It’s an old clich/ – things seem worse on the other side of the tracks. In Fort Collins’ case, it’s the other side of Old Town.
Years ago, College Avenue prospered as U.S. Highway 287, the main route through town. From a two-lane dirt road to a four-lane avenue, the northern stretch grew dense with automotive businesses and hotels, in hopes of attracting customers passing through.
Over time, North College became nearly obsolete as traffic mainstreamed to Interstate 25. Today, the area is still dominated by the auto-related industry and many of its older buildings are showing the wear of time. It continues to struggle both economically and physically in its quest to attract customers to its services.
“Businesses are not prospering the same way that southern (College Avenue) businesses are,” said Ben Manvel, District 1 councilman. “It’s kind of the low end of town.”
The area’s poor image is the result of several factors.
“It’s not the best part of town,” said Tristan Flood, a Loaf ‘N Jug employee who commutes from central Fort Collins. “There’s a big difference between central Fort Collins and northern Fort Collins.”
Flood said he can see the difference in the surrounding community, but mainly attributes it to the physical area and its businesses.
Philip Chang, owner of Budget Host Inn, notices the difference, too. He said the area can be considered lower middle-class, but is confident that progress is looking up.
Fort Collins “is trying to develop the area,” said Chang, who also lives in the area. “I hope it does. I hope to be here.when it becomes a better area for people. It’s much different than the southern side.”
Chang is one of many North College residents and business owners for whom the city is making improvements now and for the next 25 years under its Urban Renewal Authority (URA) program.
The URA is a modern infrastructure that will help connect north Fort Collins with the rest of the community by bringing it up to standards, said David Roy, councilman for District 6.
North College became a serious consideration for redevelopment after members of the North Fort Collins Business Association (NFCBA) approached the city and suggested improvements.
“By working with the city and creating the URA, business owners and people who live in the area are creating stake for that area and all of Fort Collins, all of North College,” Roy said.
The URA was established in December 2004 and is on a fixed 25-year lifespan. During this period, it hopes to capitalize on a program called Tax Increment Financing, commonly known as TIF.
Over its lifespan, TIF will allow North College to capture a portion of the property taxes generated by increased redevelopment values.
The taxes are then reinvested back into the area by the city to fund additional projects, like sidewalk construction and gutter improvement. There is a TIF Assistance application that prospective projects must fill out before being considered by the URA.
In October 2006, TIF funded the construction of a new sewer line for Valley Steel & Wire Company, located at 280 Hickory St. At a cost of about $105,000, it was the URA’s first large-scale project completed in the area.
The new sewer system will allow for the long-time business to continue its operations in Fort Collins, Mayor Doug Hutchinson said in last week’s State of the City address.
There are currently no projects being funded by the URA.
TIF is expected to funnel millions of dollars into the area by its expiration date, leaving many optimistic about what the future might bring.
“It’s gradually turning around. At the end of this, it’ll hopefully be a beautiful area,” Manvel said.
Additional funding for North College includes a $4 million grant from Building on Basics, a city tax renewal program. According to Dean Hoag, president of the NFCBA, the city has also been applying for federal funds to expedite progress.
“It’s a positive force to help us get this area get to where it needs to be,” Hoag said. “This area’s been neglected forever.”
That perception of the neglected North College has only been reinforced by neighboring Old Town’s modern upkeep.
Hoag is confident that the relationship will improve as redevelopment continues.
“We don’t want to be exactly like Old Town, but we want to try to be an extension,” Hoag said. “We want to try to draw people across the bridge, make them feel welcome and safe.”
The URA and owners like Hoag, who also owns Rocky Mountain Battery Recycling, recognize the need for a diverse economy if North College expects to get and retain customers. Family restaurants, a movie theater and a grocery market are some of several businesses potentially slated for the area.
As Fort Collins proceeds in redefining North College’s image, the question of how progress will affect current residents arises.
“We recognize the value of diversity in our communities, and we take great pains to make sure people who live here also have the opportunity to continue living here,” Roy said.
The efforts being made for a new and improved North College have made Roy very proud.
“The people who have decided to make this change today will have tremendous impact on Fort Collins well after we’re all gone,” he said.
Staff writer Jen Cintora can be reached at email@example.com.