning our wheels for years because so little was happening in the construction industry at all,” she said. “But I’m grateful that the URA was able to help me.”
“The URA is looking for a second center of commerce for Manitou Springs.”
– Marc Snyder
[/pullquote]McDonough acquired URA funding when she moved her café east of Manitou’s downtown last year into the URA zone after the flooding in 2013. She recused herself from the approval process to avoid any conflict of interest, and was awarded $47,000 to work on the exterior of her property at 26 Manitou Ave.
“The building was rundown and we were over budget [renovating the] inside. Therefore, there was nothing left for improvement on the exterior of the building and property,” she said.
McDonough used those funds to improve the restaurant’s façade, lighting, parking and signage.
“The property is right at the gateway [to Manitou Springs]. We wanted it to pop,” she said.
As the URA’s first applicant, McDonough said the process of acquiring funds was simple, but the application contained questions that may not apply to targeted developers.
“I think the idea was one big developer would come in and develop that whole area. Now I think we may be looking at smaller business owners like myself. The application was asking about investors. I don’t have any investors,” she said.
“We’re making the application more flexible to work with larger developers and small businesses.”
McDonough added that she, like anyone else, had to pass the “but for” test to receive the requested funding.
“They have to show that they are unable to fill [funding] gaps through any other lending source,” she said. “They have to show the project won’t happen but for the URA.”
McDonough said the URA board is working with construction management consultants Fellsberg Holt & Ullevig to map the zone in order to ‘streamline paperwork’ and expedite future projects. She said the website is undergoing work “to attract contractors’ interests” and the revamp should be done this summer.
Second commerce area
Businesses currently operating within the URA zone are and have been generating TIF funds via sales and property taxes, and that stream will only increase, Snyder said. He pointed to the operations of Maggie’s Farm, the county’s only recreational marijuana dispensary, as a boon to the TIF’s bottom line.
Snyder was, by law, not able to say exactly how much TIF revenue the existing dispensary generates, but he did say it has created “a large increase in sales tax revenue for the city.” He said just the existing recreational dispensary could increase the URA’s coffers by five figures each month.
Emerald Fields, another dispensary slated to open at 27 Manitou Ave. on March 27, will operate under a medicinal and recreational license and will also operate within the URA zone.
“If and when the second store opens, there may be some poaching of sales from the existing store,” Snyder said. “But, no matter what, it will mean an increase in tax collections and it should provide an overall increase [to TIF financing capabilities].”
Additionally, Snyder said plans to revitalize West Colorado Avenue leading from Colorado Springs into Manitou Springs should also generate attention from developers, adding he would like to see a variety of businesses open east of the city’s existing downtown.
“The URA is looking for a second center of commerce for Manitou Springs,” he said. “We’re so dependent on our three blocks of historic downtown and summer tourism. We’re at the mercy of external forces, from the price of gas to the economy to natural disasters. It makes it difficult to keep the city’s finances sustainable. … The second center of commerce would complement historic downtown and be more of a year-round business attraction for visitors from the Pikes Peak region.”