Englewood ‘downtown authority’ needs plan to launch

Officials must regroup on funding to economically boost city’s core

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/19/20

A month after Englewood voters approved the creation of a body that would work to economically boost Englewood’s CityCenter, traditional Broadway downtown and medical areas — but turned down some …

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Englewood ‘downtown authority’ needs plan to launch

Officials must regroup on funding to economically boost city’s core

Posted

A month after Englewood voters approved the creation of a body that would work to economically boost Englewood’s CityCenter, traditional Broadway downtown and medical areas — but turned down some of the tax and debt ballot questions that would fund the body — city officials released options the city council could consider to ensure the plan to boost downtown gets off the ground.

Property owners, residents and business owners within the proposed “downtown” district voted on ballot questions in the Nov. 3 election on whether to create a downtown development authority, a body that would attempt to attract more economic activity to the proposed district.

The district that the downtown authority would work to revitalize includes the following areas:

• The Englewood CityCenter shopping development, roughly from South Santa Fe Drive to South Elati Street.

• The South Broadway area between Elati and Sherman streets.

• The city’s medical stretch, between Sherman and Lafayette streets. The district’s north-south length varies, but it stretches as far as Kenyon Avenue in the southwest and Eastman Avenue on the north.

City officials hope the development authority will help fill vacant storefronts along the downtown Broadway corridor; pursue a hotel for business visitors, hospital patrons and community members in CityCenter; and add residential density to underused sites near Englewood’s light rail station.

They also hope it will push for attainable housing and attract office employers to bring more daytime workers downtown to support local merchants and restaurants.

The development authority could, for example, carry out “economic recovery plans,” market and promote downtown Englewood, bolster maintenance and security, and create “enhancements” in the area, according to a Dec. 2 informational email from the city.

Those could include items such as landscaping, trees and “wayfinding” signs that helps visitors locate parking and retail businesses, and foster a sense of local identity along streets such as South Broadway, Englewood Parkway and what locals call Old Hampden Avenue in the medical region.

Variety of ways forward

Official results from the City of Englewood show that voters approved the creation of the downtown development authority — through ballot question A — with 91 “yes” votes to 62 “no” votes.

Because voters also approved ballot question B, the development authority can also collect and spend money to carry out its operations, but because voters turned down questions C and D, the city cannot raise property taxes or issue bonds to fund the authority’s operations. To use a bond is to issue a debt to investors that the city eventually would pay back with interest.

Without those tools, the city could rely on grants — including potential federal CARES Act money or other government funding aimed at pandemic recovery — or grant and loan funds from Englewood-based businesses, or a loan or contribution from the city, according to a Dec. 14 update to city council from city staff.

The downtown authority could also use tax-increment financing: In theory, collecting higher levels of tax revenue spurred by added economic activity that the development authority’s actions would drive. That move would likely involve discussions with Englewood Schools and Arapahoe County about possible agreements to participate in that system, according to the Dec. 2 email from the city. The tax-increment method doesn’t involve a new tax or raising tax rates.

'Tax-increment' funding

State law allows downtown development authorities to generate revenue with tax-increment financing by collecting added property- and sales-tax revenue from within the new downtown district’s boundaries, according to a Dec. 2 informational email from the city.

For example, if a new building is constructed in the district next year or sales-tax revenue increases, the added tax revenue would go to the development authority to be reinvested within the district, according to the email.

Meanwhile, the city, school district and county would essentially collect the same tax revenue in future years as they did the year the tax-increment system was created, though the revenue would likely increase somewhat based on property-tax revenue inching up due to property assessments, according to a graph illustration on Englewood’s website.

After 30 years, the heightened revenue levels would no longer only benefit the development authority — at that point, the city, school district and county would begin to collect all future revenue as they usually would, and the tax-increment financing system would end, according to the Englewood’s graph illustration.

It’s unclear when the cycle of development-authority investment and tax-revenue gains would begin and when it would put visible changes in motion downtown.

Without the $250,000 in tax revenue in the first fiscal year that would have been approved with the passage of ballot question D, and the $80 million in funding via debt that question C would have OK’d, city officials still expect the development authority to be able to carry out its goals, but the timeline is unclear.

Tax-increment financing “has always been contemplated as the primary source of revenue for carrying out the goals of the (Englewood) Downtown Plan,” city officials said in a statement to the Englewood Herald in November.

Options in front of council

At the time of its choosing, the city council could take applications and appoint board members to oversee the development authority, according to the city.

Forming the board and heading down the path of the tax-increment financing system is one option the city council could consider. Another is to form the board and request recommendations from the board regarding funding and other next steps.

Depending on whether the development authority can access immediate funding from grants or federal or state programs, the city’s Community Development Department “could support some level of 2021 consultant expenses in combination with other available city funds that may be dedicated” to the authority, the Dec. 14 council update says.

That financial support would come in addition to providing Community Development Department staff time to facilitate the work of the development authority, the update says.

An initial operating budget of $200,000 was identified in the Englewood Downtown Plan — the document that lays out the vision the development authority is intended to realize — and was anticipated to be funded by the proposed tax increase in ballot question D. Without that, the authority will need to apply for and secure the majority of the early funding from a variety of sources, the council update says.

A third option, though, is for the city council to “take no further action” and consider putting ballot questions C and D — the ones that would allow issuing of debt and raising of property taxes — on the ballot again in future years.

For more details on those ballot measures and their proposed tax and bond amounts, read the second section of the Englewood Herald’s story here.

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