Wall Street may help Avon’s Main Street | VailDaily.com

Wall Street may help Avon’s Main Street

Matt Terrell
Avon, CO Colorado
Theo Stroomer/Vail DailyThe newly-renovated Benchmark Road in Avon, Colorado.

AVON, Colorado ” You hear a lot these days about how the Wall Street meltdown is hammering Main Street America.

But what about Main Street Avon, Colorado, which doesn’t even exist yet?

After years of intense planning, Avon will soon spend millions to transform its downtown into more urban, walker-friendly hub of shops, restaurants and plazas, all anchored around Nottingham Park. This will include the construction of a new “Main Street” through the center of town.

While the collapse of the financial markets has shattered national confidence in our ability to borrow money and build, Avon’s Main street seems to have dodged the avalanche.

Town leaders see a need for caution, but are confident Main Street will be built as planned, and could even benefit from the economic downturn.

For one, the town already has the money for Main Street secured, cash in hand, mayor Ron Wolfe said.

Interest rates on their construction bonds are lower than anticipated, and taxes from the nearly completed Westin Riverfront Resort are paying for much of the project.

The town plans on breaking ground on Main Street this spring, with contracts going out for bids this fall. Contractors hungry for work, and willing to put in lower bids, could end up being a plus for the town.

“We are likely to be beneficiaries next year of some fairly good prices,” said town manger Larry Brooks. “Most of the recent bids I’m seeing on projects are already starting to come down, and there’s more people fighting for those same jobs.”

In the meantime, the town council will have to carefully examine situations as they arrive, and act prudently without panicking, Wolfe said.

“We are comfortable we can work through it,” Wolfe said.

The success of Avon’s redevelopment will also greatly depend on its ability to form partnerships with developers. The town isn’t as concerned with finding investors ready to build ” it’s more concerned about quality control.

Take a look at the town’s near finalized plans for Main Street, and you’ll see lots of public art, spacious plazas, a fire pit, trees and flowers and some sort of “water feature” near the lake. The town is also after affordable housing and environmentally friendly building designs.

All this comes at a price, for both the developers and the town, and that’s where the partnerships come in.

“Public-private partnerships are absolutely necessary,” Wolfe said. “We want to achieve on Main Street a level of performance, design, finish and quality that’s over and above what is economical if you don’t partner.”

Right now, the town is in the process of figuring exactly how it would partner with developers ” what the town can offer, what it can’t, and what it wants from developers in return.

“We’ll have to be flexible with the developers to get what we want,” Wolfe said.

Last year, Avon created an Urban Renewal Authority, which can implement a funding mechanism called Tax Increment Financing. The authority is able to issue bonds to pay for necessary public improvements, and as redevelopment occurs, the increase in property taxes generated due to increased assessed values are used to pay off the bonds. The money also can be used to reimburse developers for parts of projects and acquire property.

This funding process will be a large part of the downtown renewal. The most simple way to view these partnerships are as trade offs ” developer provides public art and park space, town allows some leniency with affordable housing. The town could offer cost sharing, land swaps, tax rebates, fee waivers, a long list of things that will, hopefully, get the development built, and make sure the public benefits.

“We need to use tax increment financing and not use that inappropriately to help a developer,” Wolfe said. “We’ll use it only to get public benefits that would not otherwise be available.”

Outside Main Street planning, leaders say the town is in good financial shape. The town’s $48 million budget will go before the town council for a public hearing on Oct. 28, and go for final approval Nov. 11.

The 2009 budget is conservative, town leaders say, especially considering the nation’s economic climate.

“Fortunately, the town is in a good position to weather the economic downturn,” Brooks said.

The town has a policy to maintain a reserve above 35 percent of the budget, said Scott Wright, assistant town manger. The reserve is a little above that now, around 38 percent.

While the Main Street project looks to be in good shape, the town could still feel the impacts of the souring economy when tax revenues go down.

“There’s a lot of other pressures we may feel in the town,” he said. “You just live within your means. If the revenues decline further, then we start cutting back other things.”

Brooks told the council he would be keeping a careful eye on the budget and that if needed, he had a contingency strategy to cut 5 to 10 percent of the budget.

All discretionary capital improvement projects, equipment, and other significant budget increases will be approved on an individual basis taking into consideration how the town’s finances are doing.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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