Attention on North Avenue
Desperately needed infrastructure improvements may be in store for North Avenue now that the Grand Junction City Council has given the go-ahead to look into funding mechanisms to revitalize the corridor.
For the past year, a number of business owners have formed a nonprofit organization, North Avenue Owners Association, to study funding methods used by other districts.
The group determined that a Tax Increment Financing (TIF)model might work to help give the area a face-lift.
A majority of City Council members agreed. City staff now is tasked with determining whether the arrangement is legal, a requirement the city must undergo.
“Those old strips are hard to redevelop,” City Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein said. “With the TIF you’re actually putting money back into the plan.”
Current business owners along North Avenue would not see an increase in taxes if a TIF is approved. The funding model sets aside taxes that otherwise would be collected on any new development. That money, above the current collected tax base, would be spent on pre-defined infrastructure projects.
The model would work because it encourages development and helps identify funds for the beleaguered route, said Kevin Bray, a member of the North Avenue Owners Association.
“The tool is designed for reinvestment,” he said. “Without it, you’re not going to see those taxes go up.”
Bray said business owners the group talked to did not want to subscribe to a taxing model, called a Business Improvement District. That model is used along Horizon Drive in which businesses further tax themselves to build up funds for improvements. Through the BID, Horizon Drive businesses helped create wild horse murals underneath the Interstate 70 overpass. If grant funding comes through, BID money would go toward the first phase of roundabouts, medians and general improvements to the route punctuated by hotels, restaurants and gas stations.
In the past five years, businesses along North Avenue have collected and contributed $25 million to the local economy, but many owners there questioned how those dollars have benefitted their neighborhood.
Bray said he couldn’t pinpoint any specific improvements the city has made to North Avenue with those dollars.
Business vacancy rates along North Avenue are more than twice as high, or 13 percent so far this year, compared with a 6 percent business vacancy rate in the city’s downtown.
According to City Attorney John Shaver, approving a TIF for North Avenue is legal under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a voter-approved amendment that limits how much revenue governments can collect.
Councilors Marty Chazen and Phyllis Norris said they didn’t approve of a TIF for North Avenue because they thought it was a way to get around TABOR.
“The problem (is) caused by land use zoning, now we need TIF to solve another problem,” Chazen said.
Bray said new zoning regulations along North Avenue are welcomed by a number of business owners, some of whom were waiting until the plan went into effect to renovate their exteriors. Current businesses do not have to change a thing according to the new regulations, but new development is encouraged to bring storefronts closer to the roadway, build detached sidewalks, add landscaping and consider adding parking spots to the sides or rear of buildings.
Improvements already are underway on North Avenue, including curbs along intersections that angle down to crosswalks instead of dropping off. By next year, a three-mile section will be designed and a three-quarter mile section will be constructed thanks to a $1.19 million federal grant.
Poppy Woody, owner of Grand Mesa Medical Supply, 1708 North Avenue, started her business three decades ago, during the heyday of North Avenue. Then, Mesa Mall had few stores. North Avenue was the place to shop.
Over the years, development has been sporadic, and the four-mile stretch includes a haphazard array of on-again, off-again sidewalks, poor lighting and inconsistent access to businesses.
“One thing we would like is all the entrances to be clean and tidy,” Woody said. “We have a huge ethnic population. We would like to encourage and embrace it. What does North Avenue need? It needs attention.”