Every DURA redevelopment project undertaken with the help of public investment, from the very large like Stapleton and Lowry to the small like Lowenstein Theater, has a positive impact on the community. Besides the elimination of blight, which is DURA’s mission and primary reason for investing public funds in a redevelopment effort, redevelopment brings a variety of benefits to the Denver community and especially to the neighborhoods in which a project is undertaken. Since not all projects are the same, nor do they have the same blighting influences, the measure of success will vary from project area to project area. But redevelopment must serve a public purpose to warrant the investment of public funds.
Following are some of the benefits, both tangible and intangible, that result from urban renewal:
Elimination of blight. The state law authorizing urban renewal authorities was passed to address a very specific problem—blighted areas. The elimination of blight is considered a public purpose under state law, justifying the expenditure of public funds. Elimination of blight is the key public benefit of urban renewal.
Creation of new sources of tax revenue. Redevelopment puts non-producing or under-producing properties back on the tax rolls. Initially, the incremental taxes created by the redevelopment area are used to help fill the gap between private financing and the total cost of a redevelopment project, including infrastructure, affordable housing and other amenities for the public good. No existing taxes are used during the redevelopment, but once the incremental taxes generated have paid for the gap in financing, typically over a period of not more than 25 years, the local taxing entities have new, permanent sources of revenue that wouldn’t have existed if the project hadn’t been undertaken.
Creation of jobs. Redevelopment creates new jobs, both temporary jobs during the construction phase and permanent jobs once a project is complete. These jobs range from entry level service jobs to higher paying management jobs. On 16th Street in downtown Denver, two surface parking lots were redeveloped into 350,000 square feet of retail at the Denver Pavilions, creating hundreds of long-term retail and restaurant jobs.
Creation of public infrastructure, schools and parks. TIF revenues must be used for a public purpose, frequently infrastructure improvements associated with the redevelopment. These include construction and/or reconstruction of streets, water and sewer systems; and removal of hazardous materials or conditions. TIF revenues might also be used to build schools, parks and other community facilities.
Creation of housing. Redevelopment projects help increase and improve the city’s housing stock. Many DURA projects have created both market-rate and affordable housing, and some, such as Welton Park Apartments and the West Nevada Place townhomes, contain 100 percent affordable units.
Improved quality of life. Although difficult to measure, there are many intangible benefits of redevelopment that can positively impact quality of life for those living and working nearby. Redevelopment projects can allow residents to live near where they work, spending less time commuting to jobs and shopping. Increased activity in the area can help reduce the crime rate, making an area safer than it was before redevelopment. And redevelopment can improve the beauty of an area, making it more desirable and helping boost property values.
Reduction of pollution/environmental contamination. In older, industrial areas, serious environmental contamination makes redevelopment cost-prohibitive for developers. Often it is easier for a developer to buy clean land than to pay for cleanup of a contaminated site. With DURA’s assistance, these brownfield sites can be cleaned up and returned to productive use.
Dahlia Square is one such DURA redevelopment project that started as a contaminated site and transformed into an active community area, now centered around a 12,000 square foot family medical clinic, an affordable senior housing complex and the Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being of the Mental Health Center of Denver. For the Northeast Park Hill community, this revitalized area reduced crime rates and allowed local residents to seek community services close to where they live.
Redevelopment also can lead to reduced air pollution if the project includes a pedestrian orientation and is designed around existing transit stations. Because residents can live, shop and socialize in their immediate neighborhoods, or take public transportation to other parts of the city, dependence on the automobile is reduced. Transit-oriented development/redevelopment also reduces traffic congestion.
Installation of art. DURA requires that some form of artwork be included in all redevelopment projects receiving TIF. The ballerina statues in front of the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, formerly the Adams Mark Hotel, were created as part of the redevelopment of the May D&F Department Store at 16th Street and Tremont Place. Since this policy was implemented in the early 1990s, more than $6 million has been spent for project artwork on view throughout Denver.
Prevention of urban sprawl. Redevelopment provides an alternative to urban sprawl by allowing infill development and adaptive reuse of inner city sites that have ceased to function in the use for which they were intended. Many DURA projects are within walking distance of mass transit, have street-level uses that generate pedestrian activity, are high density and provide a range of prices for units sold or leased. These are all characteristics of the “smart growth” movement embraced by many cities to help prevent urban sprawl.
Provision of retail in underserved areas. While many people take for granted the ability to buy groceries, get a haircut or get clothes dry-cleaned near their home, residents of older, less affluent neighborhoods often don’t have these amenities nearby. One objective of DURA redevelopment projects has been to revitalize retail in underserved areas of the city. At the southwest corner of Broadway and West Alameda Avenue, DURA redevelopment project Broadway Marketplace is a 420,000 square foot retail center now home to Albertson’s, Sam’s Club, Office Max, Pep Boys, K Mart and several restaurants. In the 1960s and 70s, this thriving retail site was an asset to the surrounding neighborhoods, but became neglected and largely vacant in the 1980s. After redevelopment, today the site is once again providing needed retail opportunities for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Historic preservation. Preserving Denver’s historic buildings has been a long-standing goal of the city, and DURA’s redevelopment efforts have contributed to achieving that goal. The willingness of visionary developers to reuse older buildings, combined with the financial incentives that make such redevelopment feasible, have helped the city preserve its heritage for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. Since 1992, DURA has invested in redevelopment of more than 10 historic structures— from the Lowenstein Theater to the Colorado National Bank Building – structures that might have been torn down without the infusion of public funds.
If a redevelopment project can be accomplished without public investment, DURA does not get involved. But a public/private partnership often is required to accomplish redevelopment of deteriorating urban properties because they are more difficult and expensive than new development on raw land. TIF is used when an area or property cannot attract sufficient private capital for redevelopment and when the redevelopment meets a public objective.
Before getting involved in a project, DURA determines that without its participation, the redevelopment wouldn’t occur. Only if a project passes this test are public funds from tax increment financing able to be considered for use, leveraging a much greater private investment. These public funds must be used for a public purpose, such as historic preservation, the provision of affordable housing, or the improvement of streets, utilities, landscaping and parking.