DURA plans to collect tax dollars from Emily Griffith campus, but doesn’t know what for yet

Denver Public Schools has sold the property to a Colorado hotel developer, but no actual proposal has been submitted.

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The old Emily Griffith Opportunity School downtown. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  emily griffith; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;

The old Emily Griffith Opportunity School downtown. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The major hotel operator that’s agreed to redevelop the historic Emily Griffith campus hasn’t decided yet what will go on the downtown Denver site. But the Denver Urban Renewal Authority is already planning to create an urban renewal area for the campus so it can collect tax dollars for a yet-to-be determined project there.

“What we’re really doing now is preserving the opportunity to provide assistance. We don’t have a project in mind,” said Tracy Huggins, executive director of DURA.

DURA is trying to set up an urban renewal area from 13th Street to Colfax Avenue, between Welton Street and Glenarm Place. Doing so would allow the organization to collect tax dollars from properties within the boundaries to be used for redevelopment in the area. The funding mechanism is known as TIF or tax increment financing. Basically, it works like this:

  1. DURA officially declares a blighted area an urban renewal area (aka URA).
  2. The organization sets a base for how much the URA is worth by looking at how much property tax the area is generating.
  3. The set base amount of tax dollars continues going to schools, city budgets and other agencies funded by property tax dollars. But DURA gets to collect any increase in tax dollars from higher property values in the area for up to 25 years.

DURA is trying to declare the Emily Griffith campus an urban renewal area before the recent $26.1 million sale of the property drives up the value of the property. If the base values are lower when the renewal area is created, more of the increase goes toward redevelopment efforts instead of schools and local government.

Denver Public Schools Board of Education approved the sale of the 2.5-acre property to Stonebridge Companies last summer. Ahead of the purchase agreement, Denver City Council granted historic designation to the Emily Griffith campus. The oldest parts of the campus will be preserved, and there are some restrictions on redevelopment.

“We really believe with the limitations that are in place right now with the historic designation of the property, that whatever ultimately is decided to occur on the site will likely need our assistance,” Huggins said.

The Denver Post reports that Stonebridge is being pushed to build what would be the city’s second large convention hotel on the Emily Griffith site in conjunction with the expansion of the Colorado Convention Center. It would make sense since Stonebridge Companies is a Colorado-based hotel owner, operator and developer.

But Stonebridge, itself, has been mum on its plans and did not return inquires from Denverite on whether it would request help from DURA or what it plans to do with the campus.

“Certainly, the purchaser of the property is Stonebridge Companies, and they are hotel developers,” Huggins said. “That being said, they have not submitted to us for a project yet. They are really looking at the site with a number of stakeholders to really decide what is the best alternative for the site.”

There will be a public hearing before City Council on the proposal, most likely in August. If City Council approves the creation of the Emily Griffith Opportunity School Urban Redevelopment Area, DURA won’t likely start collecting money until 2018. Huggins hopes by then Stonebridge will have a better idea of what’s planned on the site.

DURA would have to get council’s OK before kicking in money toward any project.

“We’re telling council if we don’t go back by the end of 2020 to add a project, then the tax increment area should go away,” Huggins said. “We can’t just be sitting here waiting for something to happen.”

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at agarcia@denverite.com or twitter.com/adriandgarcia.

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