by Pam Zubeck
El Paso County commissioners on Thursday will take up the matter of whether to dedicate county sales tax money toward construction of Copper Ridge shopping center.
Long story short, the proposed agreement (see Second Meeting, Item 1) shows the county will make the developer jump through a lot of hoops, and will be watching over his shoulder every step of the way.
Developer Gary Erickson already has struck a deal with the city that will provide property taxes from all districts of that area and city sales tax money to the 240-acre center in exchange for building the last 4.5-mile link of Powers Boulevard to Interstate 25.
But the project can't work without county involvement. Tax money can be used by the developer, because the City Council designated the center as an urban renewal project last May, days before a state law kicked in that would have disallowed it because the land is undeveloped. Urban renewal labels have traditionally been reserved for inner-city blighted areas.
A proposal, on commissioners' Thursday agenda, calls for commissioners to consider budgeting the tax revenue annually over the 25-year term of the debt, which is to be issued by a metropolitan district to be set up by Erickson.
It also states that prior to issuing bonds to fund the road connection, "the developer shall have entered into a contract or written agreement for a destination retailer selected by the developer to locate within the project area...." Erickson has claimed he's working to recruit Cabela's or Nordstrom's, but Cabela's website says it's purchased land in Wheat Ridge west of Denver, and it's unlikely the retailer would have two stores that close together. There's already a Cabela's story in Grand Junction.
The agreement defines destination retailer as one "for which customers will make a special effort to patronize, based upon a combination of ambiance and variety, uniqueness or quality of product, and shall include any department store or retailer included in a confidential list furnished by the developer to the city and the county." The definition also includes a requirement of 75,000 square feet of space.
The county's proposed agreement also calls for creation of a Technical Advisory Committee to oversee the project, consisting of members representing the developer, the city, the county, the metro district and Colorado Department of Transportation. Due to its composition, the committee would constitute a public body, meaning its meetings and paperwork would be subject to disclosure to the public under state open-records and open-meetings laws.
In addition, the county would require a "plan of finance" that would include predicted cash flows for each year, debt service and other expenses and "a feasibility study from an independent third party experienced in such matters...."
The agreement states that the county money is to be used for "only Metro District Connection Bonds" to fund the road project, emphasized by underscoring of that phrase.
Commissioner Sallie Clark, who has raised questions about the project, wouldn't predict whether Erickson has enough support from the commissioners to approve the agreement. Like Clark, Chair Amy Lathen has expressed doubts, as has Commissioner Dennis Hisey.
Commissioner Darryl Glenn supported the proposal while serving on City Council, and he's accepted thousands of dollars in campaign money from Erickson and his partner.
It's unknown where Commissioner Peggy Littleton stands on the issue.