RIDGWAY – The Town of Ridgway is poised to pop a $2.7 million question to the electorate in November, asking residents to pass a ballot measure to raise funds to help implement the town’s long-simmering Historic Business District Streetscape Plan.
The matter was discussed at a Ridgway Town Council work session last week, with ballot language set to be finalized at the next regular council meeting on Aug. 14.
Ridgway’s Historic Business District Streetscape Plan dates back to 2006 and preliminary engineered construction drawings were completed for the project in 2008, with an estimated implementation cost of about $3.5 million.
The basic idea behind Streetscape is to draw motorists off the main drag of Highway 62 and into a vibrant and inviting downtown. The plan calls for infrastructure improvements that would include paving a few central blocks of commercial downtown Ridgway, building new parking lots and realigning Railroad Street.
The plan also envisions extensive tree planting, new lights and signs, and wide curbs and sidewalks with benches and bike racks, encouraging a pedestrian, bicycle-friendly downtown.
The proposal fell victim to the economic downturn five years ago, and was put on hold. Now, with the economy showing signs of picking up once more, and with fresh energy percolating thanks to the synergistic Creative District and Main Street Initiative projects, a committee has focused for the past year on gauging the community’s willingness to recommit to the Streetscape Plan.
This committee, headed by residents Paula James and Jill Markey, recently conducted a survey of Ridgway business and property owners and shared its results with the Ridgway Town Council in late June.
The upshot? “We think the community supports the Streetscape project – with caveats,” said Ridgway Town Manager Jen Coates. Those caveats included a desire among many community members to reduce the project’s scope and cost.
However, in the last handful of months, two outside funding opportunities from the Colorado Department of Transportation and Department of Local Affairs have surfaced to facilitate the project, which, if leveraged properly, could enable implementation of the Streetscape improvements, with the passage of a proposed ballot question and an additional annual allocation of up to $55,000 for the next 20 years from town sales tax revenues.
These two proposed scenarios were laid out in detail at a Ridgway Town Council work session on Wednesday, July 17.
OPTION A: CDOT RAMP GRANT
Option A is connected to CDOT’s plan to improve Sherman Street/Highway 62 that bisects the town to a center turn lane (“suicide” lane) and bicycle lanes.
The Highway 62 widening project,on CDOT’s priority list for several years, is currently prioritized for 2016, with survey work already underway. While the proposed project has met with some degree of resistance from the town in the past, Coates said, “We support it, if it’s done right.” This includes making the highway more of a part of Ridgway’s commercial core, as opposed to just funneling traffic through town, and ultimately integrating the widening project with Ridgway’s broader Streetscape vision.
“We want whole streets with street-scaping, and not just a functional way to move traffic through town,” Coates explained. “We want a project that creates a space that is creative and innovative, safe, functional, context appropriate and sensitive to the culture of our town.”
Recently, CDOT announced it has a one‐time funding opportunity through a competitive $10.5 million RAMP (Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships) grant to collaborate with Ridgway on its Streetscape plan, as it conducts its Highway 62 center turn lane project. The town applied for the grant on July 1 and will find out Sept. 20 if it was successful.
If the RAMP grant is awarded, the execution of the plan would hinge on Ridgway’s ability to raise $2 million in matching funds through a property tax hike that would be proposed in a ballot question in November. If the bond measure passes, then the town would enter into an intergovernmental agreement with CDOT giving Ridgway a seat at the table in discussions regarding the highway-widening effort.
The deal has pros and cons. In the “pro” column: CDOT would commit to spending $10.5 million to integrate the Highway 62 and Streetscape projects (with $7.5 million dedicated to the former and $5 million to the latter); the town, meanwhile, would have more of a say in how the widening of Highway 62 takes place.
In the “con” column, ultimate authority over the Streetscape project would be ceded to CDOT, and the project would not get underway until at least 2015 and possibly 2016. If the town doesn’t get the RAMP grant, or if the grant comes through but the town fails to pass the bond measure to pay for its share of the project, CDOT will not finance the Streetscape components of the street widening project. It is also possible that the Highway 62 project could be delayed as a lesser priority, under the statewide re‐prioritization that is currently underway.
OPTION B: DOLA MAIN STREET PROGRAM GRANT
Option B, meanwhile, proposes pursuing a $500,000 grant from the Department of Local Affairs, associated with DOLA’s Colorado Main Street Program, to help pay for Streetscape improvements. The grant is due Aug. 1. If funds are awarded in November, this plan could be executed, starting in the fall of 2014, independently of CDOT’s planned future improvements to Highway 62. The town would have to raise $2.7 million through a ballot initiative this November to pursue this alternative. The project would include some reduction and changes to the scope of the Streetscape Plan.
Ridgway was named in 2012 by DOLA as a “candidate community” (along with Montrose, Fruita, Rifle, Victor, Westcliffe, and Silver Cliff) in the state’s Main Street Program. DOLA manages the Main Street Program, which is funded by a grant from the
State Historical Fund. It is not the same thing as the town’s Streetscape Plan, though the two share overlapping goals to revitalize the downtown core.
Ridgway is the only town in the program that has been awarded both Main Street and Creative District designations, involving technical and financial help from both DOLA and Colorado Creative Industries.
The timing of the two proposals has been a bit tricky. The ballot language deadline for the November election comes on Sept. 6, before the town will find out whether it gets either the RAMP or the DOLA grant. Thus, town officials have discussed hedging their bets and crafting the bond question to ask for the greater of money amount – $2.7 million – spelled out in Option B. However, if the RAMP grant comes through on Sept. 20, and the ballot measure then passes, the town would pledge to dial back on the amount of money it ultimately collects to dovetail with Option A.
“We are pushing it a little bit with both options,” Coates admitted. “We will have a ballot question, without money in the bank.”
Nevertheless, Coates said she feels moderately optimistic about the town’s prospects for receiving either the RAMP or the DOLA grant. “I think we have positioned ourselves really well to access these funds,” she said. “It just depends how competitive we are with everyone else.”
By the time DOLA holds its hearings in November to determine grant awards, the town will know the status of the RAMP grant, as well as whether or not it had a successful ballot question. “It could leverage our chances,” she said.
In the event that the RAMP grant is awarded, Ridgway would most likely be out of the running for the DOLA grant. If the town doesn’t get funded by either agency, it can always re-apply with DOLA again in its next grant cycle.
At its next regular meeting on Aug. 14, council will consider ballot language for the $2.7 million bond question.
“Now is the time,” Coates said. “The outreach has happened and now we are talking options and opportunities.”
A CRAP SHOOT
Ridgway Mayor John Clark, meanwhile, emerged from last Wednesday’s meeting with a sense that the community is somewhat divided on the issue of whether to fund the Streetscape project through a ballot initiative.
“A lot depends on the what happens with the economy, and on people having to trust their local government,” he admitted. “It’s hard for the vast majority of people to use ‘trust’ and ‘government’ in the same sentence, but the local government in Ridgway is different – there is not much space between the residents and taxpayers and the local government here. People in Ridgway are involved in their local government and active and vocal in what they want.”
The two options are completely dependent upon what happens in different grant scenarios, which is problematic, Clark admitted. “It’s a big up-in-the-air thing; a crapshoot.”
Still, Clark found words of high praise for the Town staff – primarily Coates and Town Public Works Director/Engineer Joanne Fagan – for bringing the discussion this far. “I can’t praise them enough for their work in finding creative solutions to the problem, and finding alternative financing to make it work,” he said.
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