History of the Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority
By: Matt Robenalt, Executive Director, Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority
In 2021, the Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority, also known as the DDA, quietly ushered in its 40th anniversary in service to a mission to build public-private investment partnerships that foster the economic, cultural, and social growth of the Fort Collins central business district. The DDA, a quasi-public agency enabled by state statute, applies its partnership focus to a 750-acre area consisting of the town’s oldest historic commercial and industrial zoned lands.
Downtown Fort Collins is known for its vibrancy and offering of diverse experiences created by a concentration of over 600 businesses. Today’s businesses consist of an eclectic mix of local-owned and franchise retail shopping, delectable restaurants and taverns, nationally recognized craft breweries, and professional and government services. Downtown also features an engaging nighttime entertainment scene with music performance venues that attract national acts and is notably the headquarters of several international companies. With these businesses situated amongst a plethora of plazas, parks, trails, and enhanced public spaces it also makes socializing and people watching a favorite past-time of residents and visitors alike. More than 1000 residential living units of all types have been built since the early 2000s making downtown Fort Collins a highly desirable regional neighborhood that offers a unique and lively urban living experience.
The economic, cultural, and social vibrancy that exists today in the downtown is sometimes misperceived by newcomers to the community as having always been this way. The DDA was created in 1981 to develop partnerships with local government, private building owners, and businesses to elevate the downtown out of a significantly deteriorated condition that consisted of boarded up storefronts, condemned upper floors of buildings, and an absence of investment in basic public urban infrastructure and private property. The area of the downtown known as the historic triangle, home of Old Town Square, was nearly lost in the late 1970’s to a scheme by CDOT to extend Remington Street northward as a new one-way segment of US Highway 287. Community activists interested in preserving the historic architecture of the city rallied to create a preservation district to protect the buildings that would have been destroyed by the highway reconfiguration, and the formation of the DDA by downtown property and business owners followed shortly thereafter to assist with achieving revitalization and redevelopment goals.
The DDA applies its primary financing tool, tax increment, to foster partnerships with private sector building owners and developers to assist with the rehabilitation, expansion, or development of new buildings on underutilized parcels of land. To date, tax increment financing has supported more than 200 partnerships related to historic building rehabilitation, expansion of housing options, creation of mixed-use office and retail spaces, public parking garages, and construction and operation of over 100,000 sq. ft of enhanced plazas, alleyways and streetscapes. More recently, in 2020, when the downtown’s 501c(6) member-based business association became financially insolvent due to the COVID pandemic, the Fort Collins DDA came forward and resumed the function of a downtown-wide business marketing and communication program and this is now a permanent service of the agency available to any business located in its district.
The tax increment financing tool that has supported these important investments and programs has a legally prescribed end date that will conclude in 2031 for the Fort Collins DDA. Several of Colorado’s cities with mature downtown development authorities are also facing this same expiration date. These cities have begun conversations about amending the DDA Act through the state legislature to ensure a consistent source of funding is available well into the future to support the ongoing investment and services for central business districts that have also become the crown jewel of their communities. The Fort Collins DDA is actively working with these other DDAs to address this topic.
Supporting the wide array of interests in a vibrant downtown neighborhood through partnership investment, advocacy, and application of urban management strategy is like developing a recipe to make a delicious loaf of bread; a form of edible chemistry. It requires an understanding for how to achieve equilibrium between its elemental component ingredients of water, flour, salt, yeast, and heat to produce a mouthwatering loaf of nourishing goodness. The DDA has been practicing its own specialized form of baking, in the form of downtown revitalization, for more than forty years. As we look to the future there is great hope that we can continue to respond to the insatiable appetite of residents and visitors for the diverse offerings and experiences provided in downtown Fort Collins and accomplish this in an inspired and fiscally responsible manner.
Source: Matt Robenalt, Executive Director, Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority
Matt was appointed as Executive Director of the Fort Collins DDA in 2009, and has served with the organization since 2006 when initially hired as a project manager. Matt’s career in community redevelopment has involved both public and private facets of the industry since graduating from Northern Michigan University in 1994. He worked for a multi-discipline engineering firm in Michigan that specialized in brownfield redevelopment, as a business manager in Tennessee at a downtown brewpub and restaurant, and for the past 24 years he has lived in Colorado where he also worked as a private consultant, and as an urban renewal and historic preservation planner for the City of Loveland, CO. His volunteer endeavors include past chairperson of the Fort Collins Housing Authority Commission, a board member of the non-profit DMA Plaza senior housing development, and board member of the Fort Collins Local Lending Company, board member of Visit Fort Collins, and advisor to the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. He has a wife, Alice, and son attending university in London, U.K.
September 14, 2022