Board says no to chain representatives
by Bob Volpe
After months of intense discussion by the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board of directors on whether or not to approve an unusually generous tax incentives agreement to draw
a major health food chain store to the downtown, the group voted 6-3 on Tuesday to deny the contentious deal.
This particular agreement, referred as a tax increment financing (TIF) package, usually offers companies or developers property tax rebates for a certain period, if they locate inside a defined area of Woodland Park, or expand their operations. The one, demanded by representatives of the Natural Grocers store, though, would have provided a lot more financial perks than what usually is offered by the DDA. It emerged as one of the more controversial packages considered by the DDA in months.
During Tuesday’s Natural Grocers D-day showdown, board members Noel Sawyer, John DeVaux, and Al Born voted to approve the lucrative tax rebate deal. The rest of the board, though, rejected the package.
Leadership Circle LLC, the representatives for Natural Grocers were seeking a tax reimbursement agreement of 80 percent on real property tax (land and improvements) and 100 percent reimbursement on increased property tax over 13 years.
Over the course of several months, the DDA board met more than four times to discuss the deal, in both regular meetings and executive sessions. The only counter offer considered by the board was a zero tax
reimbursement to the chain store.
DDA board member Tanner Coy commented on the back and forth deliberation by the board, “A counter offer had been discussed. There was a lot of deliberation; tell them no, tell them yes but only a little, we’ll give them everything we can. Tell them this, tell them that. We kicked around all sorts of ideas. And in the end, for a number of reasons, it was decided, not unanimously, but the majority, concurred, that it is most likely they will come anyway. The amount of money they are asking for is so small, compared to the scope of the project, that if we were to counter offer with anything less, it becomes a joke.” Coy asserted that all of the information provided by Natural Grocers, on market research, and demographics in Woodland Park, suggested the chain store really didn’t need a tax reimbursement to be successful.
After the vote to deny the TIF, DDA board chairperson Merry Jo Larsen spoke to Natural Grocers representatives. She said, “I want you to know that that was not anything against Natural Grocers. It is the chairman’s point of view that it is the financial situation that we are in more than anything else. However Natural Grocers decides to move forward, you have our blessing. I hope it all works out for you.”
In an unusual turn of events, as the Leadership Circle team was leaving the room, Donnie Beson, who is lobbying to become a consultant to the DDA board, called the team back into the room and asked a rather contentious question to the team. He said, “Aside from the vote we just got, if you were to rate your experience deciding to do business here in Woodland Park, on a scale of 1-10; what number would
you give us?”
Leadership Circle’s team leader Matt Miles responded, “Well, it started out really good because we came to town, because we were presented with a TIF option that would offset the expense, and we find ourselves a year later, being told that is not the case. So, it’s very poor. Very poor. I mean we’ve spent $100,000 on a dead duck that we would have never put a piece of property under contract had the TIF offer not existed. I thought that this was some kind of horse trading. We came in and asked for 100 percent, you guys come back with 50 percent and we would meet somewhere in the middle.”
Tanner Coy responded, “For the most part the DDA does support the project. Not necessarily through TIF reimbursement.” He pointed out that several board members expressed support and that if there is
anything the DDA can do aside from a TIF agreement, than please, speak with us about it. He said, “I think that you’ll find this is not only the support of the DDA but that the community will support Natural Grocers when it’s here, and we hope that Natural Grocers will support
the community through payment of property tax.”
Board member, John DeVaux added, “If we don’t get you, we’re going to get Amazon delivering up here. What ever that is going to bring us, we’d rather have you up here.” DeVaux was referring to Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods.