News Column

Riverwalk slowed but not stopped

June 13, 2014

By Dennis Darrow, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.



June 13--Marty Garcia was among those disappointed when Pueblo City Council rejected a financing plan for the first phase of public improvements as part of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo expansion.

The local businessman's family and a local development partner are a part of the private investment side of the public-private partnership often talked about as a key to the expansion's success over the next 20 years.

Right now, his group is investing heavily -- "well over $1 million," Garcia acknowledges -- in transforming the former police station eyesore on HARP into the Brues Bros. microbrewery and restaurant along with offices and apartments.

Council's decision to reject a loan sought to get the public part of the expansion moving left him "disappointed," Garcia said.

"I wished they would take a stronger leadership role in finding ways to get things done," he said. Still, he's also optimistic a financing vehicle will be found.

"Pueblo in general is a pretty tough community and we find a way to get things done. I'm hopeful and I'm positive and I think they'll figure out a way to make this work," Garcia said.

Garcia's optimism appears on the mark.

Jim Munch, the Riverwalk's executive director and a retired planning director for the city, who has been heavily involved in Downtown redevelopment projects, says other options exist to finance the project's $14 million startup cost.

The original proposal, a loan from the half-cent sales tax fund for job creation, draws heavy support because it is viewed by backers as the quickest, least-expensive and "least-complicated" alternative, Munch said.

Other choices include bonds, certificates of participation or similar kinds of debt instruments, he said. They are common options for such projects but take time to finalize and carry potentially high interest costs and fees that would eat up more of the state sales tax revenue pledged toward the project, he said.

"The good news is our second payment from the Department of Revenue jumped. ... That's very encouraging," Munch said. The state sales tax money is expected to top $40 million over the next 30 years to help with the cost of the first phase and later phases.

Another option is a public vote on some kind of loan or bond option, he said.

Munch said he plans to give a report on financing options at the next meeting of the Urban Renewal Authority, the lead agency overseeing the Riverwalk expansion. The June 24 meeting will be the group's first since the council vote.

Currently, the expansion is running six months behind due to council's deliberations

over financing issues. Under the state and Urban Renewal Authority's schedule, the financing was to be in place by January, bids were to go out this month and construction to start in August.

Council's rejection of the loan plan surprised Debbie Foresta.

Foresta, owner of Angelo's Pizza on the Riverwalk, said she hasn't followed the issue as closely as some, partly because she thought there was widespread support for the expansion and the loan idea.

She and other businesses signed petitions in support, she said. The proposal also received good response at Greater Pueblo of Chamber of Commerce meetings, she said. "We're not dependent on it necessarily but it would be a nice addition to have," Foresta said. Also, she said, "That is jobs. Tourism is jobs. Getting the expansion going also gives jobs to people who work on the buildings."

Foresta questions if the loan proposal fell victim to the rift between the businesses community and City Council over council's proposal to use part of the city's half-cent fund on street repairs and other general services. "It probably all stems from this deal of not being able to be able to take the money for stuff," she said.

Council's vote disappointed Steve Wright, who with business partner Ken White recently redeveloped a section of an aged Riverwalk building for the new offices of Ameriprise Financial Services .

Wright also serves as this year's chair of the Pueblo Economic Development Corp. The group, along with the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, the HARP Authority and others campaigned in support of issuing the loan from the half-cent fund.

Until the vote, Pueblo leaders seemed almost unanimous that the Riverwalk is a critical part of the city's economic development efforts, drawing employers such as AT&T and the Professional Bull riders, property investors and tourists, Wright said.

PEDCO and city leaders also have discussed possibly creating a business park in the area, he said.

"I was disappointed because we feel that (the additional public improvement) falls within the guidelines of the intent of the half-cent sales tax," Wright said.

ddarrow@chieftain.com

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(c)2014 The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.)

Visit The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.) at www.chieftain.com

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Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)


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