|Why Is Loveland Blindly Pumping Money
Into Pet Projects With No Exit Strategy?
This year alone, the City has virtually committed $1.5M to Downtown pet projects. While $1 million of that figure is not official
yet, it most likely will be approved towards the Rialto Bridge Project coming up this fall. The rest of the money is being spent for
design plans for the project, to put together a package to lure investors, money to private building owners to pay for aesthetic
improvements to their buildings and a $120,000 parking lot that “is just a use of this land until a developer comes to us” as one
member of the Loveland Downtown Team put it. The $1.5M doesn’t include any past ‘investment’ such as property
acquisitions, upkeep and utilities of those properties, or past deals with private building owners.
A Noble Goal: Bringing the Heart of the City Back to Life
The Revitalization of Downtown has been going on longer than most of us have been around, but the one thing that is changing is
the way the current City Council plans on pumping money into this pet project to make sure it succeeds. In 2009, City Council
approved the Downtown Revitalization Strategic Plan which points the direction for downtown revitalization. As with most
strategic plans, the directions to reach those goals are quite vague leaving the specific details to be figured out in the future.
The problem is the City appears to be moving forward without working out these details. As an example, the recent approval to
spend $145,000 for plans for the Rialto Bridge project is just that, plans for a project, nowhere in the agreement with the private
Rialto Bridge LLC does the City have a way to get back it’s money if the project doesn’t move forward, or like vNet, the
company goes out of business after the money is dolled out. What’s worse is this is just a precursor to spending more money on
the actual project, the City’s portion of the project is estimated at $1M by Mike Scholl, as many of us learned in 3rd grade math,
rounding up from $500,001 or rounding down from $1,499,999 will both result in the same answer.
By spending the $145,000 of taxpayer money, it will give the City the ability to move to the next step, which is to find out how
much this project will cost and exactly what this project is. This could be one symptom of this City Council’s inability do discuss
mistakes from the past and to put into place ‘exit strategies’.
Incompetent to Plan for Failure
The City Council’s approval of the agreement for the Rialto Bridge Project plans is another indicator that they are only focused
on the goal and not in protecting the City and its taxpayers. It appears they also have a sense of not wanting to scare anyone off
by talking about such unimportant topics like. . . the facts. Believe it or not, this was even proven during a Study Session
discussion about finding a replacement for Don Williams, when a discussion about keeping City Manager candidates from getting
scared off in case they find out they are not the only ones involved in the final interview process. These unintended consequences
in the winnowing process prove valuable to keep from hiring a City Manager that gets offended by such obvious facts, or from
entering into an agreement with an investor that may fail.
As with the vNet deal, John Duvall’s office has helped draft an agreement that focuses on success, but doesn’t do much in the
way of recovery in the event of failure. Agreements that include processes dealing with failure to perform are more normal than
City Council may be aware of. They are virtually always included in loan, construction, rental and purchase agreements. Even
though a couple of Council members voted for the agreement in the name of ‘picking your battles’, the fact remains that their
battle may not have been in the name of battling for the taxpayer. The Downtown Strategic Plan deals with way more than just
the Rialto Bridge project, if a recent ‘Request For Proposal’ scheme being paid for by taxpayers succeeds, there will be many of
these pet projects to try to keep track of.
Operations and Maintenance Costs not Discussed
Another problem with these pet projects is the lack of planning for future operation and maintenance costs. City Council is
‘hoping’ that when they get the results back from the $145,000 in taxpayer money, they will know how the Operations and
Maintenance Costs will be dealt with, unfortunately as a few residents pointed out, this discussion should have happened before
the $145k agreement. As discussed in a Study Session a few months ago, the City’s future general fund is going to be well short
of what is needed if a few more pet projects like this are undertaken.
The general fund pays for operations and maintenance costs not recouped in fees for services. City Council seems oblivious to
slowing down the spending of money that will lead to future obligations for ongoing costs. Unfortunately, Loveland is still reeling
from the current economic crisis where service cuts have had to take place the last two years. Gaining back those services lost in
’09 and ’10 may take longer to realize if this project goes forward. Just imagine if City Council gets the opportunity for a handful
more of these projects if the Downtown RFP is successful.
The City of Loveland’s place in picking financial winners and losers, and now picking financial partners may seem to be picking
up speed. No matter which side of the fence you are on about taxpayer money going to revitalize Downtown, cutting City
service levels in other areas may be with only way to sustain this goal in the future, especially given the current state of our
Readers are welcome to submit a response or guest
commentary on any current Loveland issues for
publication on this website..
Guest Commentary by Neil Spooner;
|Neil Spooner is an active member of
Loveland's 912 group and recently
started a local city blog
A Loveland native who grew-up in
Milliken, Neil has lived in Loveland
again since 2002 as he raises his own
family here. Below is a brief
description he submitted of his
“I’ve been working for an
excavation company in Longmont
for 12 years. Working directly with
Boulder County, the St.Vrain Valley
School District, the University of
Colorado and the Federal
Government, I’ve seen different
levels of government overstepping
their bounds and not using taxpayer
money wisely. For the most part, I
believe the City of Loveland is doing
a great job and is in a different class
than those entities. I think it is
everybody’s job to get involved and
make sure it stays that way.”