Guest column: Why Basalt should approve River Park bonds | AspenTimes.com

Guest column: Why Basalt should approve River Park bonds

Rob Pew
Guest Column

Imagine if six years ago the town of Basalt had come to me and the board of the Manaus Fund and said, "If you give us $150,000, then a wonderful riverfront park would be built, the flood plain work to accommodate the Rocky Mountain Institute building would be completed, residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park would be resettled and many of them would have the opportunity for home ownership."

We would have done that in a heartbeat. That is the kind of return on investment Manaus is always looking for.

It took longer than we expected, but that is what can happen if voters approve the Pan and Fork bond questions in November, which I hope they do.

Six years ago, the town of Basalt came to us (the Manaus Fund and the Community Development Corp.) to partner in purchasing the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park to build a river park and redevelop portions of the property.

The Community Development Corp. and the Manaus Fund had just completed the successful redevelopment of the Third Street Center by partnering with Carbondale.

The Community Development Corp. has a specific Internal Revenue Service designation that allows a not-for-profit organization to help communities like Basalt and Carbondale. Over the years, the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. has been funded by the Manaus Fund, both of which are independent nonprofits with their own boards of directors.

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The original idea six years ago was to develop portions of the property along Two Rivers Road with a nonprofit center, a river park and compatible commercial and residential uses. The sizeable development would have created funding for affordable-housing units that could have assisted the displaced.

The plan then was to keep the trailer park intact until a development plan was approved, using fees to finance the debt that the Community Development Corp. took on in order to purchase the Pan and Fork. Once a redevelopment plan and financing was in place, the residents would have had the opportunity to relocate to the affordable housing developed as part of the project.

Things changed. New management came to town, as did a new set of elected officials. The idea of a large public park with a small footprint came to be favored as a result of community input and planning sessions.

The town also needed to move the Pan and Fork residents before a development plan was in place in order to shore up the flood plane and river frontage so the Rocky Mountain Institute Innovation Center could be built.

The resettlement of residents of the trailer park ended up being messier than anyone wanted. Many officials in the town had no idea of the squalor, overcrowding and danger of flooding that these residents faced.

In the end, the town was able to find housing for most of the residents through the diligence of town employees. Additionally, through relationships the Manaus Fund had with individual philanthropists, an angel was found who made $1 million available to give the chance of home ownership to a group of the residents who would have otherwise had no hope of ownership.

A broader look at all land available for development, including the Clark's Market property and parking and land owned by the town, made it apparent that the goal of more housing in Basalt could happen along with a larger park.

Through this whole process, the Community Development Corp. and the Manaus Fund remained dedicated to giving the town what it wanted. However, we were caught short because we lost the income from the trailer park to fund expenses involved with holding the property. Fortunately, the Manaus Fund and a handful of private philanthropists assumed the loan and we were able to retain the property.

Expenses such as tap fees, legal and architectural costs revolving around fluctuating visions of the property, plus interest on the more than $2 million in loans that were needed to acquire the park, have increased the total amount needed to more than $3 million.

The $2.9 million offered by the town will cost the Manaus Fund $150,000 of its initial $675,000 investment.

In November, the residents of Basalt have the opportunity to approve a vision that includes a wonderful riverfront park that will be a draw for not only local residents but for people up and down the valley. This park truly has the potential of being the finest riverfront park in the state of Colorado.

Voting for the purchase of the property and additional money to develop the park is not a vote against development. In fact, if development occurs on the other available property in town and the park project goes forward, Basalt will have the best of both worlds.

I strongly encourage the residents of Basalt to vote for both propositions and complete the vision developed by the town, the Manaus Fund and local residents who deserve nothing less.

Rob Pew is president of the Manuas Fund Board of Directors, a resident of Woody Creek and a big fan of Basalt.

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