Hayden competing for pandemic stimulus dollars with regional industrial park in mind

Large developments can take years to put together, and sometimes figuring out publicly-funded infrastructure like roads and sewer lines can lead to everything falling apart — especially in a small town like Hayden.

Town Manager Mathew Mendisco said he wonders whether local companies like Honey Stinger would have been able to expand within the Yampa Valley if there was a shovel-ready space for them to build out.

“I know of other companies that are growing rapidly and, at some point, are going to need to expand,” Mendisco said. “In the valley, at least, we don’t have a lot of areas for those companies to expand.”

Now, Mendisco is hoping investment opportunities made available because of the pandemic could address this problem for Routt County, and help diversify Hayden’s economy as it awaits the day when its coal-fired power plant that pays a significant percentage of property taxes closes.

Hayden is part of an application to the Build Back Better Regional Challenge submitted earlier this month — a program created as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The $1 billion program allows regions to put together a coalition of as many as eight community projects that are distinct, but related, and apply for all of them to be funded at once.

The project in Hayden would develop land near the Yampa Valley Regional Airport that town officials have long identified as a spot for increased manufacturing space to create the Northwest Colorado Industrial Park. If awarded funding, the project would build roads, sewer lines and other infrastructure to serve lots of various sizes, making it easier for companies to come in and build their own facilities.

“The project is centrally located in the valley, directly across from the airport. … This is a 10- to 15-year opportunity,” Mendisco said. “We want to get as close as possible so that the only barrier to entry is hooking up service lines.”

Mendisco said Sheridan, Wyoming, pursued a similar project, and it has helped diversify an economy that had largely relied on resource extraction and tourism.

What has needed to happen quickly is the process to apply for the funding. The phase one application was due Oct. 19, and Mendisco said they have been working on it for about two months, though the application was submitted regionally.

The town will need to shoulder much of the burden to submit the phase two application, which, if approved, would bring in the real money to fund the project that is estimated to cost up to $1.5 million to buy the land and about $6 million to build the infrastructure — though Mendisco said it could be higher.

“They will have to build a building, that is no question,” Mendisco said, referring to businesses that would be interested in the lots. “Any developer will tell you that off-site improvements are most of the time what kill projects, not building buildings.”

Between 50 and 60 regional coalitions will be awarded phase one funding, which is $500,000 to further develop plans for the proposed projects. In the nine-state region that includes Colorado, Mendisco estimated there were between 40 and 50 other phase one applications.

Mendisco said they are operating with the expectation that they will be awarded phase one funding to ensure they have the time to put together the application for phase two.

“We know how much information and how extensive that’s going to be, because we are competing nationally,” Mendisco said. “Our project has the unique advantage we have as we are a coal community. … If we didn’t have that, we probably couldn’t do this.”

Out of the program’s $1 billion total, $100 million has been earmarked specifically for communities dealing with a transition away from fossil fuels like Hayden, with the intention of not only propping them back up after the pandemic but also expanding opportunities in those communities.

Other projects include innovation centers in Craig and Delta County, another smaller but more expensive project similar to Hayden’s in Gunnison County and creating a redundancy stretch of middle-mile fiber to boost broadband infrastructure.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners has sent a letter of support for the project, but Mendisco asked if they could help more during a meeting Tuesday. Because Hayden needs to submit the phase two application, Mendisco was hoping to use the county’s new grant writer, who has federal grant writing experience.

He also asked for help in the planning process and Commissioner Tim Redmond, former mayor of Hayden, quickly volunteered.

“That’s my district, I’ve been involved in this, and I’d be happy to jump in,” Redmond said.

The last ask was the hardest. Phase two requires a 20% match, which Mendisco estimates will be about $1.5 million, $200,000 of which the town already has. Funding sent directly to municipalities from the American Rescue Plan Act cannot be used to match federal funds.

“You guys continue to set the pace for Routt County in terms of big picture thinking about what your community is going to look like in the future,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “I’m supportive. I’m just not quite sure for how much money.”

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