(contributed by Greg Burt)
Longmont Investing For Tomorrow (LIFT) is touting the success of its first major event held last month to encourage Longmont city leaders to form a public/private partnership to redevelop Longmont’s Twin Peaks Mall. Over two-hundred people attended the Economic Summit initiated and largely financed by LIFT in partnership with the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce.
The summit, held at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Longmont, brought together a panel of redevelopment experts and senior Longmont city staff. The discussion, and the question and answer period at the end, centered on the city’s declining tax revenues and the need for the city council to join forces with the mall’s owner, Panattoni Development Company, to prevent further deterioration of the retail outlet.
LIFT is frustrated with city council for dragging feet
LIFT Board Chairman Rick Samson and board member Forrest Flemming proposed the Economic Summit to the Longmont Chamber last year because of LIFT’s frustration with the city council members’ apparent lack of urgency regarding a once successful retail hub. “Members of the current city council are dragging their feet on redeveloping the mall,” said Samson. “Longmont’s mall has been a great source of sales tax revenue for the city in years past. The city’s general fund has lost $1.5 million in sales tax revenue from the mall in the past two years. Forward thinking communities all around Longmont are forming public/private partnerships to develop or redevelop their malls. Our mall desperately needs help as does our general fund, but four members of our city council are stalling or outright opposing the process.”
The chairman of the Longmont Chamber public policy committee, Alex Sammoury had similar sentiments. “There is a lot of potential for the redevelopment of the mall,” Sammoury said. “But the process through the city has been long and painful, not only for the developer Panattoni, but to the city staff and the community in general.” There has been talk about a partnership from the city council, he said, but so far nothing has happened.
City council uses tactics to stall redevelopment
Panattoni Development Company’s Senior Vice President Will Damrath also attended the summit. Late last summer talks between Damrath and the city council broke off after the two sides failed to agree on a public financing plan to help with the mall’s redevelopment. Since then, according to Samson, the city council has employed various tactics to stall the redevelopment. First, the council hired its own consultant, Citi Venture Associates, in October and conducted a two-day workshop to gather community input and to conceptualize what a complete mall redevelopment could look like. Although Damrath was a participant, he did not believe the mixed-use concept that emerged from the workshop was financially viable anytime in the near future.
Then recently the council decided to expand the urban renewal district planned for the mall site to include 175 additional acres surrounding the mall property, which delayed a possible partnership agreement even further.
Developer has plans to build a new movie theater soon
During the question and answer period at the Economic Summit, Damrath announced his plans to bring the first stages of a mall redevelopment project to the city within the next few months. In an interview afterward, Damrath explained in the short term, he has decided public financing is not necessary to build a pared-down, first-phase of the project, which includes a redesigned movie theater. “For the long term, future build-out to materialize, it is likely that city participation and council action will be required,” Damrath said. “However, the roll-out of the first phase may not need anything but expedited approvals and fee waivers.”
According to Longmont’s Director of Community Development Phil DelVecchio, getting the city to approve a mall redevelopment plan without a request for public financing could take as little as one to two months. But that all depends on whether city staff determine the changes to the mall sight plan as major or minor. While minor changes only require staff approval, a major change would need the approval of the Longmont Planning and Zoning Commission, which could extend the approval period for up to four months. The city council only needs to get involved if Damrath requests city financing for the project, DelVecchio explained.
LIFT concerned about micro-managing
According to Samson, LIFT’s concern is that there may be attempts by some members of council to micro-manage the project, take the authority away from the city staff, and thereby prolong the entire development process.
DelVecchio, also a panel speaker at the Economic Summit, publically assured the event audience of the city’s commitment to the mall’s redevelopment. “The city stands ready and willing to work with the developer towards redeveloping the mall,” he said.
Samson was encouraged by this statement, even if it seems to contradict the voting record and public statements of four Longmont city council members: Karen Benker, Sarah Levinson, Brian Hansen, and Sean McCoy. “Whether or not that is the position of the city council, I don’t know. But their public person (DelVecchio) said it was.”
Samson hopes summit spurs city council to action
Samson not only hopes the summit spurs the city council to treat the mall redevelopment with increased urgency, but he hopes the summit impacts the city council elections this November. “We now have fleshed out some issues for some of the council candidates,” Samson said, expressing his hope that candidates use the facts presented at the summit to expose the council members responsible for stalling the mall’s redevelopment.
LIFT initiated the summit and paid for two of the panel of speakers Marilee Utter with Citi Venture, and Arne Ray with Ray Real Estate Services. The summit also had other financial supporters including the Longmont Daily Times-Call, Panattoni Development Company, Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, and Workforce Boulder County. The Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the summit and provided staff time to take care of the conference details.