CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors and staff are working to finalize the organization’s strategic plan, with big goals of becoming more financially self-sufficient through tax increment financing, working with the other three economic development agencies to solve problems like the downtown “hole” and still providing the same level of services to downtown businesses.
Since Amber Ash took over as DDA director at the start of 2020, she’s consistently voiced the need for the DDA to be able to support itself financially, especially if they want to tackle bigger projects or future development.
The DDA is mainly funded through a mill levy for downtown property owners and direct distribution from the city, but the DDA has seen cuts in city funding in recent years and expects more to come as a result of a drop in direct distribution to the city from the state.
“Over the long term, we’re going to have to develop some sort of funding source, because the mill levy is only estimated to generate $356,000 this year, which is not enough to sustain our operations,” Ash said during a work session Wednesday. “And frankly, if we don’t have funding coming in, we’re just going to wind up drawing down all of our reserves for general day-to-day operations within three to four years.”
The main revenue stream discussed during the work session was a tax increment finance district in the downtown. These are used by cities across the country to improve infrastructure and boost economic development. Looking at the TIF potential, the DDA is also considering expanding its boundaries to include more businesses.
“For every additional block, we add additional revenue, but there’s also additional responsibility and additional work,” Ash said.
Under the TIF structure, a city sets aside a portion of property taxes in a given area, sometimes called a “TIF district” or “urban renewal area,” and uses those funds to subsidize street, sewer and parking lot development – as well as dozens of other projects.
Once an area has been designated a TIF district, property values are assessed to create a baseline. That value is set for a period of time, and any increase in property tax revenue over time is sent to a separate account for projects in the district.
Ash said she’s currently in communication with the city about the potential for a TIF, but with the DDA needing revenue, she added, “If we can’t get the TIF in place, this is something that we need to pull back up on the drawing board and reevaluate.”
Councilman Pete Laybourn agreed that the TIF would be an important tool, saying, “We have a lot of things we’re working on, and getting this one in and getting it moving is really important.”
A bit further down the line, the DDA hopes to work toward a solution to the Hynds/”hole” on Lincoln-way with the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, Cheyenne LEADS and Visit Cheyenne. Since that property is a lot to bite off for one developer, Ash offered the possibility of building out Conex structures at the “hole” for a number of small businesses, just like The Exchange in Fort Collins, Colorado. Ash said it could provide space for startup incubators or farmer’s market stands looking for a more permanent spot, and said it could be considered as a possible sixth-penny sales tax project.
Cheyenne LEADS CEO Betsey Hale agreed that the “hole” needs to be taken care of and that it’s a priority for her board. But she also noted that it will take a united effort and political will to make something happen in the long run.
“The challenge really is the developers – private, nonprofit developers – whatever kind of developer you bring into town is going to look for predictability, and predictability only comes when you know what the thieves of the night are. And the thieves of the night are historically exactly what we’re talking about here – because brownfield development is so, so unpredictable and much more expensive than greenfield development,” Hale said. (Brownfields have hazardous substances like asbestos that make abatement expensive.)
Still, for the DDA, one of the main focuses now is securing those revenue streams so they can carry on usual DDA activities, including the holiday 5K, golf tournament, Halloween festivities and shopping events like Small Business Saturday.