River transformation? | VailDaily.com

River transformation?

Pam Boyd
pboyd@eaglevalleyenterprise.com

This illustration depicts a riverfront park at the truck parking area west of Chambers Park in Eagle. The town of Eagle plans to present a sales tax increase to its voters April 5 to finance the park development.

EAGLE — As Eagle prepares to present its residents with a ballot question on a sales tax increase to fund a riverfront park proposal, town planners say communities that have funded similar projects are reporting a financial boon.

In their work leading up to the April 5 election, Eagle planners Tom Boni and Matt Farrar have unveiled their financial and economic report regarding the Eagle Riverfront Park project. As part of their work, they examined how other communities funded their park improvements and what the economic impact of those projects has been.

"The Eagle River seems to be an underutilized asset in this valley," said Farrar.

To demonstrate that idea, he talked about the river park experiences in Buena Vista, Salida, Golden and Steamboat Springs

The town of Buena Vista spent $623,842 on its whitewater park. That money came from a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, in addition to town, county and developer contributions. In Salida, the $794,000 whitewater park was funded by Great Outdoors Colorado, the Arkansas River Trust, donations from contractors and the city. Great Outdoors Colorado also contributed to the Clear Creek Whitewater Park in Golden, with the city and the Golden Urban Renewal Authority picking up the rest of the tab.

As the town of Eagle looks at its own prospective park, which includes whitewater features as part of a comprehensive plan that also features paths, bridges and river beaches, Farrar said the staff explored special financing districts to pay for the plan.

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"They weren't all that applicable to what we are trying to achieve," Farrar said. What's more, in order to present an attractive grant proposal to lure in Great Outdoors Colorado money, the town needs to identify a stable funding source for the project.

In consideration of the funding needs, Eagle looked at proposals for either a sales tax increase or a property tax increase. The sales tax idea — which would increase the town's sales tax percentage an estimated .5 percent — has emerged as the preferred alternative.

Economic boon

After review of costs, Farrar turned to the notion of returns. He quoted a study by the Colorado River Outfitters Association that said that in 2014, there were 504,400 user days of river rafting with average expenditures per user of $124. The total economic impact of rafting in 2014 is quoted as $160,131,798.

The report says there were 2,032 user days on the Eagle River in 2014 with an economic impact of $645,099. Commercial rafting on the lower Eagle accounts for 0.4 percent of the market share of the statewide economic impact of commercial river rafting, Farrar noted.

Not surprisingly, communities that have attempted to maximize river access and amenities have seen increases in users and financial benefits. The city of Golden reports that the total annual revenue generated by the Clear Creek Whitewater Park is between $1.4 million and $2 million annually. Steamboat Springs estimates that the future annual monetary benefit derived from its whitewater park is greater than $7.2 million. The whitewater park in Vail Village, which includes only one whitewater feature, produces an estimated an annual benefit of more than $1.8 million.

To further illustrate the impact in Vail, Farrar noted that in 2001, the Teva Mountain Games had approximately 2,300 spectators. In 2015, the GoPro Mountain Games had more than 62,000 spectators and expenditures made by visitors during the day of the Teva Whitewater Festival were more than $305,000.

Community outreach

While they were enthused by the information, town board members noted they still need to reach out to community members, particularly business owners, to share their river park vision. Because it is a ballot question, the Town Board members as individuals can work on the campaign, but no staff time or town money can be channeled to the effort.

Town Board member Kevin Brubeck suggested inviting local retailers to the next town board meeting to share their views on the park plan and sales tax proposal before finalizing the ballot language. One local businessman has already weighed in on the issue.

"I am a strong supporter of the river park, but I think a sales tax, as quickly as we are going for it, is a bad idea," said Matt Solomon, of Alpine Arms.

He argued that Eagle's sales tax is already high compared to nearby jurisdictions.

"As it stands now, I lose business every day because of our sales tax," he said.

If you go …

What: Panel discussion titled “Communities Transformed by Their Rivers.”

When: Wednesday, Jan. 27

Time: 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: Brush Creek Pavilion

Details: The presentation will include panelists from Buena Vista, Golden and Salida to discuss how their communities and businesses have benefited from better connections with rivers to their towns. For additional information visit http://www.townofeaglerivercorridorplan.org.

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