Westy candidates weigh in on New Downtown

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 6/7/21

The New Downtown development is the much-heralded product of some of the current city council, former Mayor Atchison, City Manager Don Tripp and several staffers while being the bane to some citizens …

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Westy candidates weigh in on New Downtown

Posted

The New Downtown development is the much-heralded product of some of the current city council, former Mayor Atchison, City Manager Don Tripp and several staffers while being the bane to some citizens with its density.

It was touted, in the 2020 City Council's Strategic Plan, “as the next Urban Center of the Colorado Front Range.”

Subsequently, the present city council removed this project from their Strategic Plan. In part, it was a reflection of the negative comments from citizens in the 2020 Community Survey and general input.

The question I posed to the candidates was “What is your opinion of the New Downtown plan and would you work/support the completion of the plan? If not, what would be your alternative strategy for the overall site? Explain your response either way.”

Mayoral candidates are divided

Anita Seitz

“I support the completion of our downtown. After years of languishing Westminster's downtown is by all measures a success. As a new member of the council, we changed the previous administration's approach, and the market responded quickly. Our downtown is one of the nation's largest infill multi-use, multimodal, green (LEED silver) developments with 20% of housing committed to attainable housing. We have seen roughly $500 million of private investment at the site including retail (Tattered Cover), residential (rental and owner, luxury and affordable), office (Schnitzer-West), entertainment (Alamo), and hotel (Origins). There wasn't a question about the downtown in the 2020 Survey, however previous surveys put support for the vision we are pursuing at roughly 90%.”

Austin Watts

“As a resident living in the “New Downtown” area, I've been able to see the development expand first-hand. Despite some security concerns and minor growing pains, I do believe in this project and what it can mean for Westminster as a city. That's why I would support the continued build-out of the New Downtown area, but not to the densities listed in the 2040 Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Residents have voiced their frustrations regarding the development, so now's the time to pivot and adapt. That means more open spaces planned, less apartment clusters, beautiful walkways for pedestrians and a civic attraction to generate more foot traffic.”

Nancy McNally

“The Downtown site was gathered as one piece of property instead of many owners. A more traditional downtown with mixed uses was decided. Downtowns develop organically (block by block). It takes time and patience. A later council decided to make an Urban Center with no input from the public.

The 2040 plan should be a result of our water supply. I don't believe an Urban Center should be in the 2040 plan. We need to be OK to say, `we have this much water for this many people and plan accordingly.' Re-development areas also need to be in the plan for water supply. Communicate with citizens!”

Economic benefit for some candidates

Sarah Nurmela

“I will continue to ensure that the vision for Downtown Westminster is fully realized. After years of waiting, Westminster residents deserve success here. Success will be dependent on reaching the density and mix of uses to ensure Downtown is a destination for the community, brings jobs and supports new shopping and restaurants.

Success in Downtown also means the City will receive LONG-TERM, LONG-LASTING economic benefit here through property and sales tax revenues. We have the infrastructure and transit access to accommodate this planned density—THIS is the place for it. If we want to have a City that doesn't financially flounder in the future, maintaining course on the Downtown is the only answer.”

Kathryn Skulley

“As a 29-year Westminster resident, I witnessed the aging and demise of “The Mall” as well as a vacant, useless lot where it once stood, and the city's inability to find developers interested in redeveloping the area. The city staff's and former/current city council's vision to rethink the area as a multi-use urban center with mixed-income housing, businesses, and transportation opportunities made sense when it was proposed and still makes sense today. The New Downtown will be a gathering place where our community will be able to come together for work, housing, and entertainment. Westminster will be known as a place where people can live, work, and play.”

Jon Voelz

“I was one of the Councilors who pushed for the City to stop using “the next urban center”.

We must continue to look for ways to diversify the housing mix in the New Downtown. Whether it is young professionals or empty nest senior residents looking to downsize, we should pursue condominium and townhome units. We should not rely on all apartments for that area.

A lot of really great things are happening in the New Downtown. There is the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, a new restaurant just opened, the opening of Tap and Burger, a new locally-owned coffee shop, and the soon-to-open Tattered Cover bookstore. There is a great deal of excitement for what this area brings to our city.”

A failure for other candidates

Bruce Baker

“To move ahead at the New Downtown requires us to recognize the current plan and project have failed. Nearly eight years ago, before tens of millions of taxpayer dollars had been spent and just after I was elected to council, I invited my fellow council members to engage in a redesign of the project. They refused.

Now the situation is worse. Meaningfully, I am still ready to participate in that redesign. I bring the courage to accept reality, the thoughtful enthusiasm to find/guide a way forward and the hard-nosed attitude to see beyond the rose-colored fantasies that have shielded the project from criticism. Westminster needs Bruce Baker on City Council.”

Kathleen Dodaro

“Residents were told that the development of the `New Downtown' would offer a civic, cultural and economic hub for the community. Years later, construction of the downtown area is still not complete, yet millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent.

According to a 2018 Denver Post article, the city paid $22 million for the property and acquired an urban renewal loan for $66 million. This project has been tied to a larger plan to make a high-density urban living center in Westminster.

This pattern where the city government positions itself to buy land and become commercial developers is not sustainable fiscally and the style of development is unwanted by the residents. It is necessary to research what can be salvaged from this project.”

David Demott

“The decision after 2013 comp plan to become the developer at the old mall site was a blunder where the government went outside of its purpose: to provide core services.

A decision hard to rectify. As they say, Pandora does not go back in the box. The path forward is listening to residents, avoiding over densifying, and allow the market to drive the development. Council shouldn't approve developments that will risk our water supply as water will always be a finite resource. We should be focused on delivering core services of our diverse city as a whole, rather than focusing on a pet project dreamed up at city hall.”

Downtown could work, with changes

Obi Ezeadi

“I support the completion of the new downtown because it will help our economy with the influx of new businesses. Additionally, it would be a waste of taxpayer money to leave it incomplete.

However, there are two changes I would have advocated for: 1) Lower-priced rental units - fixed at 40% AMI, not 60% AMI; and 2) more culturally diverse restaurants and entertainment.”

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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