by Rick Langenberg:
The owner of Woodland Park’s signature lodging facility has cleared a key funding hurdle that could set the stage for a new 80-unit hotel next to the County Lodge and a substantial expansion of the current property.Still, even with this pact, future lodging remains a real question mark in the town’s economic pursuits.
Last week, the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority gave Mark Rabaut of Purple Mountain Hospitality a hefty $1.55 million tax incentive to move his lodging projects forward. These plans call for a new hotel development and a major property improvement in Woodland Park. With this arrangement, Rabaut, the main owner of the current Country Lodge, would be able to receive a 75 percent rebate on his property taxes for the initial seven to eight years of his future lodging endeavors, with a 50 percent tax return for the subsequent nine to 12 years. The total project costs are expected to cost between $7 million and $9.5 million
Rabaut’s plans include a possible 60 to 80-unit hotel, east of the current Country Lodge, that would become part of the Americinn chain, based in the Midwest. At the same time, the current Country Lodge would experience an upgrade with possibly 40 more units, a new 160,000-square-foot banquet facility and pub expansion. It would then become part of the more upscale Ascend brand of properties
The DDA board reacted favorably towards Rabaut’s hotel project plans and quickly granted the thumbs-up for his TIF (tax increment financing) agreement. This is the main incentive tool that the DDA uses to attract development projects inside the DDA district in downtown Woodland Park.
The only board concerns were voiced by former councilman Jon DeVaux, who stressed the importance of allocating a TIF agreement that didn’t exceed 18 to 20 percent of the projected cost “I don’t want to finance a project that is not feasible,” said DeVaux. He said previous DDA boards had their hands tied by previous ‘pie in the sky’ agreements.
But DDA and Woodland Park economic development director Brian Fleer indicated that Rabaut’s proposed project is a real deal. He said one of the new objectives of the DDA is to do more face-to-face dialogues with the developers. “We are sensitive to the give-away notion,” said Fleer. (We want to consider) what the developer needs to get across the finish line.”Just prior to the vote, Rabaut stressed the amount of extra revenue the project could bring to the city. “It is a tremendous amount of money,” said Rabaut, when referring to the city’s lodging levy and associated fees, amounting to a 12.6 percent tax for every room assessed. “It is a great revenue source for the city,” added the Country Lodge owner.
In a later interview, Rabaut classified the TIF agreement as a big boost for his hotel funding efforts. But even in the project gets developed in a timely manner, he doesn’t see Woodland Park becoming a lodging mecca overnight.
According to Rabaut, the main obstacle for lodging property owners hinges on the area’s seasonal conditions. “We are pretty empty during the winter,” admitted Rabaut, who cited the winter time as a tough challenge for lodging properties, and one of the main reasons the town doesn’t have more hotels and motels.
In a previous council meeting, a lively discussion occurred over whether the DDA was doing enough to promote local lodging efforts. Councilman Noel Sawyer argued that the DDA could work towards Woodland becoming more of a destination area, similar to Montrose and Ouray, if it promoted lodging instead of big box stores. But city officials cited market conditions as the main driving force for lodging and other local development projects.
At last week’s DDA meeting, Rabaut and other local developers made a slight push for an enclosed and improved ice skating rink at Meadow Wood Park. They believe that additional winter amenities could spruce up business. According to Rabaut, the Country Lodge had many cancellations last winter due to problems with the ice skating area, which he described as a big winter draw.
In other development action, the DDA approved an agreement for the main Lot 2 area of Woodland Station that will encompass a 4,000-square-foot mixed-use development, consisting of apartment units, additional retail, offices and possibly a restaurant. The agreement mainly stipulates the responsibilities of the DDA, the city and the developers and establishes the required infrastructure for the project. Other future plans for Woodland Station include a possible aquatic center, a events and entertainment hub and a bowling facility.
According to board chairman Dale Schnitker, the Lot 2 agreement mainly outlines who pays the costs for the project and when. Fleer described 2014 as the year of design, with major construction expected for next year.
However, Councilman Gary Brovetto, a key organizer of the Main Street project, argued that this timetable isn’t moving quickly enough. He proposed trying to accelerate plans for a major water feature or any signature exhibit or public gathering place to attract more visitors to Woodland Station. He questioned if this should be done prior to the construction of a building. “That is what sells the whole area,” said Brovetto, who noted that possibly the city could try to facilitate this development with grants. But Fleer cautioned that all developments in the DDA district are dictated by the market place. “It’s a process,” added developer Kip Unruh.
The board also last week discussed ways to open the door for bolder signage for the new Woodland Hardware location. Several business owners admitted that customers can’t find the new impressive store expansion, the pioneer venture in Woodland Station.