Note: having been 100% self-employed entrepreneurs since 1999, we’ll own our bias that we are not just pro Boulder City, but that we are pro Boulder City Business because of the intrinsic value we believe our locally owned small businesses contribute to our community.
The recent Redevelopment Agency meeting events regarding the Back in Thyme location and the plans that its new owner Grant Turner has for the spot, have again focused locals’ attentions on the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) in Boulder City. This has been an on-again, off-again controversial topic in town, and we thought it might be worth revisiting how this program works.
Created back in 1999, the RDA program created a specific zone in Boulder City where the tax base was frozen and all increases in property values from that point forward is pooled together for the benefit of the district. At the time the fund was created, Boulder City’s downtown district qualified under the State guidelines as being ‘blighted’ or under-utilized and could benefit from the creation of an RDA zone. The goal of such programs is to not only reduce blight, but also to boost an area’s property tax values and to incentivize investment. At the time, Nevada Way looked very different than it does now. Here is a quick look at some numbers for you now:
- Currently there is $2,864,767 available in the RDA fund, with approximately $600,000 being added annually
- There are 821 properties currently contributing into the RDA fund
- The fund lasts until 2029, where it can either be potentially renewed or the remaining dollars will go back into the tax base, allocated to the original entities it pulls from
Now…that’s a lotta dough as we can see! Which is a good thing, because as properties are developed that means the tax base overall is much higher, which is good for the entire town. It helps ALL of our property values, even in residential areas, and thus also helps the overall city budgets.
But there is often a lot of confusion we hear out there among the general public about how this money is taxed and allocated. So again, here are a few more facts for you:
- The RDA is funded SOLELY through the property taxes from commercial properties within the defined RDA district, with the only exception being the new homes built in the Storybook subdivision, because it was vacant land when the district was created in 1999
- Those property taxes are not higher than other property tax rates in Boulder City – they pay the same rate as other properties outside of the RDA district
- The increment (difference between taxes collected in 1999 and today) are then accumulated together as they have been now for 21 years total for use on RDA approved projects
- Those funds can be spent SOLELY on projects both commercial and public (by the City) as approved by the RDA Committee that are within that same RDA district
- All projects must first be approved based upon estimates for the work with a maximum approved expenditure, and then funds are not awarded until the ACTUAL work has been completed and all final invoices/receipts have been submitted to the City and approved
So in other words, the RDA funds aren’t collected from the general public and the funds for projects when they are approved are not coming out of the general fund. It’s not OUR tax dollars at work. HERE is a list of all of the RDA approved projects to date. You can also read the full RDA ordinance HERE, as well as take a look what type of work qualifies HERE.
So, for example take the two recent projects that were completed at the Browder Building. Since the creation of the RDA program, the Browder Building itself – regardless of who the owner is – has been paying their portion of taxes into that RDA fund for the past 21 years.
Now, over the course of 2020 we saw that building leased to two different businesses, each of whom made use of the RDA funds as they remodeled and upgraded the building. Funds which again, are there because the business location itself has contributed into that same fund for all these years. The current businesses who took advantage of RDA funds, Big T’s Cantina using them for his external remodel. Also, the Dam Roast House, who is the first business in town to take advantage of the new Historic Preservation RDA Grant (we told you about HERE) which allows for a larger reimbursement percentage plus a larger variety of the types of work that are eligible for the grant reimbursement.
The Historic Preservation RDA Grant
In February 2020 after many months of work, both the Historic Preservation Committee as well as the City Council (who are also the Redevelopment Agency) voted to unanimously approve a new grant from within the RDA fund. The grant sets aside $100,000 in funds annually to be used for specific qualifying projects to incentivize the historic preservation aspect of their properties and allows them to qualify for a higher percentage of reimbursement. Normally projects have been for 30% for exterior work almost exclusively, and this allows for some interior work at a higher 50% level. You can see the guidelines HERE. Mind you, to qualify for reimbursement, the improvements must also follow the Secretary of Interior Guidelines for the Historic Preservation of Buildings.
Alan Goya, who was the Chairman of the Historic Preservation Committee at the time tells us it was something they worked hard on. We watched the meetings and they thoughtfully debated each and every qualifying activity they included in the program. When we spoke to Alan, he reminded us that, “currently there are no restrictive City ordinances about historic buildings and their preservation. So, this is an incentive to comply with historic preservation guidelines for owners to invest back into the building as they look at upgrading or remodeling.
Also, back in February of 2020, when we were doing extensive research on this new program, we interviewed and asked endless questions of Community Development Director, Michael Mays. He helped explain many aspects of the RDA program in general, and the new Grant as well. At the time he told us, “the $100,000 that will currently be made available we hope is a great incentive to local businesses to invest in preserving the Historic character of our town.”
Now, to pivot back to the Back in Thyme location mentioned before, the same facts apply – the building’s owner has paid into the very system it is then asking to have funds allocated from per the program’s rules. At issue with that location and the fact that the property was turned down in its bid to qualify for a Historic Preservation Grant, is the need to have the building updated for ADA guidelines. In order to accomplish that, several proposals were put forth specifically around the front entrance to the space. Requests were made, and then reviewed and then re-reviewed by the RDA. The proposal put forth by Grant Turner was unanimously approved by the Historic Preservation Committee first, but then denied by the Redevelopment Agency, for reasons that still don’t completely make sense. When you check out the Historic Preservation Grant qualifying activities, the top one on the list is ‘Accessibility’. So clearly the proposal technically qualified for the reimbursement being requested.
The Big Debate
There are some major issues where people have passionately different points of view regarding the existence of and the administration of RDA funds in general, as well as the socialism/capitalism debate that often continues in our country around a whole variety of topics.
First off – yes, RDA programs such as this one is indeed, a socialist-style program. A tax is rendered against individuals and funds collected, and later awarded to those who qualify according to the rules of said program. Some inherently dislike these types of programs because they pull tax dollars from other local beneficiaries, (in Boulder City, the Library does take the biggest hit). Others see this as a slush-fund for the already rich – after all, if you can own/lease/open a business it does take money, and frankly, lots of it. Also in this discussion, it should be pointed out that there are areas of the country where RDA funds have been raided and miss-used by politicians for a wide variety of reasons, many of them nefarious – and that’s wrong.
But another way to look at it is this: most definitely within Boulder City, our downtown business district is all connected – it’s not just one and then another and another independent business. The financial health of that downtown core is crucial to our economy as a city. So, creating a zone where funds are contributed only from those business properties, to help keep that area vibrant and attractive to visitors and locals alike is a good thing. And this is one moment where banding together and creating a larger capital fund to draw from is far and away more powerful than what any single business owner can accomplish on their own. RDA funds have contributed to keep our streets well lit, safe, walkable, friendly, well signed, and enjoyable to be on. The utility infrastructure has been updated with these funds, and without those improvements, businesses would not have the fundamentals they need to open and operate. Helping business owners as they improve, remodel, and invest in new ventures with a little bit of specially approved, set aside capital that their very tax dollars helped to create – why is that in any way inherently unfair? Not to mention that if we add in the important topic of historic preservation to the piece, then having additional incentives to maintain our historic storefronts, while meeting modernizing requirements, becomes important to our town’s character as well. But those projects are all expensive, to say the least.
And what about the possibility for abuse? As with anything there is always the potential for those in power to misuse any such system you put in place. All we can do as a community is to elect leaders who we think will be fair, consistent, and thoughtful in how funds are awarded and spent.
But what we also think is wrong, is to accuse anyone who you simply don’t like of bending the rules or trying to corrupt that system. We’ve heard the RDA fund termed as ‘free money for the wealthy’. But here’s a truth as we see it: what it takes to open a brick-and-mortar business is more creativity, risk-tolerance, grit, hard work, and perseverance than most of us have. So, to just bash entrepreneurs who are putting their finances at risk and are simply taking advantage of funds that again – their properties have paid into – is unfair.
Last time I checked this was still the USA, and we are oriented to pursue our dreams and to succeed. Because of the internet, you can live your dream and run your business out of your garage. But if you want to open a physical location – you need money, and lots of it – plain and simple. We think it’s worth remembering that we owe a great debt to all our local business owners who are pursuing their life’s dreams on their terms, and in the process helping to make our town what it is – provide jobs, contribute their tax dollars, and who create something special for all of us to enjoy. Our thanks to you all!