Shelle de Beque: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
“I’m a salesman. I’m selling a story,” Rich Schierburg, the Denver-based developer of the Village at Crystal River, confessed to Carbondale residents at last week’s public forum. He is selling a story all right, but it’s not based in reality.
As any good salesman knows, one must first create a need. In this case, we’re being told that without more sales tax revenue, Carbondale will go broke. In reality, Carbondale has a healthy reserve of $4.5 million, sales tax revenue for the past three months is up, and Carbondale has thrived in the eight years since the last mall defeat in 2003.
We’re also being told that an alarming 76 percent of Carbondale’s dollars are being spent out of town. In this story of leaking sales dollars, the Village at Crystal River is coming to the rescue – capturing escaping sales dollars and bringing them to Carbondale. The 76 percent figure needs to be examined as carefully as a used-car purchase contract. This figure comes from a survey of respondents throughout the 81623 ZIP code. Only half of the people in the study actually live in the town of Carbondale; one quarter live in El Jebel.
It is very misleading to count folks who live and shop in El Jebel as Carbondale residents who spend their dollars outside of town. How is the Village at Crystal River going to “capture” their dollars? By luring them to drive 10 miles downvalley to shop at City Market in Carbondale?
The happy story the developer is selling us includes bringing needed business to our downtown. Pure fiction, folks. The roundabout, which we will all pay for through the public improvement fee, will make it easy for shoppers to get in and out of the Village at Crystal River. There is no such roundabout planned for funneling folks onto Main Street – a Main Street with two large, empty storefronts and parking lots at its entrance.
The Village at Crystal River will do nothing for our downtown except siphon sales from existing businesses – businesses owned by local community members who know there is more to creating success than a quick profit. The Village will make it even more difficult for these folks, and some of their businesses may not survive.
The final selling point is oodles of new sales tax revenue for Carbondale. Our group examined the developer’s fiscal impact analysis and found his projections to be grossly overestimated. It claimed the fast-food restaurant would generate $2.5 million in sales and fuel sales would be up 80 percent. Once our group pointed out these inflated figures, the developer quickly acknowledged that those figures are not realistic. At the forum Wednesday, he informed us that he had revised his figures, cutting the fast-food-restaurant and gas-stations projections in half.
One week before ballots are sent out and he lowers his overall projections by one-third? The town has been reviewing this project for the past 21⁄2 years, basing its review on the developer’s projections as documented in his fiscal impact analysis. Town Manager Jay Harrington confirmed last week that the town has not received any revised figures from Schierburg.
The fact is, his new numbers present a profoundly worse deal for Carbondale. With the revised figures, the Village will generate less sales tax revenue, and there will be a longer pay-off period for the public improvement fee – which means we’d pay even more interest on the construction bond. Also, according to the developer’s new figures, Village businesses would drain even more revenue away from existing locally owned businesses. Compared with the figures that the town trustees have been using to review the project, Schierburg’s new projections actually predict that a greater proportion of the Village’s sales tax generation will come at the expense of sales tax generation at our current locally owned businesses.
People across the valley rave about Carbondale’s great restaurants, events in town parks and great music venues; they load their bikes into their cars to come to Carbondale for the Full Moon Cruise, and they whoop it up at a rodeo that feels like a real rodeo, not a tourist show. They come to Carbondale for quality movies at the Crystal Theatre; they tune into our people-powered radio station; they visit Carbondale to celebrate summer at the Mountain Fair.
Let’s forget the developer’s fairy tale. Let’s get real and come back to Carbondale. We can continue to grow our economy by working together to create sustainable businesses and a vibrant downtown.
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