City of Durango’s first urban renewal authority lets residents guide community redevelopment, offers incentives to developers

Challenge

Durango is changing and change often brings new challenges. This historic city of 18,588 residents nestled in the mountains of southwest Colorado is an outdoor recreation hotspot. People come year-round for the skiing, fly-fishing, hiking, bird watching, mountain biking and whitewater rafting, along with the food and culture scene.

But community leaders recognized a need to take steps to retain the things that make Durango a quality to place to live, work and play. Was there enough affordable housing available? Were good-paying jobs plentiful enough? Could Durango’s unique character be preserved while the community weighed opportunities for development and redevelopment? It was time for this community to act to preserve Durango’s past while guiding future economic opportunities.

Solution

In May 2020 SEH helped the City of Durango form its first urban renewal authority (URA), called the Durango Renewal Partnership. A URA is a local organization that towns and cities in Colorado must form before starting an urban renewal project. Legally referred to as a “statutory body,” a URA’s singular purpose is to prevent and eliminate blight in the community.

By identifying areas of Durango that have certain conditions that could arrest sound development, the Durango Renewal Partnership created a framework to:
Strengthen the City of Durango’s economic base by attracting capital investment and helping to expand and retain existing businesses

  • Eliminate and prevent conditions of blight
  • Create a stable tax base
  • Guide the development of desirable mixed-use projects
  • Increase the supply of attainable housing for the community
  • Develop and expand public amenities
  • Prevent physical and economic deterioration

For the City of Durango to form the Durango Renewal Partnership URA, Colorado law requires that a certain minimum number of blighting factors be identified within a defined area. Conditions that constitute blight can exist in the public and private spheres, or for natural reasons. Natural conditions could include steep topography, for example. Conditions that exist in the public domain include such things as dangerous street networks or poor pedestrian infrastructure. Private property – such signage, building facades and parking lots – can also constitute a blighting factor.

Colorado Urban Renewal Law lists 11 possible blighting factors that can be identified when forming a URA or renewal project. Four or more blighting factors must be present to qualify an area within a community for urban renewal projects and activities. These factors are cataloged in a conditions survey.

City-wide Conditions Survey
The City commissioned SEH to perform this objective analysis. SEH presented its findings in a report called the City-wide Conditions Survey, which provided City officials and the public with a summary of blighting factors that exist throughout the City of Durango. The conditions survey found more than four blighting factors, which allowed the City to continue pursuing the process of forming a URA.

It should also be noted that the conditions survey report is not intended to declare any particular property as blighted. Rather, it evaluates an entire area. The conditions survey acts as a guide to direct redevelopment efforts to areas of the community that have the greatest need for these improvements.

Looking ahead
In the future, conditions surveys of more-specific areas will be required to designate what are known as “urban renewal plan areas.” SEH is now in the process of helping the Durango Renewal Partnership form its first renewal area, to be called the MidTown Urban Renewal Area.

Related Content: How Colorado Communities Can Benefit from an Urban Renewal Authority

Project
Durango Renewal Partnership

Location
Durango, Colorado

Client
City of Durango

Features

  • Field survey and legal description
  • Evaluation of real estate market
  • Public outreach campaign
  • Petition coordination for signatures of 25 registered electors
  • Public hearing held before City Council
  • Drafting and adoption of conditions survey
  • Design Durango-specific TIF model
  • Services
  • Tax Increment Finance Modelling
  • Community Engagement
  • Comprehensive Planning
  • Surveying
  • Economic Development

Awards

  • 2020 Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence – Best of Partnership | Downtown Colorado, Inc.