Plaza Project in Phase I, applications revised, goals presented

The Thursday meeting of the Urban Renewal Board held some important components and one live confrontation on the dormant property ordinance. Bob Offutt of Ordway bought TO’s Tavern property at tax auction. He appeared to answer questions and give his opinions to the board. The board questioned him about his plans for the property, since the city has been trying to acquire it for the improvement project on Santa Fe in the block from the highway to second street.

Offutt said the building has been buttoned up to the point that it may not be entered. He also said he had intended to rehabilitate the building but his business prospects had backed out when they saw the condition of the building. Asked by Ed Vela about his opinion of the dormant property ordinance, which requires payment increasing in amount for years no effort is made to improve the property, he was against it and felt that it decreased the tax delinquency sales.

Mayor Jeffri Pruyn said: “Pardon me, I am Jeffri Pruyn. I was recently elected mayor and I would like to explain the reason for the dormant property ordinance. We do not want people to sit on property until it crumbles. We want a vital downtown area that will attract investors, not discourage them.” She went on to tell him that we really want people who intend to improve property and put it to use. She said she believes he is one of those people, and that Urban Renewal is willing to help him. On this, Chair Nancy Bennett concurred.

Offutt said he understands their position now and can see how a city would not want its downtown to deteriorate. Pruyn said she was sorry that the ordinance puts some people in a hard position, but is glad it requires them to make decisions about their property.

At the beginning of the meeting, Board Member Rebecca Goodwin had reported on the status of the Plaza Building Project, which is the city’s own derelict building rehabilitation project. The grant money for the first phase of rehabilitation, stabilization, has now been received by the Southeast Colorado Creative Partnership and the buttoning up process will begin on the First Street building that has been the subject of so much local controversy. She also explained how the tax credits from that project are probably a couple of years off.

Joe Ayala presented a revised version of the loan/grant application, requiring thorough reports from everyone along the lines of reports presented by Taler Stokes for the Sign Shop Building, including back-up information such as contracts and correspondence. Also, if the applicant sells the building within one year of completions, the URB recovers 100% on money advance - within two years, 60%, and within three years, 33%. The report and changes were accepted by vote.

The Wilsons appeared on their own behalf, asking to purchase a lot owned by the city in the old Antelope Trail area, 18th and Adams. They offered the appraised price from the county assessor, $3,686, since the lot is in the county but not in the city. It is in an area that needs cleaning up. George Larsen moved that the offer be accepted, and the group so voted.

Urban Renewal/Economic Development Director Cynthia Nieb presented a list of goals for Urban Renewal which were suggested by Board Member Ed Stafford. They are as follows: 1. Organize a Citizen Corps for volunteer construction, cleanup, and beautification. 2. More signage on 1st Street (Front Street - Hwy 50). 3. More Murals on 1st street depicting things unique to La Junta, especially Bent’s Old Fort. 4. Create a transportation hub for buses, trains, and transport to local attractions. 5. Alter the already-constructed gateway to Santa Fe Plaza to become a modified welcome center. 6. Repair sidewalk on southeast side of 5th and Colorado. 7. Promote Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site more. 8. Ride the trail into La Junta from south or east and observe backs of buildings. 9. Restore Old West idea to buildings getting facelifts. Nieb and Stafford believe in volunteer effort, correcting proglems, creating attractive facades and approaches, and promoting the town.

She urged complete transparency and an active plan to become a full member of Downtown Colorado. Larsen, referring to the problem of pricing real estate, suggested the group needs a member who is an active real estate person, familiar with commercial as well as residential prices and commercial development. Board member Susie Sarlo agreed that persons with certain needed skill sets be recruited.

Pruyn reported on the Saving Places conference and reaffirmed her commitment to developing the downtown area, including upstairs living quarters above businesses and advancing the affiliation with Downtown Colorado. She also affirms a Downtown Travel Hub, and more recreation activities, such as a splash park on Santa Fe Plaza. “The ball is rolling,” she said. “There’s foundation work that has to be done.”