Could the future of Craig include a revamped Centennial Mall?
Yampa Valley Adventure Center in the works for Craig’s largely abandoned shopping center
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to better explain how tax increment financing works. Tax increment financing does not increase property taxes — it uses the updated, increased tax assessment of improved properties to pay for the improvement.
Frank Moe has a vision.
The former Moffat County commissioner isn’t from Craig. But he’s lived here with his wife for about 30 years, and he’s come to adore the place.
As Moe and many others saw the end of the line coming for the power plant and the coal mines that have fueled this town for so long, he started thinking about the future of his adopted home.
“How could we help the community that’s done so much for us?” Moe said he and his wife, Kerry, asked themselves.
There isn’t one answer to fill the hole the closure of the plant and mines will leave, but Moe hopes he might have found something to take a step in the right direction. It synthesizes so much of what makes the Yampa Valley and Craig unique and special — the river, the hunting and the outdoors opportunities in general. He calls it the “Yampa Valley Adventure Center.”
It’s a huge dream, and Moe acknowledges it. And he knows there are folks in the community who have heard the plan and think it’s a pie in the sky. But Moe’s not dreaming. He’s been working on making this a reality in very tangible terms for quite some time now.
The Yampa Valley Adventure Center, in its absolutely simplest sense, is basically an ambitious, themed shopping mall. The theme, according to YampaValleyAdventureCenter.com, is to be, “Your base camp for exploring the Northwest Colorado counties of Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco.”
That includes filling the 20-plus retail locations with outdoors-based retailers — think hunting and fishing outfitters, camping and hiking suppliers, vehicle rentals and the like — while also attracting folks with in-building activities that can’t be found anywhere nearby, like an indoor archery and shooting range and an interactive great outdoors museum.
“The concept was outdoor recreation in one building,” Moe said. “Have the synergy between everybody.”
The idea didn’t spring out of the ether. Moe said an organization called Better Cities, which provides counties and cities with ideas for industry around which to improve their municipalities, brainstormed the idea for not just Moffat but also Rio Blanco County.
“(In Rio Blanco), it never took off,” Moe said. “They had a plan for a $10 million project. They had to build from scratch and even buy the land. Commissioners liked it, but nobody took the lead and nothing happened. Well, I liked what they were saying.”
Moe was watching and thought maybe this was something that could work in Craig.
“I’m commissioner at the time, and we have a stack of feasibility studies this high,” Moe said, raising his hand above the floor at about head height. “So many of them say outdoor recreation is probably the No. 1 way to diversify the economy. We’ve got a gold mine.”
So the question, to which he suspected he knew the answer, was: Would it work here, too?
“Our project compared with Meeker’s (where Rio Blanco was considering it) — we’ve got a $4 (million) to $6 million advantage, because there’s a building we can remodel and fix up. We have (U.S.) highways 13 and 40, we have a bigger community, we have a regional airport between us and Steamboat,” Moe said. “This looks good.”
Moe approached the city, he approached the researchers, and he sought grants. He says they were all in.
Now to find the money.
Moe says he needs roughly $5.7 million to purchase and renovate the old Centennial Mall, where he envisions this being housed.
The Moes, though doing well enough owning and operating the local Best Western hotel, are not sitting on nearly $6 million in liquid capital.
So where does it come from?
The answer, Moe hopes, is something called tax increment financing.
Tax increment financing is where governments and taxing entities agree to invest a portion of the increase in property taxes that results from property improvement into the improvement itself. It’s using a future windfall of property tax revenue to make the property tax increase possible.
Tax increment financing does not increase property taxes. Improving properties lead to a higher assessed value of those same properties, and the expectation of that increased tax revenue is what’s used to proactively invest in the improvement itself.
It requires something called an urban renewal authority, and that happens to be something the city of Craig and the four other taxing districts that levy property taxes on this region are in the end stages of making a reality.
“There’s a lot of steps, but we’re progressing,” said Shannon Scott, Craig’s manager of economic development and the staff liaison for the proposed Craig Urban Renewal Authority. “We have to get through these steps in order to be able to take a project to the board for them to approve and construct an agreement. But once these are complete, we can take a project, like Frank’s, to a board for a vote and to sign an agreement.”
The CURA has obtained agreements from the five necessary government agencies — the city, the county, the fire district, the school district and the college district — and is working through the final approvals to get two areas, including one around the mall, approved for this kind of maneuver, Scott said.
At that point, which should be within the next few months, Moe can apply to the CURA for assistance through tax increment financing. He’s already spoken to the board and said he observed nonofficial support from its members.
“We’ve heard of a win-win,” Moe said. “This is as close to a real win-win as you can get.”
The urban renewal authority’s final approvals are absolutely critical to the project going forward. CURA presents before Craig City Council Tuesday and expects what is nearly the final approval before it can start taking applications.
There’s also work to do to secure financing for one more critical element of the Adventure Center: The Colorado Great Outdoors Experience/Museum and Hall of Fame.
This is a slick, modern, interactive celebration of the great outdoors in the state that will occupy the inner sections of the building. Moe is really fired up about it.
“We’re really close to getting our 501(c)(3) status,” Moe said. “This is a big draw in the public areas of the center. It’s going to be super cool; it’ll get foot traffic to retail.”
The Experience, he hopes, will be funded in part by lovers of the outdoors like the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, with whom he said the mission statement aligns perfectly — and which happen to be the very forces many see as responsible for the laws that have led to the power plant closing and necessitating this new economic booster in the first place.
“They say, ‘Just Transition,’” Moe said. “Well that’s funded, and we’re transitioning to the new energy economy. And we’re asking them to help us do it.”
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