Glen Van Nimwegen, Director of Community Development, introduced Denise Stephens, Director of Economic Development to the Board.
Denise Stephens, Director of Economic Development, gave a brief background of her experience in owning her own businesses as well as serving as a public servant. Denise gave an overview of what her department does and what their goals and visions were. She stated that most of what her department does is retention and expansion of businesses, and they are now handling business attraction and retail reinvestment. Her department does continual outreach to let them know what services are provided to them at no cost. They hold four business education sessions a year and direct contact with business owners is done on a continual basis. In the last year, they have just started to respond to site inquiries for interested business owners. Her department was also asked to create the framework for the economic plan for the City. Council also gave them the opportunity to provide Revitalization Grants to existing businesses.
The Planning Board had questions for Denise regarding how information is getting out to Littleton businesses. She explained that there is a business web site that is just being released "Go 2 Littleton" that will include a comprehensive business directory, business events calendar, commercial and residential property search sites. Citizens will also be included once the web site is released.
Board Member Rudnicki requested that when the Corridor Studies involving the business and retail communities that Economic Development would be able to spearhead some of the discussions.
Board Member Graham asked what have we done to say "thank you" to the existing businesses that are here in Littleton; a letter from the Mayor or City Manager?
Denise Stephens was not aware of anything being done comprehensively and she offered to make a suggestion to the Mayor.
Board Member Graham asked how prepared is Litteton from a retail perspective and what actions can the City take to capitalize on the next boom?
Denise Stephens responded that they have created an inventory of available retail properties and what is required and if there is a gap between the cost of their project and what they need to do things. Denise stated that they are moving into this arena for the first time; however, she believes that they are prepared. They have some fundamental information and they are building relationships with people that will look at retail in this area. They have the tools that they have compared against, such as national retail analysis firms and they have been fairly consistent in what they have realized in these reports.
Board Member Graham and Rudnicki asked about the long term economic effect of accepting an apartment building over the potential of retail and perhaps a more detailed analysis should be provided.
Denise Stephens responded that it probably would need to be looked at on a case by case basis. There probably could be an analysis with current and possibly future projects that would be multi family housing and gage when you might hit a saturation point. She believes that staff is always striving for a balance between those roof tops that would feed that retail and very good retail projects.
Glen Van Nimwegen stated that when it comes to rezoning, the Planning Board and Council must make decisions consistent with all of the goals of the Comprehensive Plans, not just those related to economic development.
Board Member Graham brought up the example of empty Safeway locations. He was wondering if there was an opportunity to be proactive and bring forward suggestions as to what would work in that specific location.
Denise Stephens responded that retail is a pretty tricky business right now. It is hard to pull in grocery anchor stores and it is even harder to bring in other brand type stores. They are regional. She expressed that one possibility might be to look at a more viable mix of retailers that are not brand retailers. The simple answer is there are a lot of regional retailers who are not interested in Littleton; there are a lot of barriers due to regional demographics and proximity of other successful retail areas. The retailers are not looking to do ground up construction; they are looking at existing sites to build on.
Board Member Baertlein requested that even if Economic Development tracked the areas of interest that they keep the Planning Board informed of their findings. She also asked what needed to be done in order to generate more interest in Littleton as a potential revenue source; anything specifically?
Denise Stephens responded that she was looking at contracting with some consulting firms to see if they could perform some preliminary analysis and to see if it adds up the way Economic Development's reports have added up. The bottom line is that people who represent the larger retailers or desirable grocery stores like Whole Foods, they have very specific things that they want in mind. For example, proximity to other similar stores is prohibitive and street barriers. We have a lot of major thoroughfares that serve as barriers for a lot of retail. This isn't something that we can address as a City, it is all about regional opportunity.
Board Member Elrod reemphasized that she thought that we needed to understand what the needs are of these reinvestment companies and what we need to be able to develop the product that we're trying to sell them.
Denise Stephens stated that economic trends change and retailers change. All of the big box retailers are downsizing their footprints or retrofitting their locations. The retrofitting of locations is something that has been happening over the last eighteen months.
Board Member Schroeder asked if there are examples of declining shopping centers in similar communities where they have been able to attract quality anchor stores.
Denise Stephens responded that all of the cities in Jefferson County are approaching the change in the economic climate so this is coming to the forefront.
Glen Van Nimwegen stated that from a zoning standpoint, the City of Lakewood added a lot of uses that would be allowed in their retail centers, including residential. A lot of the existing commercial shopping centers now allow mixed use whereas here we would have to rezone.
Denise Stephens stated that she was involved in the Comprehensive Plan Development for the City of Wheatridge and one of the things that her department really paid attention to was how to expand the uses for those properties. They had heightened density in their charter and that is how Economic Development was able to get those things changed; there was more flexibility with heightened density.
Board Member Rudnicki stated that he would like Denise to look at some short term things that Economic Development can help the Planning Board with that would not take a tremendous amount of effort and little if any money. One of these things would be comments from Economic Development as a referral agency.
Denise Stephens stated that Glen and Economic Development work together on all of this; however, they are certainly willing to add that information.
Board Member Graham stated that outside economic experts have been hired developers to justify their request yet there is not a rebuttal or opinion on the analysis by staff.
Glen Van Nimwegen responded that the Planning Department does analyze it similar to a traffic impact study. We do actually look at every study and if we disagree we tell them and they make modifications. In the case of the Platte Valley site, Council asked for a more detailed analysis and the timing did not give staff much time to weigh in.
Board Member Graham asked both Denise and Glen to be more bold and have a stronger opinion in the studies if economic viability is what we're trying to achieve in our City, let's not be shy about the opinions that support that premise.
Board Member Rudnicki stated that if he was a developer, he would spring last minute information, giving the City no time to analyze it. He questioned if there was a policy in place where all material shall be submitted 15 - 20 days before a hearing, perhaps, this is something that needs to be considered.
Board Member Graham stated that he had some concerns about if there are 700 performing centers right now, what happens if we're wrong. Aspen Grove is struggling with some of their tenants and he doesn't think we're going to wind up there, but we run the risk of having another under performing shopping center. What are we doing to kind of buffer ourself if we are indeed competing with South Glenn and Park Meadows?
Denise Stephens stated that she was going to be in a meeting with Aspen Grove this week. She believes that a lot of it is out of our hands. The larger shopping centers have a whole leasing unit where we are trying to find out when their leases are up and they can or may not tell Economic Development what is going on. They don't have a lot of control over that. Economic Development is just making themselves known that we are there and available to provide them with information when they can.
Board Member Graham asked Denise to explain to the Planning Board what steps her department takes when a business expresses an interest in moving to the City of Littleton.
Board Member Elrod asked Denise to explain how success is measured of this type of plan.
Denise Stephens responded that it would take a year to eighteen months to get a feel for what might happen. There is a measurement system in place and the output illustrates how many new businesses Economic Development works with, answering of site selections. So for any given month, this type of information is acquired. On a semi-annual basis, they can tell how many businesses are still operating and then determine what our retention rates are.
Board Member Elrod asked how do we identify what types of businesses do well in Littleton?
Denise Stephens responded that there is information through the SBA that based on population and other demographic markers, how many businesses of a particular kind are sustainable in your community. We could take a look at that and compare it to the number of businesses that we have. It would not only give us a retail picture, but a saturation or leakage factor for services as well.
Board Member Graham asked if it was possible to attract other businesses to come to Littleton and how would we do that.
Denise Stephens responded that they are currently reviewing how to expand their market and communications. This needs to be done strategically. Economic Development is looking to certain experts and stakeholders to ensure that a consistent message is being communicated. She believes you can market your city anywhere you want.
Glen Van Nimwegen stated that if someone is looking to relocate, we are obliged to tell members of the staff at their City.
The Board thanked Denise for her presentation and insight.
Glen Van Nimwegen updated the Board on the COMPLAN. Grant funds have been approved through DRCOG to look at the areas around two of Littleton's light rail stations.
Board Member Graham asked how does the Economic Plan relate to the COMPLAN structure?
Glen Van Nimwegen stated that Economic Development is not really something that's normally part of a comprehensive plan. It doesn't mean that it can't be, but it is usually the policy that implements a comprehensive plan.
Glen Van Nimwegen stated staff is working hard to get the final graphic form for the Comprehensive Plan. We will get it out on the website and notify as many people as we can to let them know that we have the final draft of the city wide portion of the comprehensive plan. He acknowledged that he received comments back from Board Member Graham. He requested that if other members of the Board had comments that they hold it for the public hearing that is scheduled for October 14.
Board Member Rudnicki did not agree with the recommendation as far as holding back. He made reference to the fact that the Board had not had the opportunity to edit the introduction, the first four or five pages. He did not agree with the introduction being presented to the public in October without the introduction being edited.
Glen Van Nimwegen stated that if the Board needed attitional time, a special meeting could be held on October 21 or go back to a regular meeting on the 28th. He thought that there was enough time to get it right and pass on a good recommendation to City Council.
Board Member Graham stated that he would like to be in a position that we are totally content as a Board as to what is put forth to the general public. He is not in favor of holding off on changes until we personally without reservation think this is our best foot forward. With that being said, he is supportive of moving forward; however, he wants to ensure that this is their best work. He would like to see the recommended changes incorporated into the document.
Board Member Elrod asked if there were any changes from now until October 14, would the Board have an opportunity to make changes?
Glen Van Nimwegen replied that since the Board hasn't seen the introduction, then comments should be submitted and then it will be modified and provided back to the Board.
Board Member Rudnicki responded that the report is three pages only; there isn't a need for a special study session.
Board Member Elrod asked what preparation, if any, needs to be done for the public hearing?
Glen Van Nimwegen responded that staff would do a quick presentation and you open it like any other hearing and take comments. We can record those and the Board can decide if they want to make changes after that. The hearing can be closed and you can come back to another meeting to review the changes.
Board Member Elrod asked about the input that is received from the public, the Board would consider the input and then determine what changes would be made. Would it be during a public hearing, which is on the spot, a secondary hearing or would that be done in a study session?
Glen Van Nimwegen replied that formal recommendations must be done during a hearing. The Board could formulate a recommendation with possible changes and Planning would make the changes before it went to Council.
Board Member Elrod replied that if the Planning Board was just concentrating on the introduction then this could be done electronically over the next week. It was agreed to aim for October 14.