Our View: Blight can be good thing | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Blight can be good thing

At issue

The City Council voted to accept the blight report for downtown Steamboat Springs and apply for a hefty DOLA grant to help fund infrastructure improvements

Our view

We think the council’s action was a wise investment, because it showed a desire to continue moving forward on improving downtown

— In one of its first actions since four new members were added to its ranks, the Steamboat Springs City Council voted unanimously Nov. 17 to designate the city’s downtown area as “blighted” in order to qualify for a $600,000 community development block grant from the Department of Local Affairs.

Our view

We think the council’s action was a wise investment, because it showed a desire to continue moving forward on improving downtown

We commend the new council on its ability to find consensus and move forward on promised downtown improvements. We also concede that the term “blight” may be a difficult one for some people to swallow when it comes to describing a portion of our scenic ski town.

Blight is an unfortunate word choice, in our opinion. It is a legal term used by the state to describe conditions that “substantially impair or arrest the sound growth of a municipality,” and according to a blight report prepared last year when the city was discussing a possible tax increment financing plan for downtown, Steamboat meets nine of the state’s 11 criteria of blight.

As Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs was quoted as saying in an August 2014 article in Steamboat Today, a better description of the downtown blight survey would be a downtown conditions survey, and we agree with his position.

In the case of downtown Steamboat, the blight survey, prepared by Ricker-Cunningham, a Centennial-based consulting firm, reveals that our blight conditions include poor pedestrian lighting, poor drainage, properties located in the 100-year flood plain, peeling paint, crumbling windows and crumbling foundations on some downtown buildings, a lack of curb and gutters and missing sidewalks.

And Steamboat is not the lone ski town claiming blight. For example, the Lionshead area, in Vail, met the state’s blight criteria and that designation was used to spark redevelopment in that area of the resort.

If you can get past the word, it seems clear to us that Steamboat’s downtown corridor could benefit greatly from investments in infrastructure, which the DOLA grant will help finance. We also think that if there is a sizable grant our community qualifies for, the council is smart to go after it.

On Nov. 17, the new council also approved the 2016 budget plan, which includes $4.8 million in funding for downtown improvements including the undergrounding of utilities, constructing a promenade on Yampa Street and building new sidewalks on Oak Street, between Third and Twelfth streets. An additional $3.8 million in downtown improvements is proposed for 2017 and another $1.5 million in 2018.

New leadership can bring a shift in priorities and focus, so we were encouraged to see the council coming together in a unanimous vote to push ahead with the downtown improvement plan laid out by previous council members. The decision to earmark city funds for capital improvements downtown came after the previous council nixed a controversial plan to use tax increment financing to fund the improvements.

We think the city will receive a strong return on its investment in infrastructure improvements along Oak, Lincoln and Yampa streets. New sidewalks and the creation of a promenade along the river will improve walkability, add to the vibrancy of downtown and could ultimately serve to spur private developers and business owners to make investments of their own in Steamboat’s historic downtown.

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