• 01/23/2020 9:19 AM | Stephanie Owens (Administrator)

    According to a national survey that interviewed 752 college graduates (aged 24-27) across the country, twenty-somethings nowadays transition into adulthood in one of three ways—they’re either Sprinters, Wanderers, or Stragglers:

    • Sprinters (35% of the young adults surveyed) jump right into their career after college or are on a path to a successful launch after completing additional education.

    • Wanderers (32% of the young adults surveyed) take their time—about half of their twenties—to get their start in a career.
    • Stragglers (33% of the young adults surveyed) press pause and spend most of their twenties trying to get their start.

    Note: the survey did not take family wealth or income into account, so some of these “Sprinters” could arguably have other advantages.

    While we expect most graduates to find their way in life after college, Sprinters make up only about one-third of today’s graduates. And despite our current low unemployment rate, only a third of college graduates believe they will leave college with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. As for me, I left college more unclear about my future than ever, and majoring in Economics, Sustainability & Society—a subject with no direct career path—didn’t help me narrow my focus one bit. 

    So, I was one of those two-thirds of graduates. But what I’ve found out so far in my career journey, is that regardless of the stigma that young professionals should follow the herd, and rush off into the professional world—there is more than one pathway to success after college. And for that reason, I decided to take a gap year before I went full-steam-ahead into my professional career.

    Why I Chose AmeriCorps VISTA

    AmeriCorps is often thought of as the internal Peace Corps for the US, where volunteers work in a broad spectrum of public service sectors including community development, children and youth, education, environment, health, homelessness, housing, hunger, and eldercare. Since the AmeriCorps VISTA program offers a temporary position within nonprofit and public sector spaces, this opportunity was very appealing to me during my post-college transition. 

    For VISTA, service terms are only 1 year, and during that year your student loans can be deferred. Once you've completed your year of service, you receive 1 year of non-competitive eligibility for employment in the federal government, as well as an education award that can go towards a graduate degree or help repay a decent-sized chunk of your student loans. 

    The only catch for me was, like the Peace Corps, your Americorps VISTA living allowance is based on the poverty rates for a single individual living in your geographic area. So, as someone who has had the privilege to live above the poverty level my entire life, I knew that if I was going to follow through with completing the entire year of service, it would have to be somewhere in the US that had many free activities to do outside of work. For me, that meant living in the Rocky Mountain West. More specifically, in the state of Colorado. 

    I was very strategic about where I wanted to serve. And luckily, Community Builders (CB) nonprofit presented the perfect opportunity for me to get my feet wet in strategic communications and digital media. But, before I decided to move across the country, I did what most people do when making big life decisions - I made a pros and cons list.

    Moving to Glenwood Springs, CO & doing VISTA: Pros and Cons


    1. Colorado
    2. Loans deferred/education award
    3. Get to work in sustainable development AND communications/PR
    4. Location. Close to outdoor activities, National parks, etc.
    5. Non Competitive Eligibility (NCE)
    6. Only 1 year
    7. Networking in that part of the country
    8. Job opportunities afterwards
    9. No more living at home
    10. Own space
    11. Personal development/maturity
    12. Independence
    13. Adventure!!


    1. Living below poverty level 
    2. Few minorities in the small town 
    3. Cold and long winters  
    4. Being financially responsible 
    5. 3 day drive to get there 
    6. Have to get snow/winter tires or just invest in a new car

    Clearly the pros outweighed the cons, and a year later, these benefits don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what I actually gained from this experience. For starters, I obtained valuable professional experience in digital media and strategic communications—and ended up thriving in it.


    When I first joined Community Builders, there was no one doing social media, or strategic communications work, except for me and our Communications Director (who was hired 2 months before)—so, we were both extremely new to the organization. Since then, I have engaged in a wide array of communications capacity building activities. VISTA life is, for the most part, very cohesive to typical #nonprofitlife, so I have worn many hats and was tasked with a wide array of priorities over the past year. 

    For example, I managed and crafted social media content, pitched, interviewed and wrote stories for our website’s Insights page, and contributed to a comprehensive brand and website redesign. I also interviewed nationally-renowned leaders, such as Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler (to name a few). From collaborating on all aspects of CB’s digital content and social media planning, to facilitating and documenting their Brownfields redevelopment workshop in Silverton, Colorado. The thing that I am most proud of after working for CB, is being able to learn, grow and connect with a progressive team of professionals, while contributing my voice and perspective to a robust nonprofit organization. 

    My advice for future VISTA’s 

    VISTA is not for everybody—and it’s built that way. Being able to resource, make and sustain connections with people in your community is vital—not only for completing your year of service, but thriving in your professional career after. I have benefitted so much from knowing that I wanted to gain digital media experience while also working within nonprofit spaces. Now, going forward into my next job, I have a larger range of both hard and soft skills, quantitative ways to talk about my achievements, and confidence in client-facing roles.

    Overall, this year has opened doors for me in ways that I had never thought were possible. I have been able to grow and develop my skills in such a way, that following my year of service, I am working as an independent contractor, with a client list that is growing by the day. This goes to show that for Wanderers and Stragglers like me, taking your time to figure things out, can benefit your career journey in monumental ways. Even the Harvard Business Review, found that college graduates who took a gap year through a rapidly expanding programs, including AmeriCorps, BridgeEDU, and Global Citizen Year, reported that they were more comfortable with risk and more resilient in their professional journey. 

    With that being the case, if it’s right for you, slow down the conveyor belt from college into the professional world, and take the time to figure out what is best for you. I can happily say that by doing a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I was able to more fully consider my career options, brush up on my skills, and pinpoint what truly interests me. At the end of the day, if it’s a good match for you, a gap year can be one of your best years yet.

  • 01/16/2020 1:38 PM | Morgan Pierce (Administrator)
    Swoop of the Cranes: Monte Vista, Colorado
    Many festivals include public art, community projects, local culture, and community
    engagement but The Swoop of the Cranes in Monte Vista, Colorado has it all. This
    year, the town has something very special planned between the months of March
    and September!
    Monte Vista will have 5’ tall 12-gauge steel silhouettes of Sandhill Cranes mounted
    on lamp posts up and down I-160/1
    Avenue. The Steel art pieces are painted and
    decorated by local artists of the San Luis Valley and will be up at the start of the
    Monte Vista Crane Festival until September.
    The project is community focused with consideration of local business sponsorship
    opportunities of the steel cranes and the inclusion of local artists. Monte Vista
    encourages locals and visitors to participate in the enjoyment of the steel cranes
    through voting for their favorite. Prizes will be given out in September based on
    The cranes will be auctioned off in September unless they are purchased by the
    sponsors or artists. The proceeds from the auction going towards downtown Monte
    Vista beautification efforts.
    Cranes are an important part of Monte Vista culture and community identity.
    Sandhill Cranes make a migratory stop in Monte Vistas Wildlife Refuge each year in
    March, which of course sparked the creation of the annual Monte Vista Crane
    Festival. The hope for this community art project is that there will be a continued
    commitment to and recognition of cranes in Monte Vista and that it will continue for
    years to come.
    Swoop of the Cranes: Monte Vista, Colorado
    Many festivals include public art, community projects, local culture, and community
    engagement but The Swoop of the Cranes in Monte Vista, Colorado has it all. This
    year, the town has something very special planned between the months of March
    and September!
    Monte Vista will have 5’ tall 12-gauge steel silhouettes of Sandhill Cranes mounted
    Avenue. The Steel art pieces are painted and
    Monte Vista Crane Festival until September.
    The project is community focused with consideration of local business sponsorship
    opportunities of the steel cranes and the inclusion of local artists. Monte Vista
    through voting for their favorite. Prizes will be given out in September based on
    The cranes will be auctioned off in September unless they are purchased by the
    sponsors or artists. The proceeds from the auction going towards downtown Monte
    Vista beautification efforts.
    Cranes are an important part of Monte Vista culture and community identity.
    Sandhill Cranes make a migratory stop in Monte Vistas Wildlife Refuge each year in
    March, which of course sparked the creation of the annual Monte Vista Crane
    Festival. The hope for this community art project is that there will be a continued
    commitment to and recognition of cranes in Monte Vista and that it will continue for
    years to come.

    Many festivals include public art, community projects, local culture, and community engagement but The Swoop of the Cranes in Monte Vista, Colorado has it all. This year, the town has something very special planned between the months of March and September!

    Monte Vista will have 5’ tall 12-gauge steel silhouettes of Sandhill Cranes mounted on lamp posts up and down I-160/1st Avenue. The Steel art pieces are painted and decorated by local artists of the San Luis Valley and will be up at the start of the Monte Vista Crane Festival until September.

    The project is community focused with consideration of local business sponsorship opportunities of the steel cranes and the inclusion of local artists. Monte Vista encourages locals and visitors to participate in the enjoyment of the steel cranes through voting for their favorite. Prizes will be given out in September based on votes.

    The project is community focused with consideration of local business sponsorship opportunities of the steel cranes and the inclusion of local artists. Monte Vista encourages locals and visitors to participate in the enjoyment of the steel cranes through voting for their favorite. Prizes will be given out in September based on votes.

    The cranes will be auctioned off in September unless they are purchased by the sponsors or artists. The proceeds from the auction going towards downtown Monte Vista beautification efforts.

    Cranes are an important part of Monte Vista culture and community identity. Sandhill Cranes make a migratory stop in Monte Vistas Wildlife Refuge each year in March, which of course sparked the creation of the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival. The hope for this community art project is that there will be a continued commitment to and recognition of cranes in Monte Vista and that it will continue for years to come. 


  • 12/19/2019 12:03 PM | Stephanie Owens (Administrator)

    The decade is almost over and DCI has been helping Colorado communities through it all. We have been so blessed this year, as every year, this decade and for 37 years, to work with all of you downtown champions. As always, we would like to specifically thank all of our members, sponsors, and partners for making our work possible. We had an incredibly fun and busy 2019 (including more than a few deviously timed snow storms). We expanded our Challenge Program to make more of an impact than ever, held several series of symposiums and trainings for redevelopment and reinvestment, and completely revamped our brand. In 2020, we will have a strong focus on our membership with the help of our Membership Coordinator VISTA, Becca Elder. So, look forward to hearing how to get more  from your membership with DCI!

    We want to say thank you to two people that moved on to new adventures this year from DCI. 

    First, thank you to Andrew Curtis who served as DCI’s VISTA Leader for two years. Andrew not only helped to grow our VISTA program, but he also used his incredible gift and skill for graphics and design to make us look better than ever. Andrew is now using his design skills getting his Masters of Landscape Architecture at Cornell.We miss Andrew as a presence in Colorado as well as his curiosity, passion, and intellect he brought to our office.

    And a special thank you to Val Peterson who served as our Communication Capacity Builder VISTA the past year. During her service, Val was able to coordinate everything that DCI does including all communications, events, the conference, and grant communities. She has helped DCI members, board, and staff build community and economy in Colorado. Outside of all the incredible work she did during her year, the most important thing Val contributed to DCI was her passion for people and her truly caring spirit. We already miss you Val.

    We started the year having conversations about downtown improvement districting in Greeley and Glenwood Springs. This theme continued through the year with our multi-part series focusing on strategies for increasing investment and financing development on the Western Slope starting with Durango and Montrose. The goal of these symposiums was to blend informal connections, case studies, and interactive dialogue to reshape ideas for redevelopment and reinvestment in Western Slope communities. You can see the recaps for Durango here and Montrose here. The third part of this series will take place on February 13th in Grand Junction!

    This year, we have focused a large portion of our programming on our Urban Renewal Training Series centered on urban renewal in rural communities. In some ways the combination of urban and rural is counterintuitive, however, rural Colorado is faced with a pattern of disinvestment that results in a loss of historic buildings, housing, and workforce. Urban renewal helps these communities engage with leaders from the public and private sector to review the tools, opportunities, and components for designing quality partnerships and projects to enable successful redevelopment. The communities who learned about how urban renewal might best help finance their development goals were: Lamar, Breckenridge, Florence, Fountain, Montrose, Wheat Ridge, and all that attended our 3rd annual Southern Colorado Urban Renewal Summit.

    Testimonials from these events:

    [My biggest takeaway from the event was] The importance of collaboration and partnerships in accomplishing community goals. Also, the necessity of strong and clear leadership in shaping the organizational culture needed to implement an ambitious vision. – Attendee, Durango Western Slope Redevelopment and Reinvestment Symposium

    The positive role that Urban Renewal has played in Western Slope communities and the challenging process involved in establishing a URA and crafting the plan to suit your community. I also learned a lot about affordable housing and what is involved in pro forma development for projects. - Kim Grant, Colorado Preservation, Inc. 

    Despite the Bomb Cyclone 2k19, IN THE GAME 2019 was our most successful conference yet! As we continue with our out-of-the-box conference format, IN THE GAME, the more we see how much collaboration, energy, and inspiration it provides for all of our attendees. As always, our conference differs from most where instead of using the typical formula of session, break, session, etc., we got our participants out of their seats engaging with one another and seeing the City of Aspen first hand. This year we took our conference location back into the mountains in Aspen, and showcased the innovative ideas coming from the community through our speakers, lunches, and tours. Our theme for this year's conference was "Stewardship, Equity, and Unintended Consequences" where our discussions investigated ensuring that all members of our communities are heard in the process of building stronger communities. You can see the entire recap here. We hope to continue these themes of resiliency and collaboration and we can't wait to see you all IN THE GAME in Colorado Springs in 2020! Registration is now open here! Early Bird prices will end on January 31st!

    Here’s what attendees had to say:

    IN THE GAME was so beneficial for me. Working for a Downtown is a unique job, so to be surrounded by other like-organizations is a great way to brainstorm, ask questions, and share issues or topics that may be going on in other downtowns. I'm really looking forward to next year! – Caitlyn Love, Downtown Grand Junction

    Each year gets better and better. We find value in the ideas, people and connections that this conference creates. As a consulting firm, it's great to have dialogue with our current and potential clients across the state – Karen Current, DHM Design

    IN THE GAME was an immensely useful, inspiring, thought-provoking experience. Seeing the passion and commitment with which leaders from all over the state are addressing their communities was very energizing. - Alan Fletcher, Aspen Music

    IN THE GAME isn't your typical conference. Not only does it provide valuable content and opportunities for collaboration, it creates actionable economic development opportunities with the challenge studios that are pursued throughout the year. I developed lasting relationships as well and was blown away by how well thought out the programming was organized. I will definitely be returning next year! – Lauren Kloock, Colorado Lending Source

    Our Colorado Challenge Program expanded once again this year to become a comprehensive approach to technical assistance. DCI has expanded the program to act as a year-round team-building accelerator focused on pin-pointing and implementing a plan of work and proposal that engages public, private, and nonprofit partners to transform challenge into opportunity. The five-phase challenge program focuses on:

      1. Community Selection
      2. Team Building
      3. Challenge Studio Workshop
      4. Financing Approach
      5. Program Continuation

      The work is rooted in a community driven process supported by seed investment, connections, mentorship, educational components and a financing institute. Outcomes of the program are focused on using place-based initiatives to strengthen economies; increase community health and wellness; build civic engagement and resiliency; achieve housing affordability and equity; and improve quality of life for all residents.DCI has also created a special Colorado Challenge Accelerator Program (CCAP) Membership type this year that is exclusive to Challenge Communities and Program Partners. New and previous communities will all benefit from this membership type. Contact membership@downtowncoloradoinc.org for more information!

        The Challenge Communities this year were Aspen, Center, Eagle, the Southwest Corridor, and Trinidad. The outcomes of the challenge studios this year included:

        • 5 action reports following the IN THE GAME Challenge Studios (read the reports here)

        • 4 community activations – including beautiful community dinner tables and human arcades

        • 1 Downtown Assessment report for Eagle

        • 1 VISTA site creation for Southern Colorado Repertory Theatre

          Here’s what the communities had to say:

          It was my first time and by participating in the Center Studio Workshop, I saw the immense amount of expertise all of the attendees brought to the table to learn and glean from. It was invaluable. I also loved being able to learn about local projects and gain lessons learned for my part of the state. – Jeff Owsley, Community Relations – San Luis Valley, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority

          We had a challenge studio at the In the Games conference and for the first time collaborated with our neighboring communities of Silverton and Ouray. You can try to do a lot over phone calls and emails, but there is nothing like working on a project in one room together. The addition of conference attendees from across the state helped to provide insight into our challenges and ways to refine our project with an outside lens. As a result, our three communities are working together to pursue grants at a state and national level for our region. -Kiki Hooten, Local First La Plata

          Reflecting on 2019 and the decade, we can’t believe the progress that our communities all around Colorado are making! Whether you’ve worked with DCI for a long time or just got involved, we appreciate each and every one of you as community champions who will fight to make a difference. We work FOR Colorado and to make the whole state more connected and vibrant. We hope you will keep working with all of us at DCI through the next decade. We are the DOers. THANK YOU!
        • 12/11/2019 3:21 PM | Morgan Pierce (Administrator)

          On December 5th, Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) co-hosted an entrepreneurship studies webinar with Jeremy Wickenheiser. Jeremy has years of experience providing opportunities for youth to prepare for the modern workforce through experiential learning with his entrepreneurship studies (E-Ship) programming.

          The webinar started out with setting the basis of the value experiential learning brings, especially in the modern workforce where many people have college degrees. College graduates have a hard time finding jobs since employers are looking for people with skills and experience outside of a classroom. The entrepreneurship studies program equips youth while they are still in middle school and high school to confidently face the various situations that arise outside of a classroom.

          Important questions and learning transpire through the program which include the deeper understanding of who the person is, what talents and gifts they bring, and seeing how they will create impact. The problem solving, and opportunity to deal with real world situations at a young age encourages the youth to understand their place, and where they come from. The work focuses around the question of “what problems do you want to solve?” instead of “what career do you want?”.  

          Through the experiential learning opportunities youth were able to problem solve, present ideas to local business leaders, gain feedback from businesses, conduct interviews of customers, and gain mentoring. The skills gained teach youth resilience, and how to overcome failure. The entrepreneurship studies program can be curated depending on what works best for the area one is working in, which may include an after-school program, weekend event, or a summer intensive program.

          Jeremy has experience and first-hand knowledge of successfully leading these types of youth programs and is a great resource for anyone interested in starting one. The programs give young people the tools to do what they want to do and support the thoughts and genius they have within themselves.

          Questions and Answers

          • How does one go about starting a first weekend, and getting the ball rolling on these types of programs? There are many different ways to do this, which could include going around to some schools, or to a single school and show video clips which show the programs and opportunities young people have had. Have a well-known entrepreneur come in and talk about the potentials and values a program like this would bring. Hold a weekend event and have youth on teams where they bring their own ideas and have to pitch the ideas to business leaders from the community. Have different informational sessions throughout the weekend to further support the pitch section of the event.
          • Do you charge the students any sort of fee for attending the event?    The events are always free for the students. The only cost would be the time, food, and venue.   

          These resources further show the Entrepreneurship Studies (E-Ship) programs: 



        • 10/03/2019 10:14 AM | Morgan Pierce (Administrator)


          September 16 , 2019

          On September 16th-17th, Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) worked with the City of Montrose to develop a Western Slope Reinvestment and Redevelopment Symposium on urban renewal tools and practices for the Montrose Urban Renewal Board and partners. The event was supported by City of Montrose, City of Durango, City of Grand Junction, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, and Dean Brookie Architecture.

          The first evening included a private workshop for attendees including Montrose City Council, Montrose Urban Renewal Authority, and the Montrose Development and Revitalization Team (DART). Presentations by DCI’s Katherine Correll and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck discussed how the city vision shapes the projects, the toolbox of funding options, how to right size tax increment financing areas, and how to encourage the types of development and redevelopment that communities are looking for.

          Symposium attendees were invited to come early and conduct a project area tour of the recently developed Mayfly Outdoors. This project combined private investment, tax increment, and Great Outdoors Colorado (GoCo) funds to develop a top notch manufacturing facility and a trail that connects the development to downtown while enhancing river access to neighboring communities. We also enjoyed a fabulous reception at Horsefly Brewing. Reception sponsored by Dean Brookie Architects.

          On day two, the Western Slope Reinvestment & Redevelopment Workshop in considered how to maximize impacts using Urban Renewal and the benefits of downtown management programs. Speakers included Bill Bell, City of Montrose; Katherine Correll, Downtown Colorado, Inc.; Kim Grant, Colorado Preservation, Inc.; Karen Harkin, CHFA; Alex Rugoff, City of Durango; Mike Scholl, City of Loveland; and Carolynne White, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

          Attendees included representatives from Montrose DART, Colorado Workforce Development Council, La Plata County, City of Montrose, Town of Collbran, City of Grand Junction, Town of Pagosa Springs, Grand Junction Downtown Partnership, City of Durango, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Development Research Partners, Colorado Housing & Finance Authority, Colorado Preservation, Inc, City of Loveland, Town of Walsenburg, Community Builders, Art District on Santa Fe, Colorado Main Street, City of Monte Vista, and the Department of Local Affairs.

          The dialogue included an introduction to urban renewal and how it can support catalyst projects and community priorities. Speakers shared some background on important factors for a successful downtown, including historic preservation, housing, and brownfield sites. The conversation explored each area and why projects cost more as well as the resources that help to level the playing field to make these projects feasible for the private sector to address. Participants were then walked through a project pro forma, the financial road map to financing a development project, and were able to discuss in small groups the details of the pro forma, the private sector gap, and the purpose and process for the Third Party Review.

          Ideas Shared

          • As the City moves forward with the Comprehensive Plan, consider how to build plan goals into the work of the URA will help to provide a means of encouraging private sector development. It is important to recognize that goals for one part of the community may not be applicable in all sections of the city so not all projects may not achieve all goals.
          • The goals of the public sector may differ significantly from the goals of the private sector.
          • Historic tax credits may need be isolated from TIF projects, so to maximize access to the tax credits, the developer can carve off the affordable housing piece as a separate project.
          • Opportunity Zones timing from project identification to breaking ground is very fast so communities who can expedite planning and zoning efforts to make those happen.
          • Raising capital with historic preservation projects is only half the challenge, but developing the plan for future use is often a significant challenge as well.
          • Housing and utilities should not require more than 30% of income or people are financially burdened and qualify for affordable housing.

          Questions and Answers

          • When you write the URA Plan, focus on the blight conditions that link the area to other areas of focus where you may want investment later. TIF can be used for anything that remedies the blight identified in the URA Plan.
          • What is 1348? 1348 means both Governance and Negotiation. Governance is included entities on your board. Negotiation is looking each plan area and the use of increment in the area. Adding a URA plan area would require negotiation if it was going to use property tax TIF from any entity.
          • What are the pros and cons of a larger TIF area versus a smaller TIF area?
          • Developing very specific and narrow boundaries for a TIF area makes tracking of impacts easier and reduces the risk of one or more project failure taking away from the increment for all. It can be one large urban renewal area, with small individual TIF areas focused on only the narrow project.
          • Timing of TIF is important and it is impacted by the assessor’s office, whether it is an assessment year, etc. Adopt the plan when the value is a low as possible but at a time where investment will happen in the near future. Turning on TIF Clock  in area 1, and wait on area 2?
          • How do you deal with Naysayers who think URA is public welfare?Invite them into the process. Go to the people rather than making them come to City Hall.
          • How did you implement the TIF – from the County Treasurer – Montrose invited the County Assessor to be the County representative on the board. The State Assessors Office also does an annual technical training.
          • What kinds of comments are coming as the URA formation is evolving?Very positive response for the most part, businesses and government are focused on housing for employees, banks are also interested in how it can work with a line of credit, private sector is seeing that Durango is serious about redeveloping. There is a lot of overlap with Opportunity Zones and they are building prospectuses around that effort.
          • Assessors’ Reference Library says that infrastructure is an increase in value that qualifies, but they don’t always record the value and attribute to increment to the base until the permits to go vertical are issued.

        • 09/05/2019 9:11 AM | Morgan Pierce (Administrator)

          Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) is honored to work with The City of Brush! is as we continue efforts around the revitalization of Central Platoon School and the Brush! Challenge initiated in 2017.

          As we look to the future of Central Platoon School, the DCI Colorado Challenge Accelerator Program will use a holistic approach to focus on a vibrant downtown with sustainable partnerships increased entrepreneurship and economically vital businesses, and clear communications to assist with marketing opportunities in and around the community. Our efforts will outline the steps and help drive the process for the public sector to access and focus private sector investment toward the community vision of a sustainable and thriving community with a revitalized activity hub in the Central Platoon School Building.

          The Colorado Challenge Program is a unique team building accelerator focused on establishing a plan of work and proposal for funding over the course of twelve months. The program includes planning and development that will help to engage citizens in the strategy for moving forward toward a sustainable business-ecosystem for entrepreneurs and creative innovations and intervention. The Brush Challenge objectives for the next phase include:

          • Showcase Downtown Brush! and the opportunities that exist
          • Further discussion around the Central School as a community center
          • Explore mechanisms to help the City of Brush! be a strong partner in working with the private sector
          • Highlight new uses for Central Platoon School and vacant buildings in Downtown Brush!

          Join Brush! Leaders as we share our efforts, invite regional and state-wide guidance, and establish a plan for the future! Please review our proposed agenda and plan to join us for this dynamic event to share our vision and find partners and resources. The agenda is an work in process and may be subject to change!

          Read the Brush! 2017 Challenge Report

        • 08/21/2019 4:11 PM | Morgan Pierce (Administrator)

          Dealmaking with Urban Renewal & the Downtown Toolbox

          Florence, Colorado

          In August 2019, Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) the Town of Florence requested support to align private and public initiatives for downtown redevelopment. DCI was pleased to develop a program and team to focus maximizing impacts in downtown with Urban Renewal, how to collaborate with Business Improvement Districts, Downtown Development Authorities, and downtown management programs. DCI’s team included representatives from Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck (BHFS), Butler Snow, City of Loveland, the City of Colorado Springs Urban Renewal, City of Loveland Urban Renewal and the City of Wheat Ridge Urban Renewal. Our approach focused on basic education around tax increment financing (TIF) with an increasing level of complexity delving into layered resources available to revitalize their downtown.


          The City of Florence recently implemented a recommendation from the DCI 2014 Downtown Assessment to form an Urban Renewal Authority. The innovative community leadership is focused on how the TIF tool might be used to drive the community vision as laid out in the newly updated Master Plan, and several new private initiatives focused on revitalizing historic buildings. The City engaged DCI to plan and facilitate this training as DCI is Colorado’s association for building awareness, education, and training for URAs and special districts in our state.

          Downtown Colorado, Inc. believes that urban renewal and special district financing tools are an important tool to encourage good development and land use in Colorado. Building an informed and aware Board of Directors for urban renewal authorities creates a stronger network of urban renewal advocates across the state.

          Attendees Included: Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Butler Snow, Central Block Properties, City of Florence, City of Loveland, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA), Downtown Colorado, Inc., Emergent, Florence Citizen News, Fremont County, The Mezzanine, Northland Securities, Second-61, Upper Ark Development Corp.

          Speakers, facilitators, and event planners included: Steve Art, Wheat Ridge URA; Wade Broadhead, City of Florence; Katherine Correll, Downtown Colorado, Inc.; Caitlin Quander, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck; and Monica Rosenbluth, Butler Snow, Mike Scholl, City of Loveland.

          Dealmaking with Urban Renewal Part I

          Florence’s Dealmaking with Urban Renewal sessions included a two-part approach, starting with a private session for the Florence URA Board to discuss current initiatives, vision, and how to get it done. The training opened with a URA and TIF introduction and an Urban Renewal Case Study. The goal was to determine priorities and vision for the Florence URA. Main discussion topics included Catalyst and Priority Properties, Incentives/Regulations for property owners and developers, what is TIF, and determining the appropriate TIF Area and considering your funding toolbox.

          Dealmaking with Urban Renewal Part II

          Day two included a public session with a deeper dive into case studies and all special districts options and financing tools. Presentations focused on visioning for downtown and other special district options such as a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Business Improvement Districts (BID), as well as the benefits of downtown management programming.

          Using the Ivywild School as a case study from Colorado Springs’ Urban Renewal Authority, participants gained a broader understanding of why some projects are more costly and the ways that the public sector can encourage redevelopment of challenging priority sites.  Next, an overview of the Florence Unbridled Campus opened discussion around current investment happening in Florence and the opportunities that are within grasp if the community partners with the private sector. 

          Afternoon discussions focused on filling the gap on challenging priority sites with presentations from Colorado Housing & Financing Authority, Colorado Springs URA, and City of Loveland. Participants were able to build awareness and ask questions about tools to bring in housing and how to make historic and previously used sites pencil out. Finally, the presenters discussed how we measure impacts and tell the story including the importance of reporting and showing your impact.

          Results from Dealmaking with Urban Renewal in Florence?

          In less than two weeks, the City of Florence has voted to create to urban renewal plan areas in the town. The developers, town leaders, and business owners have a greater alignment and are ready to work for a more vibrant downtown!

          Glossary of Terms for Colorado URA

          • The Plan Area: Document you have formed that encompasses a certain area of the community. Multiple areas may exist within a city, there is no limit on how many. Within the plan area, TIF boundary may be all properties within the area, or a subpart within the area, or multiple TIF areas.
          • Project Area: Activity or undertaking.
          • URA: Legal entity with jurisdiction of the whole city.
          • TIF Area: The area within a Plan Area that is collecting TIF.
          • Blighting Conditions: Five of eleven required for use of eminent domain.
          • “But for” is the idea that without the support there will be a gap that makes the clean up of blighted conditions for an activity or undertaking not feasible financially.
          • Public Improvement is what is allowed with urban renewal.
          • TIF Clock: is the twenty five years that a URA has to receive TIF revenues from a project area.
          • Board Make-Up: Council-led means that the council is the URA board, which makes up about half of the URAs. The other URAs are board appointed by Council.
          • Tax increment financing: Can include sales or property tax.

          Structuring the Agreement

          The process for structuring an agreement is individual to each URA. The staff is responsible for working on this and should be the face of the URA in working with partners. The board should be aware of the process that they use.

          Types of Financing

          Traditional TIF: Use the return on investment to repay/pay for improvements. contributing the difference between the base year tax revenue and the increased tax revenue generated by the project, year over year. This is the least risky type of financing.

          1. Bond: Requires financial and bond team.
          2. Bank Loan: Requires financial team.
          3. Hybrid of all of the above.

          Legal Requirements

          URAs are just as transparent as any other public entity. Best practice is to adopt bylaws, though not required by law. Can also adopt policy or other form documents. This is often used to encourage how the URA would like to govern its work including grant guidelines, local hiring, etc.

          Conflict of Interest: There are differences from the other Boards and Commissions for the URA Board. URA Board members cannot own property in the area and cannot invest in the property area.


          How do you incentivize investment for property owners who are happy how it is?

          There are many ways that special districts like Urban Renewal Authorities (URA), Business Improvement Districts (BID), and Downtown Development Authorities (DDA). Using financing from TIF and mill levies the town could offer facade grants and building improvement grants. They can also establish disinvestment or dilapidation fees or design overlays that require changes. If there was a BID or DDA established then the property owners would most likely be paying into the district’s improvements.

          Is there a certain size of project where Urban Renewal doesn’t make sense?

          Think about taxable value of the property currently. For example a publicly owned building  like a school would = 0. The act of buying it and making it privately owned starts the increase on the taxable value immediately. It’s all about the function of deal structure in terms of it would be a good project for Urban Renewal. Be best friends with your assessor: they differ on the manuals they use and how to calculate the assessed value i.e. from previously when it was a school or unused lot or from when it was bought to be privately developed and managed.

          Each plan is different. What tools are best to use?

          Each development plan and priorities are different in each undertaking. Some want more residential, or to work with the growth of a university or other entity, sometimes it is more about what you’re getting rid of. If the goal is to draw people in that is great but property owners will want more for their properties. If you’re waiting for a developer, don’t take a project on just to do it. There has to be a gap to fill and community support. Have good people on your team with experience to back you up i.e. good financial, good legal, etc. The Unbridled project at the school is a good growth model to keep some talent and bring more capital in the community as a catalyst. It is proven that because of projects like Ivywild other things are possible. For example, the school district is more open to negotiating better deals.

          Do you have to negotiate with taxing entities to get increment?

          Again, for a URA to be successful there has to be a gap (but, for….) and community support. There is an option if their mill levy contribution is important enough, after 120 days you have go through mediation. It all depends on the relationship and what the districts impacts are. URA’s work hard to create win-win scenarios. City, library, county have shares. It is important to remember that you are not taking money away from school district because they have back-fill from the state.

          If you take out a bond, and someone walks away what happens?

          The URA is a separate legal entity and they take out the bond on the promise of increment. Then the situation depends on redevelopment agreement. There generally is a certification process for contractors. Usually there is a construction loan where the company has to prove they built it to get bond.

          What if URA doubts the ability of an entity to bring a project to fruition?

          URA will often share revenue NOT risk. Create the agreements around revenue created by building the project that increases valuation and results in TIF. Then in the developer doesn’t deliver, other than choosing a bad partner, the URA isn’t out.

          Are there ways to fill smaller gaps?

          Community banks can be very helpful because they know the community and are probably interested in investing. Sometimes they may not have the expertise to navigate urban renewal financing but you could bring them in and have a consultant advise on the financials. The URA has the ability to take out the loan.

          What are the options for financing?

          • URAs can issue bonds or raise money without going to voter approval. They may also choose to do a reimbursement agreement with the developer, where the URA pledges TIF (all or some)
          • Forms a Metro District, allows for control of when and where debt incurred.
          • City can also be a borrower, when TIF goes away faster because City may do a Lease Purchase Agreement because the City has the best credit rating. In this situation, the developer may need to borrow from a bank, build the infrastructure, demonstrate the investment, and then receive payment in tranches from the city.

          What are eligible improvements?

          This is a public policy decision for the board to make. Most often public improvements, but sometimes private. There should also be a way to verify what improvements have been put in place. In Denver, that requires social policies, well-paying jobs,  public art, etc. In Colorado Springs, they usually help with infrastructure improvements. E.g. 1) County might add in additional affordable housing and then that changes the IGAs with taxing entities FIRST, and then with developers. 2) if a community wants more commercial kitchens, they can shape the policy to encourage those types of private improvements.

          How to decide how much TIF to dedicate to any project?

          • Could be across the board with a certain percentage. This allows some money for administrative.
          • Can be based on the financing gap as demonstrated by the developer?
          • If it is the whole town, it must be determined project by project.
          • Note: Government Goal is to remedy blight and achieve other objectives, build sidewalks or streets… A win for the public sector may not be reflective of money made…

          How to prove the “But for”? There is no way to prove except to do nothing, but in some places, looking at the history (20 years without investment) as a possible future. If communities are trying to make something happen, the do nothing approach is probably not working.

          How much is an appropriate amount for a Developer to make? Look at proforma without the TIF and then what it would be if there was a TIF. Then the URA board and determine what profit is acceptable.

          How does TIF clock impact a plan area?  When you adopt a plan, and authorize TIF in an area of the plan, that authorization to collect TIF is for 25 years. Once TIF area starts in one Plan Area there are 25 years and that money must be used in that area.

          If development is happening, how does the URA justify projects in the area using the “but for” test?

          The “But for” test is a policy decision imposed by the bodies using URA, not in the statute. The reason it is important is because it demonstrates that URAs are not just giving money to developers. However, even if development is happening, it isn’t always the quality or standard that the community needs. If the market currently only supports a three story walk up with surface parking, but the community wants affordable, accessible housing with a parking structure, this tool allows the community to help the private sector meet the community vision even if the market doesn’t currently support that level or quality of development.

          Do Developers like working with TIF or is it brain damage?

          Some developers specialize in this. They understand how to work with communities and how the give and take works. This is a small pool and they do very well. However, this requires a higher level of transparency and close scrutiny of proforma and profits. It costs more, takes more, and requires a significant review. Most developers don’t do this unless it is necessary to have a public private partnership.

          What effect does working with TIF have on the developer beyond transparency?

          Developers want to leave a legacy they can be proud of and public private partnerships result in greater quality, from finishes to sustainability, connectivity, etc. But you do need to agree with the public sector about how much profit you will make. The public sector can’t burden the developer, but they can ask for improvements if the TIF can support the additional cost.

          Why choose a plan area with a new TIF clock, rather than taking a plan area and adding a new TIF area in the area?

          The statutes says to plan the Area as narrowly as possible to address the blight. It is also disadvantageous to start a TIF clock if there is not interested in investing as there could then not be enough time/money to have a real impact on development.

        • 08/07/2019 2:17 PM | Morgan Pierce (Administrator)

          On Thursday, August 1st, DCI and the Colorado Municipal League (CML) hosted the 2nd annual Downtown Mobile Tour and DCI Districts Committee lunch in Colorado Springs. We had DCI and CML members join us from around the state including representation from Colorado Springs, Denver, Lakewood, Manitou Springs, Wellington, Florence, Centennial, Woodland Park, Brush, Longmont, Monument, Central City, Frederick, Golden, and Littleton.

          The event included a stop in Castle Rock for a presentation from the Castle Rock Town Hall and Downtown Alliance, a tour of the Colorado Springs Ivywild School, lunch at Phantom Canyon in downtown Colorado Springs with a panel of Colorado Springs leaders including Susan Edmondson, Jill Gaebler, Jeff Greene, Jonathan Neely, Carl Schueler, Jariah Walker, Peter Wysocki. The day ended with a tour of Downtown Colorado Springs.


          Our first stop on the mobile tour was in downtown Castle Rock. Kevin Tilson, president of the Castle Rock Downtown Alliance joined the bus ride to provide a driving tour of downtown projects. The tour group enjoyed coffee and pastries at the new river park and pavilion that is a Downtown Development Authority project, where Dave Corliss, Castle Rock Town Manager, discussed upcoming projects and the processes, partnerships, and funding necessary to get them off the ground. Kevin provided the group with a map of the downtown development projects as well as a short summary on the proposed Encore development project


          The Ivywild School is an exciting urban renewal project in Colorado Springs. The Ivywild Elementary School in Colorado Springs opened in 1916 and was one of seven elementary schools closed in 2009 because of declining enrollment. With the help of visionary developers, Joseph Coleman and Mike Bristol, working with the Colorado Springs’ urban renewal, the 20K sq. ft. building was transformed with over $5M in investments so the bustling development is once again a vibrant heart of the neighborhood. The school hosts a variety of businesses and public spaces within the different rooms of the school: Bristol Brewing Company in the former cafeteria, a bar in the principal’s office, community gathering space in the gym, along with many other merchants throughout the building. The Ivywild presentation was led by Jariah Walker of the Colorado Springs URA and Joseph Coleman, a developer on the project. Read a short description and background of the Ivywild project here


          Colorado Springs’ Leaders joined the mobile tour participants at Downtown Colorado Springs’ Phantom Canyon restaurant. Mayor John Suthers welcomed the audience and gave an inspirational talk about the vision and work that has been done to further downtown and commercial districts in the city. The group then heard from featured panelists:

          • Susan Edmondson, Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs
          • Jill Gaebler, Colorado Springs City Council
          • Jeff Greene, Colorado Springs Chief of Staff
          • Jonathan Neely, Old Colorado City Partnership
          • Carl Schueler, PlanCOS Project Manager
          • Jariah Walker, Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority
          • Peter Wysocki, City of Colorado Springs Planner

          The panel discussed various collaborations between the downtown partnership, the URA, and the city. The discussion focused on private-public partnerships and the vision of downtown Colorado Springs within the next 10 years.

          Following lunch, Susan Edmondson led us on a tour of downtown Colorado Springs with a focus on recent development and projects. She pointed out businesses who have repaired and increased the value of downtown historic buildings, a public mural art program, a new sports field near downtown, the potential development of a small entertainment district at the south end of downtown, among other exciting projects in the area.

          With a blossoming “new south end” of downtown at Tejon and Moreno, separated from the city center by a block of parking garage, Susan explained that it is a struggle to connect the two. The parking garages cause many tourists and pedestrians to stop walking before completing the full downtown strip. The city is using strategic public art to draw pedestrians past the parking garages towards the south end.

          Downtown Colorado, Inc. is honored to have partners and supporters like Colorado Municipal League, Town of Casle Rock, the City of Colorado Springs, Downtown Colorado Springs Partnership, and Colorado Springs Urban Renewal. Special thanks to Susan Edmondson, Kevin Tilson, and Jariah Walker for helping to coordinate and plan this event.

        • 07/24/2019 4:34 PM | Morgan Pierce (Administrator)

          Last week Downtown Colorado, Inc. partnered with Congress for the New Urbanism - CO Chapter, Denver Housing Authority, and Youth on Record to host Mariposa: Urbanism Reimagined in the heart of the Mariposa District. The event featured a panel discussion with a Q&A session, a walking tour of completed and upcoming housing projects throughout the district, and a project-board open house of the Mariposa redevelopment.

          The Q&A session opened with a performance by a student of Youth on Record’s FEMpowerment program. The young artist, Edwina, performed a short set that included both covers and original tunes. You can check out links to her performance below:

          Go Tell Yesterday

          Joni Mitchell Cover


          The panel showcased perspectives from multiple parts of the project including residents, Youth on Record – a nonprofit located in the neighborhood, architects & designers, Denver Housing Authority, and public artists.

          • Jami Duffy, Youth on Record
          • Shaina Burkett, Denver Housing Authority
          • Rita Jaramillo, Current Mariposa Resident
          • David Griggs, Public Artist
          • Brandy LeMae, Workshop8

          Each of these panelists were involved in the creation or activation of the Mariposa neighborhood. Youth on Record is located in the bottom space of an apartment complex which provides music lessons and studio experience for youth interested in music. Denver Housing Authority executed interviews, community meetings, and home visits to gain feedback and an understanding of resident needs for the upcoming project. Shaina and her DHA colleagues spent facilitated these meetings and put hours of time into building relationships with residents in order to create the most effective plan for redevelopment.  Rita, who currently resides in Mariposa and lived there prior to redevelopment, offered her thoughts on the entire process, from gaining community insights and opinions to project execution, she only had positive things to say about the redevelopment. David Griggs, a public artist with works all over the United States, is on the neighborhood board and talked about the value of art reflecting the community it represents. Brandy LeMae of Workshop8, an architecture and design firm, was hired to work on phase six of the project. She discussed how valuable resident’s input was in creating effective building plans.

          DHA approached this project with the intention to meet the needs of the pre-existing community. They hosted multiple community meetings and used various strategies to collect as many voices as possible. All residents were provided temporary housing during throughout the project and over 50% of residents chose to move back once their updated homes were completed, which is well above the national average. The development offers market-rate, public, and affordable housing. All types are integrated and provide the same amenities for residents, no matter income. DHA’s goal with the redevelopment was to create a space in which all residents feel valued and heard. We are proud to partner with organizations who are so committed to equity and ensuring that the needs of all community members are equally valued.  

          A Big Thank You to Our Event Sponsors!

        • 07/11/2019 10:37 AM | Morgan Pierce (Administrator)

          Engage & Activate: A DCI Downtown Institute

          Part 2

          This presentation and discussion, led by Brian Corrigan of Futures United Network (FUN), demonstrated the value of incorporating creatives and creative entrepreneurship into the problem solving process within urban planning and community development. He works at the intersection of the creative economy, technology, and community development and shared strategies on how to activate vacant buildings through various avenues, including pop-ups, incubators, and public art.

          Creative Placemaking: Intentional integration of art, artists, and creativity into the community planning and development.

          • This asks: How do we bring artists and designers and creatives to the table to really think of the artistic process as a form of problem solving?


          • Denver Pop-Up Example
            • Accelerator/incubator for the creative sector
              • 100% Colorado designed goods
              • Offered grants to creative entrepreneurs
              • Voting process (free marketing!)
          • Low budget: low cost, creative alternatives. Use creativity to make it happen!
            • Dumpster diving!
            • Cardboard, sharpies, etc.
            • Recyclable materials
          • Built and grew through multiple iterations


          • Creativity is a renewable resource
            • Creates a level playing field
            • It can come from anyone or anywhere

          Community Pride

          • A place can see itself differently and create its image
            • Give Access
              • Provide permission to creative people to demonstrate what they can do
            • Get rid of the red tape to make this possible
          • Practice Openness
            • More than just talk
          • Have a willingness to try things and just do it


          • What energy is your downtown exuding? Your stores? Your stories?
          • Energy builds more energy: What energy are you putting out there?
          • It’s contagious, what are you doing to spread this energy?
            • Entrepreneurship is the package you put that energy in so you can drive an improved future.

          Creatives, Entrepreneurship, Creative Businesses

          • What is happening locally, right in front of you? Look for potential there.
            • Meow Wolf Example
              • Artist collective, had nearly given up
              • Started in a vacant bowling alley
              • Grew into a lucrative and successful collective
            • San Luis Valley Example
              • Artist created 3D printing with alternative materials
              • He was inspired by his experiences growing up in the SLV
                • It’s important to include and showcase creativity that is born out of small places, rural places, all places.
                • We can’t just have creativity come from the city – it starts to all look the same.
          • Challenging the “everyday”
            • Do stores need to be in normal buildings?
              • What could a store look like?
              • How could we design or do this differently?
          • Interesting Storefronts: Cupcake Store Monster’s Mouth Entrance
            • Magical, fun, sparks imagination!
            • Can storefronts be a form of public art?
          • Alternative/Everyday Materials
          • For use in stores or public art or in pop ups
          • Use creativity to bring the everyday into excellence

          Experience economy

          • Built out of a store that only sells experiences
          • The “experience menu” allows people to connect with one another and have fun
          • What can your community experience be?         

          After the presentation, Brian led a brainstorming session asking participants to think of the possibilities that could be done with a vacant space – we used our example space across the street as inspiration. Post-It Note ideas included:

            Big Ideas

          • Indoor Playground
          • Commercial Kitchen
          • Pop-Up Escape Room
          • Holiday Market
          • Pop Up Trampoline Space

            Barriers + Barrier Solutions

          • No Interest = Use community resources to promote
          • Lack of Money = Donation/fundraising campaign
          • Outdated façade = Temporary changes to storefront based on pop up experience

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