Manitou courts developers for projects

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Former Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder envisions a vibrant commercial hub at the east end of Manitou Avenue.

Retail businesses flourish on the ground floors of new buildings, which also encompass office space and apartments. Sidewalks tinted Manitou Rose meander through the area, which is softened by landscaping and public art. Lampposts that mimic historic streetlights illuminate the evenings, with no wires in sight.

What’s there now is very different: a hodgepodge of motels, structures in need of rehab and vacant lots and buildings. To be sure, there are some thriving businesses: Adam’s Mountain Café and Manitou’s two retail marijuana stores, Maggie’s Farm and Emerald Fields. But the nearby Westside Avenue Action Plan project has torn up the street and caused traffic delays, and that’s all some people see.

The majority of Manitou’s few remaining developable parcels are in the Gateway to Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Area, a tract of about 50 acres that stretches from the eastern Manitou city limits to the Highway 24 interchange.

After 10 years of waiting and planning, Snyder and the other members of the Urban Renewal Authority board are inviting business owners and developers with innovative ideas to take a look at the Urban Renewal area and consider investing in Manitou Springs.

To kick off the redevelopment campaign, the URA board sponsored the Invest in Manitou Springs Expo from 5:30-7 p.m. March 8 in Manitou Springs City Hall. The expo’s purpose was to connect architects, builders, financial institutions, city planners and other experts with residents, property owners, developers and business owners and to highlight what the URA has to offer.

“For developers and property owners considering upgrading, this is the time for them to become involved in the project and for us to get an idea of the people who are interested and to start having a conversation with them, especially as we think about sidewalks, where driveways are and where parking will be,” URA board member and former Mayor Marcy Morrison said.

The Westside Avenue project is due to be completed by the end of this year, and the board is working with the project managers to enhance the streetscape in the URA zone.

“We figure we’re far enough along now that everyone can see the potential of how much we’re going to improve that corridor,” said Ann Nichols, chairwoman of the URA board.

“We’ve spent about $700,000, which includes a pedestrian bridge across Fountain Creek, upgraded sidewalks and additional lighting. We’ve got about $100,000 for fiberoptic conduits, which will be installed when they open the trenches for undergrounding the utilities,” Nichols said, adding the bridge at Beckers Lane may also be redone.

The URA and the city of Manitou Springs have put in place several tools to assist developers. They created the Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Overlay Zone, which allows developers some latitude. For example, permitted building heights were increased in the overlay zone to four stories, higher than allowed in the rest of Manitou’s commercial area.

The No. 1 tool, Snyder said, is tax increment financing, a pay-it-forward program that enables the URA to collect net new property and sales taxes to help finance future improvements. This is not an additional levy but rather the amount of sales and property tax revenues that would not be available but for urban renewal projects.

Using 2006, the year the URA was created, as a baseline, “we looked at the property and sales taxes that were collected. Any overage in those taxes since then accrues to the URA,” Snyder said.

URAs generally pledge those tax funds to help finance development, often in the form of bonds. But Manitou’s situation is different and unique: The URA will be able to use both TIF and cash on hand.

“Up until 2014, we were getting incremental increases of around $40,000 a year,” he said. “With the opening of the two recreational marijuana stores, that increment went way up — we’re getting more than $1 million a year.”

That makes it possible for Manitou’s URA to directly finance projects such as the enhanced streetscape and permits the board to consider projects such as a parking structure that could serve the renewal area.

“What we’re looking for is both commercial and residential, mixed-use structures and businesses and habitats that will provide for all ages, all abilities, all socioeconomic levels, in order to add to the diversity of our community,” URA board member and former City Councilor Coreen Toll said.

Snyder said the board has decided not to specify what types of businesses it wants to attract, although sustainability is important.

“We feel like development needs to be driven by market forces,” Snyder said. “Come talk to us, and we’ll see what we can do to facilitate that.”

For more information about the URA, visit msura.org.