It’s up to City Council to decide how, and in what ways, Durango will evolve. And council candidates differ on what that evolution may look like and what the city government’s role in that should be.
Kim Baxter, a retired 62-year-old with a background in the hotel industry, consulting and small-business ownership, said increasing housing and business stock through infrastructure development is the way to raise revenues in the city and encourage a multi-generational community.
Jaime McMillan, a 51-year-old financial adviser, said the marijuana industry in Durango is one of the only sources of revenue for the city that is steadily increasing, and encouraging expansion of that business sector will bring more opportunities for jobs and places for locals and tourists to spend money.
Barbara Noseworthy, a 60-year-old strategic planning consultant, said city government collaboration with private entities will bring new businesses to Durango for the growth opportunities stimulated and nurtured by the city.
Marcos Wisner, a 31-year-old small-business owner, said changes to the land-use development code to allow multiple businesses on one property, much like his operation at 11th Street Station, and more mixed-use development will bring more small businesses to Durango, enhancing the city’s character and revenue.
While each candidate has a similar vision for Durango as an affordable and economically vibrant place, the strategies they propose for achieving the similar goals is what sets them apart:
Small business boom
“I’m running to inspire a younger demographic,” Wisner, a Durango native, said in a recent interview with The Durango Herald.
Durango is becoming an increasingly expensive place to live and work, Wisner said. The best way to improve affordability is to amend the land-use development code to make it easier, and cheaper, to open a small business or build a mixed-use development, he said.
Small businesses bring character to the city, Wisner said. And many entrepreneurs and young people want to move to Durango for the character, but they can’t afford it, he said. That is because the overhead for starting a small business is too high, which ties back to the city’s land-use development codes, Wisner said.
Parking requirements are too tough, he said at a recent candidates forum. And the land-use development code is ambiguous about certain standards, giving city staff the opportunity to be strict in applying the code, Wisner said.
If elected, his biggest priority would be to look closely at the codes and work with the city’s planning department to make it easier for young people to open a business and support a family.
Durango should encourage new businesses by partnering with them to build the necessary infrastructure, Noseworthy said.
That includes identifying locations for new businesses and marketing Durango as a place where people can take ideas to product, Noseworthy said.
Working with the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance to find businesses likely to succeed in Durango would help the city hone in on what kinds of partnerships to offer to entice those types of businesses to move or start here, Noseworthy said.
The city should not subsidize businesses with tax breaks; rather, it should work with them to make it easier to start a business, Noseworthy said. That could mean, for example, installing broadband or city sewer and water connection in places where it doesn’t already exist with the understanding that a business will use those amenities, Noseworthy said.
People come to Durango for an experience, and part of that experience is legal marijuana, McMillan said in a recent interview with the Herald.
While there are plenty of businesses that facilitate and encourage drinking alcohol, there are no businesses that offer opportunities for people to consume marijuana, McMillan said.
“The cannabis potential is where we can best focus,” McMillan said.
Bringing more opportunities for cannabis users, such as cannabis lounges, will create jobs and revenue for the city, he said. And Durango, as a home rule city, has the authority to authorize cannabis lounges, McMillan said. Crafting legislation to allow such businesses would be his first priority if elected, McMillan said.
And it’s not just bud tenders who could benefit – there are also businesses that do research work involving marijuana that could locate in Durango, McMillan said.
Bringing more retail to town doesn’t necessarily mean people will spend more money, Baxter said.
The reason sales-tax revenues have not been rising as the city needs them to is because of a lack of affordability, not options, Baxter said. People have less disposable income because the cost of living is so high, she said.
“The ability to pay sales tax is going down,” she said.
The best way to address the issue of affordability is to encourage growth by installing infrastructure where businesses can locate, she said.
What the city needs is another Bodo Industrial Park, Baxter said. Creating that space for mixed-use development, businesses and a light industrial park will bring more good paying jobs to the community, therefore increasing the disposable income residents have to pay for goods that generate sales tax, Baxter said.