Littleton's urban-renewal authority is undergoing a major transformation, gearing up to become a more active participant in the city's economic development.
Previously known as the Riverfront Authority, it was named for the single metropolitan district it was created to manage. It was formed as a financing mechanism to get the building that is now Echostar, on the southwest corner of Bowles Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, built in 1985. It was originally a shopping mall called the Riverfront Festival Center. But the timing was bad, and the major recession of the early 1980s led to the mall's demise in 1989.
The original bonds have been paid off, and the authority could have simply disbanded. Instead, it changed its name to Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, with the stated goal of redevelopment, revitalization and renewal of land along the South Platte River and Little's Creek. Its president, former city councilmember Jim Taylor, hinted last October that there might be more on the authority's horizon.
“I hope we will get a project to start working on,” he said. “If the city designates an area that needs help, we can use the Riverfront Authority as a vehicle to provide that help. Absolutely, it's controversial. I do not shy away from controversy.”
Most of the other LIFT members have been on council or the planning board at one time or another, as well. They, along with city council, heard from Anne Ricker, a principal with the consulting firm Ricker Cunningham, on Feb. 25. The company specializes in urban renewal and public/private partnerships, and Ricker explained the process of getting an area designated for urban renewal projects.
First, the area has to be declared blighted. State law defines a “blighted area” as one that “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality, retards the provision of housing accommodations, or constitutes an economic or social liability, and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare.”
It goes on to list 12 criteria to use as a basis for determining blight, of which the property must meet four. They include deterioration, unsafe or unsanitary conditions, environmental contamination and unusual topography.
Ricker stressed that just because a property is in the study area doesn't mean it's blighted, but its surrounding infrastructure might be.
“This isn't really a residential question at all, except for maybe the street in front of the residential property,” she said. “It's a commercial question.”
Councilmember Peggy Cole said that regardless, a lot of citizens worry about the fact that urban renewal sometimes involves eminent domain, which council approved the use of when it adopted its economic plan last year.
“We will absolutely not skirt that issue,” said Ricker. “We will talk about it up front.”
She also stresses that urban renewal is not a planning process, but a financing mechanism. The authority can issue bonds to help a developer fund a project, or it can share some of the future tax revenue a project will generate.
Earlier in the evening, they heard about urban renewal projects in Denver that created Commons Park and the area around it, and one that's getting under way next month around the Alameda light-rail station.
Sam Sharp is the managing director of public finance at DA Davidson, which is handling the Alameda project. He stresses that once Littleton begins this process, council has to stay positive and unified.
“For big projects to occur, you've got to get the stars to align,” he said. “And to get the stars to align, you've got to get them into the same universe.”