Sam Jones: Facts about URA elusive |

Sam Jones: Facts about URA elusive

As I read through the discussions regarding the proposed downtown URA, I find myself making that same twisted face when something seems a bit crazy.

Honestly, I don’t have an opinion on the URA as the facts still seem elusive with many unknowns. But my bewilderment stemming from this issue comes from my perspective as a building owner in Denver, where the relationship between business owners and local government is a bit different. Bear with me as I tell this short story.

We have owned a cute little Victorian office building on Sherman Street in Denver since the early ’90s. My business occupies the building. Now for years, we sat comfortably just outside downtown Denver. Tax rates were low, parking was free, and we enjoyed our little business oasis.

Five years ago, we got a letter from the city of Denver — “Welcome to the Denver Enterprise Zone.” Welcome? (Twisted face). Fast forward 12 months. I got another letter suggesting I replace my sidewalk and put out some decorative night lights in the front of my office. These projects should be done at my expense and to the code of the new Denver Enterprise Zone. Failure to comply by some date will result in nasty fines.  

Another year later, I got a second letter suggesting I trim my giant Mulberry tree at my expense, which happens to sit on the city-owned side of our spanking new sidewalk. Failure to comply with these Denver Enterprise Zone standards will result in … yes more fines.

Meanwhile, throughout the course of the past five years, my property taxes have gone up 240 percent because I have been welcomed to the new Denver Enterprise Zone. So what did I receive for all of this grief and mandatory expense to my property? When I called to inquire, they told me I get the privilege of owning a commercial space in the new and improved Denver Enterprise Zone.

Ultimately, they were right. There is a privilege and a clear benefit to me as the owner of a commercial building in a developing and thriving business district. My property and the enterprise value of my company is, no doubt, worth more today.

As a result of the improvements in our zone, paid for by the local property owners, other businesses have moved in; a Trader Joe’s, a new eight-story luxury apartment building and, my favorite, a new brew pub. It’s all good and now I’m happy I paid my way. This is the standard government-to-business practice in many cities large and small.

In Steamboat, the relationship between our business owners and our local government is almost the opposite. Don’t hate me for speaking the truth. The resort and our local businesses pass their wishes to City Council with a little help from the Chamber. After lengthy discussion and debate, the will of the business community prevails often paid for via sales, accommodation, air or maybe a new city-wide property tax.

I realize that in a community that is so dependent on snow, retail and tourism, we might expect business interests to essential “govern.” Honestly, it was no surprise when the Business Improvement District vote was lost. It said to me that our local commercial property owners and their tenants are quite comfortable with the status quo; not paying for their own district improvements.

But our businesses should perhaps be required to invest in their own street fronts, sidewalks and lights as they are the clear and direct beneficiaries. In what would be a shocking and unprecedented display of strength, maybe the city of Steamboat should have sent out a few letters following that failed vote — Welcome to the new Downtown Enterprise Zone.

Sam Jones

Steamboat Springs

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