14 Jan

by Jamie Shapiro, Downtown Colorado, Inc., Rural Outreach Specialist 

One of the most difficult challenges for rural Colorado communities, one that Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) sees again and again, is the small size of municipal staff. In rural communities throughout the state, professional staff work tirelessly to help their communities. With limited time and a multitude of projects, it can be impossible for staff to tackle new projects or expand their efforts.

With this challenge in mind, and with the experience of having hosted a VISTA for the last three years, DCI set out to establish its own VISTA team for rural Colorado. This year, DCI is launching Downtown Capacity Builders, a team of VISTAs placed in rural communities, dedicated to downtown revitalization efforts. Host communities throughout Central and Southern Colorado are, as we speak, working hard to prepare for the VISTAs, who will begin their work in April, 2016.

AmeriCorps VISTA, envisioned as the domestic Peace Corps, began in 1965. VISTAs, or Volunteers in Service to America, dedicate one year to working full time for a non-profit or small public agency to build capacity of that organization, so that it can better meet community needs. VISTAs are typically young and college educated, and through their service gain valuable career skills in the nonprofit and public sector. They are paid a living stipend throughout their time.

As a former VISTA, I can attest to the powerful community of VISTAs and VISTA Supervisors, and the incredible opportunity afforded by such an experience. DCI could not be more proud to be launching this time. Hopefully the enthusiasm and time of a full time VISTA our partner communities will see their time management worries decrease and their projects grow and expand.

For more information on the Community Capacity Building program and how it can help your community, please contact Jamie Shapiro by email at vista@downtowncoloradoinc.org or call DCI at 303-282-0625 with any questions.

Jamie Shapiro previously served as DCI’s AmeriCorps VISTA. He is currently pursuing a masters in Historic Preservation from the University of Colorado Denver. 


Lectures Alone Won’t End This Food Battle

14 Jan

by Michael Booth, editor and chief, Health Elevations

When it comes to the monumental task of changing Americans’ unhealthy diets, researcher Lori Dorfman likes to say, “Information is necessary but not sufficient.”

Few things make the point better than Dorfman’s favorite New Yorker cartoon. A doctor stands before a grieving, newly widowed woman in the intensive care unit’s waiting room. “I was able,” the doctor says unhelpfully, “to get in one last lecture about diet and exercise.”


Messaging expert Lori Dorman likes to show this billboard contradiction from a city streetscape. 

Speaking to a full house at the 2014 Colorado Health Symposium at Keystone, Dorfman described the relentless fast-food messages consumers are bombarded with in her own Berkeley, Calif., and every other city in the country.

Doctors in Colorado towns bisected by highways and pockmarked by billboards have said the same thing: Right after leaving a doctor’s office lecture about high-fat, high-sugar foods, the patient will drive a road crammed with signs for Dairy Queen and Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts and Pizza Hut.


“People in those environments don’t have the power of control … ” Lori Dorfmam

“Education can’t compete,” argued Dorfman, who takes the proximity issue a step further: She shows a picture of a double-decker billboard – on top is an anti-obesity message from the California public health department; directly below it is a smiling woman holding bags from McDonald’s.

“The assumption is that we have an information gap, and if we just fill that gap, people will be healthier,” she added. Maybe the big idea shouldn’t be personal change, Dorfman said, but policy change.

The switch in point of view comes by recognizing that the problem is not an information gap, but a power gap, said Dorfman, a Ph.D. in public health who teaches communication at University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health. The burgeoning sugar-control movement at local and state levels across the country is in part a realization that advertising overwhelms consumer willpower. The modern citizen may need a civil intervention on his or her behalf to get breathing room to make better choices.

Thus the attempts at putting a “sugar tax” on sodas, flavored drinks and other snack foods; and New York City’s attempt to limit the size of such sodas in the Big Gulp era.

This new angle recognizes, Dorfman explained, that “people in those environments don’t have the power of control over that environment, and public policy can help them create and find that power.”

Until now, the message dominant for so long has been the one about personal responsibility and individual, inward-focused action, she said. “You are what you eat,” is the oldest example. People have gained too much weight because of bad choices, and if only they exercised more willpower – and exercised, period – then the problem would be solved.

It’s not that the old message is false, Dorfman noted. It’s just inadequate when competing daily against the mass marketing of appealing junk food.

“Both of these can be true at once, and both of them are true at once,” she said. But we as a society are out of balance in how we tell stories about these things, she added. In addition to getting better information about eating and exercise choices, Dorfman said, it’s time for “consumers” to become “citizens” and to hear how public policy on nutrition and the built environment could bring more rapid change.

“It’s not either-or, but only one kind of story is getting told right now,” she said.

Michael Booth is managing editor of Health Elevations, a quarterly journal for The Colorado Health Foundation, devoted to identifying and promoting best practices in health and health care in Colorado. Booth is a former health care writer for The Denver Post and has covered health, medicine, health policy and politics throughout his twenty five-year journalism career. 

New Grocery Store of Ignacio

14 Jan

by Erin Lyng, Progressive Urban Management Associates (P.U.M.A.)   


Store opening_exteriorWhen Ignacio’s only grocery store closed in 2014, two local families, the Lees and McClanahans, sought support from the Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund (CO4F) to help bring fresh food back to their community. On October 3, 2015, Farmers Fresh Market celebrated its grand opening. The store employs more than 40 people.

“Being longtime area residents and business owners, we knew how important this new store would be to our town. The CO4F financing helped bring Farmers Fresh Market to life, and it’s gratifying to provide our shoppers with a variety of fresh food options” said Amos Lee, the store’s general manager.

Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) awarded a $408,000 loan on behalf of CO4F to support the store build. The CO4F loan was used to provide part of the construction financing, in partnership with Vectra Bank of Colorado’s Durango office, and to provide permanent financing. CO4F is a public-private partnership loan and grant fund. It was created in 2013 to finance grocery stores and other forms of healthy food retail in underserved communities throughout Colorado.

CO4F Financing Uses Can Include:

  • Business start-up and expansion costs
  • Opening a new store
  • Keeping a store open under new ownership
  • New or upgraded equipment and displays
  • Land assembly
  • Developing an innovative fresh food retail business concept

“Grocery retail is at the heart of a community. In addition to improving food access and economic conditions, a local grocer provides social advantages such as a sense of belonging among residents”, said Erica Heller with Progressive Urban Management Associates (P.U.M.A.), who provides outreach and technical assistance for CO4F borrowers.

If you are interested in learning more about CO4F, please contact Erin Lyng at CO4F@pumaworldhq.com, 720-519-0535; Tim Dolan at tdolan@chfainfo.com, 303.297.7318 or visit www.chfainfo.com/co4f.

Erin Lyng is an associate with P.U.M.A., providing market research, communications, and project assistance to P.U.M.A’s health community, economic development and downtown strategic planning initiatives.

Coworking and the Shared Workspace Model, a Colorado Trend

10 Nov

by Jasper Welch, Durango Space

Vibrant downtowns are a focal point of what makes a strong community in Colorado.  Why are downtowns special?   Why do we want to bring our friends downtown when they visit?   Simply because there is more happening, there is better shopping, more restaurants and now…more options to work downtown.

Beginning a decade ago, the fledgling coworking (shared workspace) model began to show up in major metropolitan areas in the US and Europe, with emerging coworking spaces in New York City, Austin, TX, San Francisco, CA and major European cities.   It did not take long for the coworking movement to arrive in Denver and Boulder and spread around the state. Between 2009 and 2011, coworking spaces such as Cohere (Fort Collins, CO), Creative Density (Capitol Hill neighborhood, Denver) and DurangoSpace (downtown Durango, CO) opened.

Coworking spaces are finding success in small towns now too. A recent example is one of Downtown Colorado, Inc.’s 2015 Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence winners, Proximity Space in downtown Montrose. Proximity Space is a joint venture between the City of Montrose and Abrams Company, and has increased business and vitality to the west end of downtown Montrose.

As the shared economy expands (Vacation Rental by Owner, Coworking, Shared Rides, etc.), it is impacting our downtowns in Colorado. In the case of coworking, a new use for office or workspace is filling vacancies and adding vibrancy and activities to downtowns and neighborhoods. Each of Colorado’s shared workspace pioneers intentionally located their coworking communities in a downtown location where walkability, public transportation and access to services (shopping, government offices, banking, restaurants, etc.) is readily available.

So what can districts and local leadership do to support and engage coworking spaces and their users?

  1. Ask your local SBDC or a local entrepreneur support organization to hold business hours for assisting downtown businesses at your local coworking space.
  2. Have your downtown organization staff join the local coworking space (most are membership based). They can work some days from the coworking space or hold meetings there.  Have a presence in the community by working out of the coffee shops, coworking spaces and “shared space” in the downtown.
  3. Host MeetUps in downtown shared spaces, including local coffee shops, hotel lobbies, coworking spaces and local meeting spaces. Coworking spaces are a popular meeting place for software and IT professionals.
  4. Co-locate your local economic development organization next to or “in” the coworking space, along with other downtown support organizations and/or City outreach coordinators.  In Durango, the local Economic Development Alliance is co-located with SW Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs (SCAPE) and DurangoSpace.
  5. Work with the local coffee shops, live theaters, and coworking space(s) on a downtown event engaging entrepreneurs, social causes, or downtown programs. Check out Ignite for inspiration.

Would you like to know more about coworking? Contact our DCI staff and they can put you in touch with active downtown coworking spaces in Colorado! Or better yet, find a coworking space in a downtown near you! Here’s a list: http://coworkingpassport.co/

Jasper Welch is a cofounder of Durango Space, a full service coworking facility located in downtown Durango. For 25 years, Jasper has operated his own management-consulting firm, Four Corners Management Systems. As an executive consultant, Mr. Welch has provided management advisory services to businesses, individuals, government agencies and non-profit organizations.

Districts Keep RiNo Wild!

4 Nov

By Jamie Licko and Alye Sharp, Centro Inc.

You’ve heard the story before.

It’s the all-too-common scenario in developing areas: artists come in to take advantage of the cheap, underutilized spaces, bringing with them the “hip” factor; then come the people and big investment. The cost of land and rent goes up, and the artists must move out to stake out new, more affordable territory, thus creating a vicious cycle aptly named “The SoHo Effect”, or cultural gentrification. In Denver, one district is using an interesting model to fight back against this trend – special taxing districts.

Once a gritty, industrial area nestled in between two interstates and two sets of railroad tracks just north of Downtown Denver, the River North (RiNo) Art District is now home to a bevy of artist studios and galleries, designers, architects, and other creative businesses, many of whom came to RiNo years ago for the cheap space and its abundance of empty warehouses and industrial buildings. But, RiNo is changing. Fast. As Denver has eked out of the recession and experienced an exponential inflow of people, developers have eyed RiNo as ripe territory for new housing and commercial growth, and hip businesses have flocked to the area for its gritty urban vibe.

Remarkably, both the pioneers of RiNo and the new influx of developers and investors are finding synergy focusing on one common goal for the area – to Keep RiNo Wild. Together, they are strategizing on how they can retain their artistic, industrial personality and keep RiNo affordable for the creative entrepreneurs who have helped turned this neighborhood into one of the hottest in the state. Their tools of choice? A Business Improvement District (BID) and a General Improvement District (GID), which will work in tandem with their existing 501(c)(6) RiNo Art District organization, as well as a new 501(c)(3) entity to obtain grants and other funding.

On the surface, raising taxes in an area to promote affordability seems like a backwards approach, but the creatives, small businesses and developers in RiNo have bigger ideas in mind. BIDs and GIDs are perhaps the most popular of Colorado’s special district funding tools; BIDs, are commonly used to help neighborhoods market, manage and maintain their neighborhoods, while GIDs are solely utilized for infrastructure projects and maintenance. However, RiNo is pioneering new approaches to using these tools in a number of ways. First, both districts are being created at the same time in overlapping areas, which will allow for resources to undertake a significant number of projects at once. Uniquely, those projects are less about clean, safe and friendly, and more about keeping RiNo creative, affordable and gritty: infrastructure projects will have the RiNo edge; advocacy efforts will be around retaining the RiNo character; and perhaps the biggest expenditure of the districts over the next few years will include investing in programs to preserve neighborhood affordability on a variety of fronts.

The incredible collaboration being forged between artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses, property owners and developers has catalyzed momentum and support for doing things differently in a neighborhood that is changing at lightning speed. The BID and GID are seen as critical tools to support the RiNo Art District in achieving its mission and vision while creating collaborative ways to fund critical needs for a neighborhood that is anything but the norm.

 What Can Districts Do to Support/Engage Artists?

  • Encourage and invest in affordable housing and work/studio space; not just big development, think subsidizing portions of developments, tiny houses, and owning property that districts can use to incubate creatives.
  • Training and business development for creatives to turn their particular art into a sustainable business venture.
  • Employ artists to transform the public realm. RiNo will utilize its local artists and fabricators to make unique wayfinding, benches, public art, etc. that is all designed and manufactured within the district.
  • Establish an arts space clearinghouse to refer artists and arts businesses to available spaces.
  • Establish programs like “Materials for the Arts” in NYC to encourage businesses to donate surplus materials and equipment to artists.
  • Develop grant and loan programs for arts space rehabilitation and other arts commerce ventures.
  • Work with local banks and credit unions to establish special financing for arts facilities, mortgages for artists, and small business loans for arts-related commerce.

Based in Denver, CO, Centro is a consulting firm focused on providing services to strengthen cities, communities and neighborhoods by empowering people and organizations with the capacity to create great, sustainable places.

Capturing a Downtown Vision with Quick Sketches

11 Aug

It has always been a challenge for designers and planners to develop effective visual tools for communicating their ideas to community leaders, stakeholders and especially citizens. It is also well known that 2-dimensional plan graphics are often too confusing for the layman to understand. The use of perspective renderings and 3-dimensional computer model views have become ideal options for communicating downtown improvement concepts, but they can be very time consuming to produce, especially during fast paced charrettes.

Jim Leggitt, FAIA has discovered an easy method for visualizing downtown improvements which he recently used at a DCI Downtown Assessment Charrette for the Town of Nederland. Given only one day to visualize downtown improvement ideas and utilizing just his iPhone, laptop, tracing paper and markers, he produced nine colored sketches that were integrated into the final summary presentation that evening. Here is Jim’s simple “overlay and trace” process that is quick, highly visual and embraced by the everyone. By pairing together the original digital photograph with his sketch, viewers clearly understand the “before and after” existing conditions and what it might look like with improvements.

Jim Leggitt 2

Leggitt’s 2-step visualization method started with a iPhone digital photograph he imported to his computer and enlarged on the laptop screen. He then taped a piece of tracing paper DIRECTLY onto the screen surface and started sketching in pencil different ideas for improving the existing scene. Using a felt tip pen, he created a freehand sketch, taped it to a white carrier sheet and added color with AD Chartpak markers. Each sketch took less than an hour to produce. The final sketches were then photographed with an iPhone and imported to the final presentation Powerpoint show.

The resulting slide show was fully embraced by the community as individuals could link the existing site context directly with the proposed improvements. The loose character of each quick sketch was clearly perceived as being “conceptual” with the purpose of generating excitement and feedback.

This specific method of capturing a vision of downtown improvements is just one of many different communication options that Jim uses in planning projects. In addition to sketching from digital photographs, Jim often traces over 3-D views from SketchUp massing models, scenes captured from Google Earth and Street View, and even images sourced from the Internet. All of his techniques can be found in over 200 articles he has published on his blog and in his good DRAWING SHORTCUTS, Developing Quick Drawing Skills Using Today’s Technology.

Ned Sketch 2   Ned Sketch-02 052015a

Ned Sketch 5   Ned Sketch-05 052015

Ned Sketch 9 Ned Sketch-09 052015a

Accomplished architect, urban planner and nationally recognized illustrator, Jim Leggitt has designed Campuses, Communities, Mixed-Use Developments, Cultural Facilities, Churches, and Transit Oriented Developments. An author and educator who is known worldwide, Jim brings to studioINSITE a unique ability to quickly visualize conceptual design using his method of merging traditional hand drawing techniques with 2D and 3D digital tools. Having practiced for over thirty-five years in Denver, Colorado, Jim is a Fellow with the American Institute of Architects and an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning. At studioINSITE he is the principal of innovation and design visualization.

Jim Leggitt will be hosting a “Visualization Station” during DCI’s Vibrant Colorado Downtowns Conference to demonstrate his visualization methods in action.

The Smart Math of Mixed-Use Development

11 Aug

Joe MinicozziAre cities across the country acting negligently in ignoring the property tax implications of different development types? Joseph Minicozzi thinks so, and he’s done the math to prove it.

Downtown Pays

Asheville, North Carolina — like many cities and towns around the country — is hurting financially.

It’s not that Asheville is some kind of deserted ghost town. Rather, it’s a picturesque mountain city with a population of about 83,000 that draws tourists from all over the world, especially during the leaf-peeping season. But it’s also a city that appeals to its residents, who revel in strolling about a true walkable downtown chock-full of restaurants and retail shops featuring locally grown and crafted products. Downtown is not only one of Asheville’s main draws; it also serves as a major driver in helping the city overcome its budgetary doldrums.

Most of us – city planners, elected officials, business owners, voters, and the like – understand that the city brings in more tax revenue when people shop and eat out more. However, we often overlook the scale of the property tax payoff for encouraging dense mixed-use development.

Many policy decisions seem to create incentives for businesses and property developers to expand just about anywhere, without regard for the types of buildings they are erecting. In this article, I argue that the best return on investment for the public coffers comes when smart and sustainable development occurs downtown.

We’ll use the city of Asheville as an example. Asheville realizes an astounding +800 percent greater return on downtown mixed-use development projects on a per acre basis compared to when ground is broken near the city limits for a large single-use development like a Super Walmart. A typical acre of mixed-use downtown Asheville yields $360,000 more in tax revenue to city government than an acre of strip malls or big box stores.

minicozzi-table Comparison of Asheville big box with downtown mixed-use development

If you were a mayor or city councillor facing a budget crisis, this comparison should serve as an eye-opener, both in terms of your policies and your development priorities. The comparison should also get you thinking about not just how you could encourage more downtown development, but also what kind of development could increase the value of buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods.

It’s not just officials in Asheville who should be asking these questions. In the growing number of diverse cities where we have studied this same equation (such as Billings, MT, Petaluma, CA, and Sarasota, FL) we’ve found that the same principle applies: downtown pays. It’s simple math.

The more valuable downtown properties become, the more revenue the city can generate to address its budget gaps, while also serving the best interests of its citizens. Unfortunately, our public officials may not always make their decisions with full knowledge of the trade-offs.

co-proptaxes-acre Average county property tax/acre ratio across sample set of 15 different cities from Montana to Florida.

Go to Jail…

Consider the story of how Public Interest Projects (PIP), a for-profit development company founded in 1990, first came to uncover this economic inequality.

A few years ago, PIP was looking to develop several parcels in a neglected section of downtown Asheville, just off the main core. At the time, it was filled with decaying auto shops, warehouses and semi-industrial space. In other words, it was ripe for mixed-use redevelopment. Unfortunately, while we saw visions of rehabbed living spaces intermixed with retail and office space, the leaders of Buncombe County had other ideas.

In close proximity to the parcels PIP was considering, the county owned a 1.7-acre parcel upon which leaders first announced plans to build a new jail, then, as an alternative, a 24 hour center for emergency vehicles. While few could argue that the community as a whole would benefit from the addition of such facilities, the county’s plan to plunk one of them right in the middle of an area so ripe for re-development didn’t make much sense to us. Although we weren’t on the same page as our county leaders, that didn’t stop us from trying to get them to see things our way.

Subsequently, we embarked on a comparative analysis of the impact of different development types and scales on the county’s tax rolls as a way to demonstrate the comparable benefits of mixed-use development versus the facilities they we considering. We tried to show them the money.

To do that, we set about analyzing various properties within our community to come up with an estimate of what kind of infill development would be feasible for the county’s site. What we found was striking. If the county continued with its plans for building the more objectionable uses, the loss of this property’s tax base plus the detrimental effect on the surrounding property’s development potential could actually result in a net loss of more than $1 million each year in property tax revenue for local government. That information got the County’s attention and good sense prevailed.

Upon realizing that this equation had broader implication, we began applying the same analysis to other key Asheville landmarks. Our next test case involved a comparison of a high-visibility shopping mall located just outside of downtown with a historic downtown building, dubbed the Old Penney’s building, which we had restored into a six-story mixed-use structure. Once we ran the numbers, just as before, the results were dramatic. Whereas the mall, considered one of the county’s biggest revenue generators, yielded $8,000 an acre in annual County property tax, the downtown building’s yield was $250,000 per acre in County property tax.

It’s easy to see how you might now be scratching your head. How can you compare a mall with a building? Is that really comparing apples to apples? The point is that we have been perpetuating an error when it comes to how we think about real estate. Our mistake has been looking at the overall value of a development project rather than its per unit productivity. Especially relevant in these times of limited public means, every city should be thinking long and hard about encouraging, and not accidentally discouraging, the property tax bonus that comes with mixed-use urbanism. Put simply, density gets far more bang for its buck.

For comparison, let’s consider an everyday example of measuring economic value. When we buy our cars, do we make our buying decisions based on the vehicle’s miles-per-tank rating? If we did, we’d all be driving Ford F-150 Lariats that get, on average, 648 miles per tank versus a Prius, which boasts a modest 571 miles per tank. However when we look at the traditional metric for comparison — how many miles-per-gallon each vehicle gets — the value statement changes. The Lariat achieves a mere 13 miles- per-gallon while the Prius cruises along at 51 MPG. And, since you spend less to fill up the Prius, at today’s gas prices it covers 15,000 miles/year at $3,000 less the annual cost ($4,038/$1,029 respectively). We rank the value of our cars this way because we all know the price of a gallon of fuel. Why wouldn’t we do the same with our land? Shouldn’t we value the consumption of our land the way we value a gallon of gas? After all, an acre of land is far more expensive than a gallon of gas.


The flaw of our current property tax system is that when it comes to assessing how much a property owner owes, we place very little value on the land beneath a building as compared to the building itself. Compounding that issue is the fact that if you construct a building without innovative architecture or sustainable materials, you actually benefit by lower tax value. The combination of these two factors creates a disincentive for good architecture. The result is that the community loses, both in terms of the property tax it collects and the long-term legacy of cheap single-use buildings. In basic terms, we’ve created tax breaks to construct disposable buildings, and there’s nothing smart about that kind of growth.

What can we do about it? Moses did not come down from the mountaintop to deliver our current property tax policy on stone tablets. It’s just another rule we impose upon ourselves. And if we recognize that this policy is harming us in some way, it makes sense to change it. We simply cannot afford how the current system creates incentives for suburban sprawl – which is unsustainable both environmentally and — as I hope I have shown — financially. Communities across the United States are going broke, and we can rightly look to our municipal finance systems and our failure to fully appreciate the payoff for density as a big part of the cause. Let’s all do the math so we can make some positive changes in the system because, in the end, downtown pays.

This article originally appeared on Planetizen and was reprinted with permission from the author.

Joe Minicozzi is the principal of Urban3, a consulting company created by Asheville real estate developer, Public Interest Projects. Urban3’s work in pioneering geo-spatial representation of economic productivity has prompted a paradigm shift in understanding the economic potency of urbanism and the value of well designed cities. Their studies of cities in the United States and Canada have affected the reevaluation of public policy and a broader understanding of market dynamics created by tax policy.

Joe Minicozzi will be presenting his session, The Dollars and Sense of Land Use Patterns, at this year’s Vibrant Colorado Downtowns Conference, October 6-9, in Durango.