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Economic Development Showdown in Estes Park

Lot 4 could be sold and bring economic development to Estes Park
Lot 4 could be sold and bring economic development to Estes Park
Michelle Hurni

The town of Estes Park is reaching a turning point. The well-established vacation town is asking its residents to vote on two important issues on April 1. They boil down to this:

  • Should the Town of Estes Park sell a piece of commercial property (Lot 4) behind Safeway village for development?
  • Should Lot 4 be preserved as either open space or with a conservation easement?

These are two completely different issues, and a resident could vote yes to both, or no to both. These items could mark a turning point in the town, following closely in the footsteps of the country which appears to be turning its back on economic development.

The Town of Estes Park has a buyer for the commercial property in question. For the purchase price of around $1.35 million, the Anschutz Wellness Center would be built on the 6.88 acres.

A few facts about this sale:

  • The Anschutz Wellness Center would be built on 2/3 of Lot 4 (including parking). 30% of the lot must be kept natural and it would be the far east (residential) end, across from Finley Heights and bordering Black Canyon road.
  • As the building plan stands, it would not block the historic view of the Stanley Hotel from either Highway 34 or 36.
  • The building would, however, block the view of the unsightly back of Safeway from the deck of the Stanley Hotel.
  • Studies show building the Wellness Center would create a $1.5 million construction project in Estes Park.
  • The numbers for revenue to the town come from estimations (as all new businesses put together), but they are on the low side, taking in just 30% occupancy when the town average is well above that figure.
  • Through the sale of the lot, over $1 million in revenue would go to the town to help restore the infrastructure damaged and destroyed by the September 2013 flood.
  • An estimated 55 year around jobs would be created.
  • There would be an increase in sales tax revenue to the town.
  • The Estes Park Board of Trustees voted unanimously to put the lot 4 issue on the ballot.
  • Estes Park Medical Center is behind the Wellness Center development and would rent space in the center.

If Lot 4 is preserved, as a group of citizens would like (most of whom own property bordering or in the neighborhood of Lot 4), these things would happen:

  • The Town of Estes Park could lose over $200,000 in annual taxes.
  • The Town of Estes Park could further lose $67,000 in “pillow taxes” (a tax on hotel rooms in Estes Park). Per year.
  • The Town could lose $1.5 million in revenue expected to be spent during the building process of the Anschutz Wellness Center.
  • The Town would have to maintain the property, and pay taxes on it, instead of receiving an influx of cash from the sale of the lot.
  • All told, the estimation is $20 million would be lost to Estes Park over a 10 year period.
  • If the land is put into a conservation easement, the land would never (ever) be able to be developed, no matter what is best for future generations. On the flip side, if the land is developed, it can never go back to the state it is currently in.

A few questions to ask:

  • What is best for the Town of Estes Park? Revenue from a known source which would bring jobs to the struggling economy after the devastating flood of September 2013 or leaving a piece of prime real estate in the town vacant?
  • Creating jobs or creating open space on a piece of commercial real estate?
  • Allowing a private company to come into Estes Park and generate more tax revenue, or maintaining a vacant lot? Or letting the government entity of the Town of Estes Park continue with the expenses for the lot.
  • With an aging population in Estes Park, is it better to promote wellness, or keep 6.88 acres for open space when we are already surrounded by over 1,000,0000 acres (that’s 1 million)?
  • Should the residents give in to a few “not in my backyard” people who are playing hardball politics to “save” the lot, or standing up for the responsible development of lot 4 and bringing a strong business to Estes Park?

These two issues go on the ballot in April, to be voted on by residents. There are letters in every edition of the two local papers (Estes Park News and Estes Park Trail Gazette), with quite a bit of incorrect information.

Christopher Reveley, M.D. (who has not practiced in Estes Park), wrote in a Feb. 7, 2014 letter to the editor: “responsible organizations and individuals do not invest millions of dollars on blind assumptions” (disputing the figures available for the investment of Anschutz Wellness Center), and “in the case of the proposed wellness center at the Stanley Hotel, the people of Estes Park are the investors. We are being asked to hand over precious, town owned vacant land…” He leaves the impression the taxpayers are somehow paying for this, when in fact, the town would receive $1.35 million for the sale of the property.

The group wants questions answered about every single statement the developers have put forth. The only questions is whether the lot should be sold, not to get the government (town) involved in approving a business plan. These “friends” seem to think they have a right to question whether that business will thrive or struggle even after the sale is final. The Friends of Lot 4 group claims the main business in Estes Park is tourism, and yet, they want to restrict a business which can bring more tourists to Estes Park, saying Lot 4 will be for the tourists to use instead (even though it would bring zero revenue to the town).

If the Friends of Lot 4 were truly concerned about the “open views across meadows” that allow wildlife viewing, there are far more areas in town where the elk roam and those vistas are superior to the backyard of Safeway.

Know your facts and think about what is best for the entire community, not just a few people. The April 1 election will be by poll, not mail in ballot, so make sure to mark your calendar and make the effort to get out and vote.

If you like this article, please click “subscribe” at the top of the page, and stay tuned for more developments on this issue.

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