URA effort to clean up blight revitalized by grant

By Ruthanne Johnson
MONTE VISTA— At 117 Adams Street in downtown Monte Vista, there have been many different businesses over the years. The location once held a variety store and a flower shop. And most recently, a women’s boutique that sold trendy clothing, bath items and decorative knickknacks. There was even a tanning bed in the back for folks wanting to keep that sunkist glow throughout the cold winter months.  
But the Adams Street address has been without a tenant for over a year, and the months of sitting empty have not been kind to the old building wedged between Sunflour Bank and Kay’s Accounting Service. There’s rotting wood and moldy walls from the rain that’s been leaking unchecked through a hole in the roof. And the old carpet is musty and bubbling in places.
The building is just one of several properties being considered for renovation---or demolition---by Monte Vista’s Urban Renewal Authority, which met on Tuesday, Sept. 4 to discuss blight properties and its plan moving forward with the program. In all, there are more than 50 potential blight properties within city limits that the URA is looking into purchasing. Other properties discussed during the meeting were 509 Franklin, 219 Monroe and 524 Jefferson streets.
The URA was originally conceived to help revitalize downtown Monte Vista. Early successes include the vsitor’s center and benches and street lights along Highway 160 and Adams Street. But lack of funding hampered revitalization efforts for several years.
A renewal of interest in the project is in part due to the securing of more than $600,000 from Colorado’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) by Monte Vista’s city manager Forrest Neuerburg and URA consultant Mark Garcia. The only catch is the money must be used for affordable housing. “The grant money can only be used to demolish or rehab these properties and not building new houses,” said Neuerburg. To build, the city would partner with local housing contractors or acquire a line of credit and build on its own.
Another catch---to the benefit of the city and local community---is that only 66 percent of the blight properties need to be slated for affordable housing. “Every third property is unrestricted,” Neuerburg said. That’s where properties like 117 Adams Street come in, because any profits that roll into the URA from CDBG rebuilds will go into the URA pot, which can ultimately be used to help businesses opening in commercial properties.
Rio Grande Savings & Loan recently donated the Adams Street property to the URA, which unanimously approved the donation during its September meeting. But since those CDBG profits are likely well down the road, the URA may consider some kind of assistance for a business opening in the space. The URA will be accepting requests for proposals from businesses, whether it’s a restaurant, professional building or retail store.
The neglected building needs TLC, perhaps to the tune of some $100, 000, said URA commission member Andrew Roepke, who owns Altitude Carpentry and Construction in Monte Vista. “I’ve been in that property,” he said, “and it’s probably going to need new floors, ceiling, roof and maybe even electrical.”
Ron Douglas with Local Business Assist disagrees. Hired back in March to help with Monte Vista’s economic development, Douglas said that although the building needs work, recent renovations by previous business owners may equate to less work than what Roepke suggests. “For example, the boutique wouldn’t have been able to operate a tanning bed if there were electrical issues.”
Douglas said the owner of Zanmai Sushi in Lander, Wyo. is looking at the space for a sushi restaurant if things works out as planned.  
If the renovation costs prove too great for a new business to move in, there’s also the possibility of gutting the building and creating a pocket park for city events such as the farmer’s market and concerts. “Or things like when we do the parade of lights, having a little fire pit and hot cocoa,” Roepke said. “That could be cool.”  
As far as the three blight properties additionally discussed during the recent URA meeting, the URA recently offered the owner of 219 Monroe (just across the street from Safeway) $10,000 for the property and dilapidated house. Asbestos was discovered during inspection and the bid for hazardous material removal came in at $10,000. “That property is too small to cost that much, so we’ll be looking into other options,” Neuerburg said. The URA is moving forward with the purchase, which would be the net difference between the sale price and cost of asbestos abatement.
URA is also negotiating with the owner of 534 Jefferson St., who wants more than the $10,000 offered. The 509 Franklin property is also up for consideration. But because the owners passed away, the URA will be negotiating with Rio Grande County on the inspection and purchase. Turns out the county owns the property due to liens from past due property taxes and utility bills, which the city would recoup upon purchase.
The next steps for the properties include hazardous materials testing, environmental clearance, historical value assessments and clearance and noise abatement and control, which basically means assessing and submitting plans to address the potential for traffic increase to the areas. 


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