The Longmont Years: 2009-2011 Breaking the Bloc

In this installment, we pick up in early 2009 after apparent local political burnout – or so I thought.  The previous two years were hectic, to say the least.  Output increased in quantity and quality, both in the written and spoken word.  By the end of ’08 I had gone back to one of my first loves: aviation.  But staying away from local politics was apparently not in the cards. Continue reading

Rewriting Mall history

Seems in this current election cycle some people are trying to rewrite history when it comes to the Twin Peaks Mall.  Let us never forget who’s squarely to blame for the current situation and who has blood on their hands.  So lets look back over the last 3+ years to get a feel for what occurred and how it was written about as it occurred.   Continue reading

Failed councilmember crawls out from under hole

Ya know, I was just going to let the creative rewriting of history last week in the Times-Call Open Forum go.  But now this nonsense has spread to the Denver Post and the Longmont Ledger.  In some kind of feeble attempt to rehabilitate a destroyed public image (and for good reason), former Longmont City Councilmember Karen Benker has found time to comment on two of her monumental failures – and the main reasons why she was trounced in last Novembers election by Katie Witt.  Speaking of which, she still hasn’t conceded or congratulated the victor of that race.  An opponent she laughed at and her clueless compadre Sean McCoy called a “city council wannabe“.  Better than a “city council hasbeen” I guess. Continue reading

Smells like team spirit?

It’s ironic to see how some of the more toxic of the self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ in town are finding their sources of entertainment these days.

Case in point: Longmont’s Twin Peaks Mall, which used to be the source of 22% of Longmont’s tax base and now due to the economic downturn, is hovering around 6%. Seems these self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ in Longmont can’t wait to see if it goes down on the newest council members watch so they can barf up a headline “The Baum Squad blew up the Mall!” Continue reading

2009: What a year!

2009 was quite an eventful year for the City of Longmont, regardless of where you stand on the issues.  Obviously, it was better for some than others.  Personally, it was pretty busy but overall pretty satisfying, too.

So lets go through it, month by month: Continue reading

Benker’s irresponsible “dying mall” comment

If you do a search on this blog with “Benker” as the search term, you can see all the twists and turns and flip-flops Councilmember Karen Benker has made in regards to the Twin Peaks Mall (especially the “Mall-itics” series). Like other things, I don’t just write this stuff around election time, but it is useful to go back and see what occurred and be reminded of such when you are considering how to vote and who to support.

At the July 28, 2009 Longmont City Council meeting at around the 1:20 mark, Karen Benker said, “we know it’s a dying mall“. What a thoughtless, irresponsible and potentially damaging remark.

I guess Ms. Benker has forgotten about the speakers in front of council, business owners at the mall, nearly in tears. If memory serves, one was literally in tears about the future of the mall, and pleading that council not stall on moving forward with the redevelopment. It wasn’t long after that that Ms. Benker, the swing vote when it came to the mall, swung her stance against the mall. I’m sure her “dying mall” comment went over well with these struggling business owners.

Back in May (’09) I asked “about a year ago you were more positive on the mall situation, something changed and as your support went south, the project stalled. Without using the excuse of the economy (your support fell prior to that), why did your support wane? Was it a shifting interest and prioritization towards Downtown? What has Panattoni done wrong, or differently, to warrant this negative treatment?” I didn’t expect an answer, and didn’t receive one. So I’ll fill in the blanks:

She was wise in the past to be pro-mall for political reasons, something or someone told her to return to her anti-business/developer roots and she shifted her attention to Downtown at the expense of the mall. Then the bad news about FasTracks not exactly living up to its potential. Then the Thistle debacle hapenned, and the general tide and opinion that Downtown (rightfully) needed to take a backseat to our (formerly?) biggest sales tax generator, Twin Peaks Mall.

That, and the upcoming election, how convenient.

Like I said and need to reiterate, Ms. Benker was the swing vote when it came to the mall and its future. It’s good news that Panattoni has found a tenant for the former JC Penneys space and is working with Regal Entertainment for a new theater. But this not because of Ms. Benker and her fellow travelers on council, it is despite them.

There is still much to be done at the mall, and wafflers like Ms. Benker would serve the city better by getting out of the way. And watching what they say.

LIFT frustrated with city council over city mall

(contributed by Greg Burt)

Longmont Investing For Tomorrow (LIFT) is touting the success of its first major event held last month to encourage Longmont city leaders to form a public/private partnership to redevelop Longmont’s Twin Peaks Mall. Over two-hundred people attended the Economic Summit initiated and largely financed by LIFT in partnership with the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce.

The summit, held at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Longmont, brought together a panel of redevelopment experts and senior Longmont city staff. The discussion, and the question and answer period at the end, centered on the city’s declining tax revenues and the need for the city council to join forces with the mall’s owner, Panattoni Development Company, to prevent further deterioration of the retail outlet.

LIFT is frustrated with city council for dragging feet
LIFT Board Chairman Rick Samson and board member Forrest Flemming proposed the Economic Summit to the Longmont Chamber last year because of LIFT’s frustration with the city council members’ apparent lack of urgency regarding a once successful retail hub. “Members of the current city council are dragging their feet on redeveloping the mall,” said Samson. “Longmont’s mall has been a great source of sales tax revenue for the city in years past. The city’s general fund has lost $1.5 million in sales tax revenue from the mall in the past two years. Forward thinking communities all around Longmont are forming public/private partnerships to develop or redevelop their malls. Our mall desperately needs help as does our general fund, but four members of our city council are stalling or outright opposing the process.”

The chairman of the Longmont Chamber public policy committee, Alex Sammoury had similar sentiments. “There is a lot of potential for the redevelopment of the mall,” Sammoury said. “But the process through the city has been long and painful, not only for the developer Panattoni, but to the city staff and the community in general.” There has been talk about a partnership from the city council, he said, but so far nothing has happened.

City council uses tactics to stall redevelopment
Panattoni Development Company’s Senior Vice President Will Damrath also attended the summit. Late last summer talks between Damrath and the city council broke off after the two sides failed to agree on a public financing plan to help with the mall’s redevelopment. Since then, according to Samson, the city council has employed various tactics to stall the redevelopment. First, the council hired its own consultant, Citi Venture Associates, in October and conducted a two-day workshop to gather community input and to conceptualize what a complete mall redevelopment could look like. Although Damrath was a participant, he did not believe the mixed-use concept that emerged from the workshop was financially viable anytime in the near future.

Then recently the council decided to expand the urban renewal district planned for the mall site to include 175 additional acres surrounding the mall property, which delayed a possible partnership agreement even further.

Developer has plans to build a new movie theater soon
During the question and answer period at the Economic Summit, Damrath announced his plans to bring the first stages of a mall redevelopment project to the city within the next few months. In an interview afterward, Damrath explained in the short term, he has decided public financing is not necessary to build a pared-down, first-phase of the project, which includes a redesigned movie theater. “For the long term, future build-out to materialize, it is likely that city participation and council action will be required,” Damrath said. “However, the roll-out of the first phase may not need anything but expedited approvals and fee waivers.”

According to Longmont’s Director of Community Development Phil DelVecchio, getting the city to approve a mall redevelopment plan without a request for public financing could take as little as one to two months. But that all depends on whether city staff determine the changes to the mall sight plan as major or minor. While minor changes only require staff approval, a major change would need the approval of the Longmont Planning and Zoning Commission, which could extend the approval period for up to four months. The city council only needs to get involved if Damrath requests city financing for the project, DelVecchio explained.

LIFT concerned about micro-managing
According to Samson, LIFT’s concern is that there may be attempts by some members of council to micro-manage the project, take the authority away from the city staff, and thereby prolong the entire development process.

DelVecchio, also a panel speaker at the Economic Summit, publically assured the event audience of the city’s commitment to the mall’s redevelopment. “The city stands ready and willing to work with the developer towards redeveloping the mall,” he said.

Samson was encouraged by this statement, even if it seems to contradict the voting record and public statements of four Longmont city council members: Karen Benker, Sarah Levinson, Brian Hansen, and Sean McCoy. “Whether or not that is the position of the city council, I don’t know. But their public person (DelVecchio) said it was.”

Samson hopes summit spurs city council to action
Samson not only hopes the summit spurs the city council to treat the mall redevelopment with increased urgency, but he hopes the summit impacts the city council elections this November. “We now have fleshed out some issues for some of the council candidates,” Samson said, expressing his hope that candidates use the facts presented at the summit to expose the council members responsible for stalling the mall’s redevelopment.

LIFT initiated the summit and paid for two of the panel of speakers Marilee Utter with Citi Venture, and Arne Ray with Ray Real Estate Services. The summit also had other financial supporters including the Longmont Daily Times-Call, Panattoni Development Company, Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, and Workforce Boulder County. The Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the summit and provided staff time to take care of the conference details.

Twin Peaks Mall: Tax subsidies may be for naught

Should Longmont’s taxpayers help bail out the ailing Twin Peaks Mall and, if so, then why not extend that favor to every business in town? This gnawing question of fairness weighs heavily on the minds of many locals, as city officials continue to negotiate a “partnership” deal with the mall owner.

Let’s face it: Shopping malls across America are losing their oomph, no matter their location, status or upgrading. The sagging economy and inflated gasoline prices played a part, but the word “anachronism” might better fit the declining shopping-mall era. Fickle shoppers, famous for flitting from mall to mall, are fleeing to the stand-alone big boxes and, ominously, to the matchless variety and convenience of the Internet where, of course, they don’t even have to pay sales taxes.

On April 16 the nation’s second largest mall owner, General Growth Properties Inc. of Chicago, filed for bankruptcy. Of the 200 malls GGP owns, four are in Colorado: Park Meadows in Lone Tree (south Denver), Foothills in Fort Collins, Southwest Plaza in Littleton, and Chapel Hills in north Colorado Springs. All of these four are considered upper tier. Chapel Hills, one of the newer malls in Colorado Springs, lured shoppers from the Citadel Mall in east Colorado Springs, which earlier had plundered the Sears-anchored Southgate Mall on that city’s south side. City officials naturally don’t care who wins the dizzying mall game, just so the tax revenues keep flowing.

Having lived in Colorado all my life and being casually observant of shopping malls around the state, very few of the once-flourishing malls are left. Although not the oldest, Denver’s Cherry Creek is probably still the classiest. Louisville tried valiantly to get into the mall game in 1980 but developer Jacobs-Kahan of Chicago had no luck signing an anchor store and finally gave up.

Retail outlet stores were popular for a while. Clusters sprouted up at places like Frisco and Castle Rock. Probably the most successful was at Loveland — until the Centerra strip mall opened nearby.

Even Urban Renewal with its eminent domain power and tax increment financing “partnering” with local taxpayers could not save Englewood’s charming Cinderella City Mall, which opened in 1968 to compete with the nearby Villa Italia Mall, built in 1965. Despite the investment of millions of TIF tax dollars to renovate it mid-term, Cinderella City, an elaborate, covered complex, was demolished in 1999.

Villa Italia, despite a $120 million infusion of cash by the City of Lakewood in converting it to a “sustainable” mixed-use housing/stores complex, and after changing the mall’s name to Belmar, it still lost anchor stores Dillard’s and J.C. Penney and has never recovered. Shoppers complained that the “village feeling” of the mixed-use concept was confusing and made the mall hard to navigate.

Boulder’s Crossroads Mall, funded almost entirely with huge amounts of Urban Renewal TIF money–those who know will not reveal the total indebtedness–ran into trouble when the Westminster Mall just down the road (both opened in the early 1960s) began expanding. But of course, the Westminster Mall had diverted shoppers from the once-prosperous Northglenn Mall, helping shut it down. Then, with Broomfield’s bold, new Flatiron Mall arriving on the scene in 1999, the City of Westminster spent $7.5 million helping its mall owner renovate, but to little avail. Flatiron had lured shoppers away from both the Westminster Mall and the Crossroads Mall (refurbished in 1983; closed in 2004 and renamed Twenty Ninth Street) and neither has recovered. All the Crossroads stores except Foley’s were demolished.

The onus is now on Flatiron and its age and vulnerability are showing. The new Event Center nearby is struggling. Looking ahead, no doubt, Broomfield officials, in reconfiguring the city’s boundary into a county, made sure to secure, yes, a viable mall site at the junction of Colo. 7 and I-25, pretty far afield. But upscale anchor stores are scarcer than ever, and discount retailers, disdaining the stiff mall rent, find they can operate just as well on the periphery – in Longmont, that’s just west across the street.

Mixed-use or not, the Longmont City Council has no business diverting tax revenue through TIF into this privately owned mall project — “on the come” or for any other concocted reason, such as “infrastructure.” Obviously, if TIF availability is a deal killer, then that should raise some red flags.

“Blight” is a term that, unfortunately, reflects negatively on both the property-owner, for letting his holdings deteriorate and doing nothing about it, and the City Council and manager for allowing it to continue. A further example of the city’s inaction is the truly blighted, burn-scarred flour mill, in my opinion an eyesore that could drive potential businesses away.

The city should get down to business: shut off the sales pitch, fire the high-priced consultants, tell the Twin Peaks mall owner to present his financial capability, submit his plan for review, and whenever he is ready, let’s see the renovating start–without leaning on the taxpayers.