Remember when you were a kid and you had to do all kinds of things to prevent jinxes?
Well, we’ve got our eyes, fingers and legs crossed, because it looks like the MidTown Renewal Area might be on the verge of actually happening.
That’s a big wow.
The MidTown Renewal Area (MRA) is the first big undertaking of the Durango Renewal Partnership, the urban renewal authority created by the city to act as a public-private collaboration.
The Durango Renewal Partnership’s task is, in simple terms, to make good economic development stuff happen that probably otherwise wouldn’t. Its governing board includes the City Council and representatives of the county, the school district and the Business Improvement District.
The MRA includes a segment of the downtown area, roughly bounded by 9th Street on the south, the Animas River on the west and north, and 2nd-3rd Avenues on the east. (A map is accessible on the city’s website; just type “Map of MidTown Area” into the search box.
This week, the Business Improvement District board of directors approved participation in the MRA; it was the first of the pertinent taxing entities to lend its support. Others, such as the school district board, also will be asked to vote on the MRA.
The MRA will go before the city Planning Commission late this month and to the City Council in March and is expected to gain approval.
The “magic” of the MRA is the use of special tax incentives called Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
Without raising taxes, it will help developers pay up front for needed infrastructure improvements – sewer lines, environmental abatement, façade improvements, landscaping, curbs and the like – then be reimbursed by future property and sales tax revenues (which will be increased due to the improvements). A developer could use a TIF to leverage a loan or attract investors, then be reimbursed over a 25-year period.
Developers will have to open their books to MRA officials to ensure they genuinely need assistance.
MRA priorities include the repurposing of unused historic buildings such as the 9-R Administration Building and the old post office into multi-use sites that might include restaurants, artists’ studios and workforce housing. The MRA privileges housing and local business and hopes to work with local developers, although developers from elsewhere in the state or nation can apply.
The resident, civic and business groups that have been surveyed during the MRA planning said that workforce housing was at the top of the needs list; consultants have estimated the MRA developments could add 100-500 new housing units in the next five to 10 years.
City figures show that Durango is about 2,000 housing units short, and while 100-500 doesn’t sound like much, approval of the MRA would at least represent a concrete start. It will be the pilot project for other potential renewal areas the city has its eye on: the North Main area, the mall area, Bodo district, etc. The city has funding to start two other renewal areas this year, although it’s likely only one more will be completed.
Kudos go to city employees Scott Shine, planning manager, and Alex Rugoff, business development and redevelopment specialist, who have done the heavy lifting on the MRA and are thrilled it’s close to taking off.
The MidTown Renewal Area will help rejuvenate the downtown area in the post-coronavirus era. Just a few successful projects will spawn others, in MidTown and elsewhere.
We await liftoff, looking forward to good outcomes for Durangoans.