Seeking Resurgence, Loveland Downtown Wants A DDA

Feb 3, 2015

Voters in downtown Loveland will soon be casting a ballot in a special election on whether to create a downtown development authority. Proponents believe an authority to fund development will help the downtown thrive.

Trends show more and more people want a downtown experience, so it may be the perfect time.

"The downtown is a viable return to charm to the mom and pop who are dreamers, the American way, there's a charm about it," said Clay Caldwell, who chose to open his restaurant Mo' Betta Gumbo in downtown Loveland rather than a lifestyle retail center like Centerra on the outskirts of town.

That wasn't always the case though. Over the years, the business trend was to move to enclosed shopping malls or sprawling campus-like complexes like Centerra. At the time cultural trends dictated the abandonment of downtowns, to head to the "hot places" said Erica Heller a senior associate with Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates.

"Those were the places that we were expanding," Heller said, referring to the malls and outdoor centers. "That's what consumers were interested in. I don't think they were necessarily intentionally turning their backs on downtown, but that was the focus."

Now the pendulum is swinging back. A drop in driving and a desire to live in more urban areas has people gravitating back to the unique qualities of a downtown.

The smell of gumbo on the streets of Loveland are a regular occurrence outside Mo' Betta Gumbo restaurant.
Credit Nathan Heffel

For Loveland, Heller said that includes restaurants, bars and a greater emphasis on the arts community.

"We've already seen in Loveland some new housing built that is fantastic, we've seen several new arts facilities that are happening or are in progress, the city has been instrumental with the Rialto Theatre," said Heller. "So they've really bolstered what has been their traditional differentiator which is their arts downtown."

The city already has a nonprofit entity that works on downtown revitalization projects. In late 2014, it received $5 million in funding unanimously approved by the city council over the next 10 years.

What's being asked of those downtown is should a specific downtown development authority be created to provide additional funding through tax increment financing or taxes based on the increased property values of the downtown as its redeveloped. It's formally known as Question 1 for the special election. Mills in the downtown area could also rise if the DDA is approved, but that would require another special election.

Describing herself as an activist, Leah Johnson is a supporter of Question 1 and said investing will make the entire community of Loveland viable and appealing to both developers and employers, not just downtown.

"I'm willing to invest in the things that improve my community, make it a place to raise my child, a better place to live, a better place to work, so yes, I absolutely believe in investing in my community," said Johnson.

Not everyone is happy with the proposal. Larimer County officials are concerned that the DDA would take away tax money that goes to fund other countywide services.

Mo' Betta Gumbo owner Clay Caldwell said establishing a DDA would also improve infrastructure that, in many areas of downtown is well over 100-years-old.

"Is it perfection? No. But I think it's the best model out there," said Caldwell. "It would have been nice if we had 20 years ago had started the work but we did not for whatever those reasons were."