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1/22/2004

Loveland seals deal with McWhinney

By Dave Brendsel
Times-Call News Group

The Loveland City Council unanimously approved an incentive package for McWhinney Enterprises on Tuesday that members said would unleash the commercial potential of east Loveland and provide benefits for all residents.

“We need to look into the future,” Councilman Larry Heckel said. “This could kick things loose on transportation and get people interested in Loveland.”

After a second night of packed public hearings, with most residents speaking in support of the proposed Centerra deal, council members voted unanimously on five separate resolutions approving the city’s complex agreement with McWhinney.

The agreement spells out funding strategies and public improvement plans for 1,300 acres of undeveloped land in McWhinney’s 3,000-acre Centerra development.

A 1.25 percent city sales tax credit and new property taxes from an urban renewal project area and metropolitan district created Tuesday are expected to generate $591 million to fund $250 million in local and $100 million in regional public improvements and associated debt.

The deal should net the city about $5 million a year in taxes during the next 25 years and about $15 million a year after that, city finance officials estimated.

Company president Chad McWhinney said the council’s approval of the deal will secure a new regional mall for Loveland. His crews already are moving dirt, and mall developers Poag and McEwen are wrapping up leases with retailers, he said.

This is the most complicated transaction he’s ever negotiated, McWhinney said, with some of the biggest risks — and biggest opportunities — of any deal he’s done.

“I wish my dad were alive to see this,” McWhinney said. “I’m really excited to get going.”

Nearly 100 residents — filling the chairs and lining the walls of the council chamber — witnessed the historic agreement Tuesday. Unlike last week’s hearing, which saw a mixed response to the proposal, most of those who spoke Tuesday spoke in favor of the Centerra deal.

“This may look like a deal,” said resident Mary Jane Ward. “But it’s a sweetheart of a deal.”

Ward called the city’s partnership with McWhinney “absolutely marvelous” and said it would ensure the future economic health of Loveland.

Residents of Centerra’s High Plain Village said the quality they’ve seen in their McWhinney development make them trust future development by the company.

Other residents spoke of the project’s ability to solve regional transportation problems and to provide tax revenue for the city and jobs for current and future residents.

“I applaud the long-term vision of the city and McWhinney Enterprises,” resident Greg Carlson said. “Loveland can no longer rely on HP and Agilent.”

A few of those testifying Tuesday still had concerns about the proposed incentive deal.

They continued to question the city’s use of urban renewal legislation, its financial projections and the project’s impact on Loveland businesses and residents.

Mostly, they questioned the speed of the public process.

“What I would really like to see is a vote of the people,” said resident David Wright of Citizen Planners, a local managed-growth advocacy group. “People in Loveland don’t want Southern California.”

Each council member added his or her own reason for supporting the agreement.

Most focused on the project’s ability to fund transportation improvements on U.S. 34 and Interstate 25.

“There is no money coming from the state of Colorado,” Councilman Don Marostica said. “This will fix some of the problems we have.”

Many members also touted the thousands of jobs the development would produce — first in construction and retail and eventually in the high-paying health services or bio-tech industries.

“There isn’t a community in America that doesn’t have a jobs problem,” Councilman Walt Skowron said. “This will make Loveland more competitive.”

Councilman Gene Pielin said the deal benefits residents by incurring no city debt, bringing in new city taxes, ensuring a schedule for local and regional transportation improvements and giving the city broad authority to oversee public and private financing strategies.

“We spent a lot of time to make sure we protect Loveland,” Pielin said. “We tried to negotiate as good a deal as we could get.”