Has the Mountain URA near Steamboat Resort been successful? | SteamboatToday.com

Has the Mountain URA near Steamboat Resort been successful?

Created in 2004 to "remediate blight" the Mountain Urban Renewal Authority is slated to expire in 2029

People gather at the promenade at the base of Steamboat Resort in 2017 to enjoy music and wade in Burgess Creek, a project that received funding from the Mountain Urban Renewal Authority.
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Since it was created in 2004, the Mountain Urban Renewal Authority near the base of Steamboat Resort has resulted in $27.5 million invested into projects meant to “remediate blight.”

The 25-year URA is set to expire in 2029, though it could be paid off as early as December 2027, if Steamboat Springs City Council opted to pursue an early payoff. The URA is funded through both property and sales taxes and the debt is currently at about $10.3 million.

In a joint meeting of council and Routt County commissioners on Tuesday, March 14, some city officials said they believed the URA has been a success, but Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan — who has long opposed the URA — wasn’t entirely convinced.

“I’m not going to belabor my opposition to the URA and how I fundamentally feel about it,” Corrigan said. “Does city council believe that the URA was successful?”

Deputy City Manager Tom Leeson said he did feel the URA was successful, as it has added numerous improvements around the mountain area like the Promenade, several roundabouts, better pedestrian infrastructure and relocation of the iconic Arnold Barn.

“The original purpose of the URA was to remediate blight,” Leeson said, which drew a chuckle from Corrigan. “It has been successful in terms of the improvements… all of those things that were identified in the original blight study as needing significant improvement.”

The URA is a tax increment financing mechanism that has funded these infrastructure improvements through both property taxes diverted from other entities and sales taxes. The idea was that improving infrastructure in the area would spur more development.

The green area of this map depicts what area is included in the Mountain Urban Renewal Authority. The orange section was added to the URA in 2008.
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy photo

The funding comes from increased property and sales taxes in the designated mountain area. As more development occurs, area property values improve, sales tax collections increase and — in theory — the URA raises more money to pay for earlier improvements.

That is largely what has happened, though the URA did not collect sales tax revenues from 2009 to 2013, as total collections fell below what was set as a benchmark in 2004. Property tax collections for the URA have always been positive, though they too dipped after 2011 as Steamboat dealt with the real estate fallout of the Great Recession.

“Having sat on the URA committee for a number of different years during a down economy, I will say that I think there was a mistake,” said Commissioner Sonja Macys, who served two terms on council. “Knocking down everything up at Ski Time Square at once, that resulted in the fact that sales tax was not collected.”

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Still, Macys said the URA did help leverage other dollars and get people to work when construction trades were not as busy as they are now.

Council member Michael Buccino said he does believe it has been successful, as without that funding source many of the projects would have been stuck on a long list of other capital improvement projects the city is working on.

“Our base, the mountain area would not look anything like it is right now without the URA,” Buccino said. “In that, very much a success.”

Corrigan asked if it was council’s intention to try to pay off the URA in 2027, rather than waiting for it to expire two years after, adding that while the mechanism collects taxes from within a specified area, it results in Routt County assessing more in property taxes throughout the county.

“Property taxes that we don’t collect, that we should have otherwise been collecting from the URA forces us to have a higher mill levy for all the rest of the constituents in our community,” Corrigan said. “Me as an individual taxpayer south of Yampa, I’m contributing my tax dollars to the URA.”

Council could pay off the URA earlier, but it cannot be extended past 2029 without consulting each of 10 other taxing districts it impacts.

“Keep running so you can keep nagging the council in 2027 because it’s not going to be us,” council member Heather Sloop told Corrigan. “That way you are always the thorn in the side of this.”

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