The Arvada Urban Renewal Authority — AURA — has been flying blind when it comes to the economic impact its projects are having in Arvada.
Only the questioning by Arvada for All the People and the pressure exerted by the Protect Arvada Taxpayers charter amendment petition have compelled AURA to finally find out if their ‘economic development’ may or may not be working for Arvada. This is astounding — if not scandalous — considering the millions and millions of dollars of public property and tax revenue that AURA has given away to developers over the past few years without this vital information, like the nine acres for $30 Land Deal.
At the September 2017 AURA meeting of its unelected Board of Commissioners, $25,000 was approved to finally have a consultant do an ‘economic analysis’. Noteworthy since AURA has claimed in the past that its only mission is remediating blight and not creating economic development; and because Arvada for All the People has long been asking for the metric by which AURA claims success for its projects.
This hiring of a consultant to do an ‘economic analysis’ comes at the very time AURA’s Arvada Square residential project appears to be in danger of collapse. Even after agreeing to a $4.1 million sales tax kickback and discounted property sale to the developer, Loftus Development aka Ralston Creek North LLC, the redevelopment of the Arvada Square/Safeway at Ralston Road and Garrison is sputtering.
All of this important information was discussed at the Wednesday, September 6, 2017, meeting of the AURA Board of Commissioners.
Citizens notes taken by the intrepid Nancy Young — read them for yourself.
Nancy Young’s observations as ‘Comment’ will be clearly marked. Her elaborations are shown in ( ) and/or italicized in the text.
1. Economic impact of urban renewal - Jesse Silverstein, consultant, Development Research Partners: proposed contractArvada urban renewal plans to spend $35,000 for a 6-week "economic analysis" of the impact of Arvada's urban renewal projects. To be completed by mid-October -- (note the timing vs. the PAT petition). Commissioner Tony Cline,broker at Cliff Dwellers, summarized the purpose of this project - to "sell" urban renewal to the citizens - needed due to recent "events" (i.e., PAT petition). He also stated that the "results" needed to be translated so the citizens could relate urban renewal benefits to their lives - like paving 15 miles of roads.COMMENT: Regarding Mr. Cline’s “roads" comment, there was no discussion about the fact that the additional sales tax revenues, supposedly to fix roads, are offset by additional sales tax "sharebacks" of other projects.Even though there was lots of lip service about "blight", it was clear that AURA is positioning itself as an economic development engine. New City/AURA "speak" -- they want the study to focus on the "Bounce Back" -- the property tax revenues that special districts receive AFTER those districts have spent 25 years of hardship providing services to new residents/businesses generated by urban renewal, without receiving the tax dollars to provide those services.The Board approved a motion by Michelle Delaria to allow Executive Director Phair to continue delineating the scope of the project and to sign an agreement of up to $25,000 to engage the consultant (they didn't want to lose any time). This means that any final agreement, authorizing up to the full contract amount of $35,000, will need to be approved at the next urban renewal board meeting.2. Loftus - Triangle developmentMs. Phair stated “Loftus has lost his shirt” on this development — anything that could go wrong has done just that. Board chair Fred Jacobsen cut her off on this topic, noting that “this was not the proper forum for this discussion” (i.e., "the public" was present and taking notes).3. Loftus - Arvada Square - called a "moving target" by Ms. PhairLoftus has never had an interest in the residential development at the Arvada Square, although he agreed to be the master developer of the entire 14 acres: Triangle -- commercial; Square/Safeway -- residential. He expected to break-even on the Triangle and make his money on the Square/Safeway.Loftus brought in Carmel Partners to create the residential, but they are encountering some real issues with the Planning Department at the City — primary issue is the density that AURA wants vs. parking requirements of the City for that density. Carmel is near the end of the 90-day due diligence period. They might request an extension for review of a "sketch plan" by Planning Commission/Council to get their guidance on the parking issue. The feeling in the room is that Carmel will probably walk away.COMMENT: If Carmel walks, then it’s back to the drawing board, Loftus continues to bleed money, and the residential project is delayed for months, if not years. You could almost feel panic in the room … Looks like it is all falling apart.Here are the residential alternatives being considered:• 3-story walk-ups, garden style apartments: would require lots of surface parking - not enough space on the site to accommodate both the surface parking and density that urban renewal wants.• Podium building, i.e., parking garage below, rental apartments above. Not feasible -- can't get the rents needed to justify the cost like they could with Park Place and Trammel Crow close to the transit station.• For sale townhomes — too expensive to build; not an option.Carmel wants to reduce the parking requirement for rental units, the 3-story, walk-up option, from the City-required 2.2 parking spaces per unit to 1.7 spaces per unit -- a 23% reduction. If Loftus grants another 90-day extension, then Carmel could present a sketch plan to Planning Commission/Council and get some feedback.Ms. Phair noted that parking for multi-family units has become a big issue at Council. Marc Williams noted that the issue was compounded by inadequate parking at multifamily developments in Denver that are a disaster — from press reports.Not only is parking an issue at the Square/Safeway site, but there are also other issues: access/easements that need to be renegotiated, floodplain issues, and the massive flood tunnel under the former Safeway lot -- nothing can be built over it, which creates big issues with the layout and design of the residential project.At the end of this discussion, Board members asked when the "drop-dead" date is for Loftus on the residential portion. Ms. Phair said 2018, but would look into it.4. Ms. Phair stated that Trammel Crow has made a 3rd submission to the City Planning department. Trammell Crow expects to present a final plan before the end of the year. It was interesting — she was not enthusiastic that it would be approved, nor was there any discussion of the Trammel Crow project by the Board members.5. City attorney Mike Polk stated that he has done almost nothing but urban renewal for the last month and will submit a written report to the Board.Finally, when it came time for Ms. Phair’s staff report, near the end of the meeting, she opened with congratulations to Marc Williams on his birthday. Phair ordered special cupcakes from Rhinelanders for the Board. Williams’ cupcake was topped with a martini glass … Phair explicitly pointed out this fact. Everyone in the room received a cupcake - except the two citizens present. Williams admitted to being age 61 today.