MONTROSE – Downtown voters had their last chance Tuesday night to learn about an April ballot issue that, if approved, will establish a Downtown Development Authority for Montrose.
The meeting was the last in a series of nine public meetings hosted by the Downtown Development Steering Committee in anticipation of the April 6 election.
Steering committee chair Bob Brown led the first half of the meeting with a presentation on how the DDA would work, and how it would be funded, followed by a presentation from Heidi Ham, director of the Grand Junction DDA.
Brown said Montrose is the largest city in the state that does not have a downtown development authority, going on to emphasize that the district would be self-supporting and a big boon to businesses and residents.
The city has invested a lot in the downtown area, but always on short-term projects with a specific goal, like building Centennial Plaza and building bulb-outs to improve traffic.
“Downtown deserves a direct funding source, and that it’s sustainable is so important,” Brown said. “Short-term plans accomplish goals, but don’t have growth.”
The funding mechanism for the Montrose DDA would rely heavily on a 5-mill tax levy on residents, property owners and business owners in the proposed Downtown Development Authority district, he said.
Brown told a crowd of maybe 35 people at the meeting that the mill levy would generate $122,275 in the first year and would amount to a median cost of $21 per month, based on 310 properties in the district, or a tax of 8.2 percent.
“That’s not trivial, but it would be directed right back at the district,” he said.
Downtown property owner Ralph Walchle said he wouldn’t mind the tax, because right now he is spending $120 per month on classified ads for a vacant property.
“Unless we get the DDA, we will have more vacancies,” he said. “It’s money we’re investing in ourselves.”
The new development authority could also collect money through Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, a tax reallocation method that allows the district to collect incremental amounts from sales and property taxes collected in the district.
The combination of sales and property TIFs would provide about $100,000 per year to the district, Brown said, enough to hire a director and pay administrative costs.
Income to the district could also be used to float bond issues, he said.
“If we could float a bond for say, $10 million, then we’re really talking,” he said.
The district would be large, Brown said, running from the Uncompahgre River on West Main Street to the intersection of East Main and San Juan Avenue, and from North Second Street to South Third Street.
“We wanted to take in the river because it’s a tremendous place for future community development,” he said. “We need to protect it and use it – it’s too good an asset” to be neglected.
The special election on April 6 will have two ballot questions, Brown said, one to establish the district and the second for a property tax to support the district.
If approved, the downtown development district would be set up for 30 years, with options for two 10-year extensions.
The Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority is 30 years old, Ham said, during her presentation, and is working on a 20-year extension.
The Grand Junction DDA has brought many benefits to businesses and the downtown area, mostly recently through matching funds grants for façade improvements, a program started last year that has already handed out eight grants ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, Ham said.
Proceeds coming into the Grand Junction district were slow initially, but now bring in $2.2 million annually, she said.
The Grand Junction Development District is also an advocate for the downtown area, Ham said, and is represented at city meetings.
“If a merchant has an issue with the city or county, they usually call us first,” she said.