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ARCHIVED  October 22, 1999

Partnership forming on Poudre plans

FORT COLLINS — Developer Bill Neal and downtown property owner Bill Sears say they are close to forming a partnership to get the jump on redevelopment plans for the Cache la Poudre River’s urban corridor.

And the two said construction of a building that replicates the flavor of 19th Century Fort Collins might be the catalytic first step in the process to push forward a city program for a riverfront overhaul.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re there,” Neal said. “The time has arrived. Let’s do it.”

Formation of a private development corporation could draw other property owners along the south side of the river into a powerful business coalition to move urban river redevelopment ahead of the city’s more-deliberate pace.

City planners for two years have been assembling a broad set of land-use options for the river corridor between College Avenue and East Mulberry Street.

But the intersections of Linden Street with Willow and Jefferson streets, just northeast of Old Town, have emerged as the focus for private development possibilities, and likely will be the starting point for broader scale projects.

Even city planners are feeling the pressure to move ahead with a process that will lead to approval of development proposals.

“People are saying, ‘Stop doing plans. Let’s get on with it,’´ said Timothy Wilder, the city’s project director for the Downtown River Corridor Implementation Program. “I’m telling them that this is no longer a plan. It’s a program.”

A building proposed for the Sears property, now occupied by Sears Trostel Lumber and Hardwoods, would “provide a catalyst for all the rest of the things that can happen there,” Neal said.

Inspired by the Tedman House, a hotel that was demolished to make room for the Union Pacific railroad, the new building would set an architectural tone for part of the riverfront redevelopment.

Fort Collins architect Michael Torgerson, retained by Neal and Sears to design the building, said it likely would feature one or two floors of retail space and two floors of apartments, including a “high-end, penthouse type apartment” capping the building.

“I think the way Bill Sears put it sums it up,” Torgerson said. “He wants to build a building that he’ll be proud to pass along to his grandchildren, and proud to have people refer to as the Sears Building.”

The partnership between Neal and Sears comes just three months after Neal joined with former Fort Collins mayor Ann Azari to explore the development potential for land along the urban riverfront.

The link to Sears offers chances to knit together other landowners and environmental organizations — two groups with important stakes in the Poudre redevelopment process.

Sears is a board member of Friends of the Poudre, one of the region’s most-active and well-established conservation groups. Most conservationists, he said, are realistic about the inevitability of redevelopment along the southern side of the Poudre’s course through the city.

The southern riverfront closest to downtown is out of the river’s 100-year floodplain, and unaffected by a process that will decide how development within the floodplain can proceed.

“I’m in an interesting position,” Sears said of his roles as prospective developer and as an environmentalist. But he said Neal’s credentials as a conservation steward, as well as his own, would work to allay the fears of other conservationists.

“Too many developers are like used-cars dealers — most of them sort of sleazy and slimy,” Sears said. “Bill’s not like that.”

Financing the overhaul of the neighborhoods surrounding Sears’ property on Linden between Willow and Jefferson streets will require a combination of public and private funds. Neal and Wilder both say they are optimistic about finding sources.

“We’ve had inquiries from venture capitalists up the yang, people who are interested in that project,” Neal said. “There’s no shortage of interest from financial people.”

The city’s planning process has also identified potential sources of funding, including lottery-fed grants from Great Outdoors Colorado for park and open space features and the possible creation of a separate urban-renewal district to raise public money for brick-and-mortar improvements.

Wilder said he is already at work pricing the street and infrastructure work that the city must do, and estimates that streetscaping features in the Linden-Jefferson-Willow center will cost between $3 million and $6 million.

Wilder said he was encouraged that Neal and others were prepared to submit formal plans for redevelopment, and that private resources and energy would move the process forward more quickly.

“I guess my advice to them is, ‘Don’t let the public process slow you down.'” Wilder said. “Chances are that he (Neal) can move more quickly than the city can.”

Neal, who served as Greeley’s planning director before entering the business world as a real estate developer, said he and Sears were already following the advice. But he also said he was preparing to deal with a different set of problems than any he has seen in his business.

“This will be a new experience for all of us,” Neal said. “This is re-development. I’m used to doing all of the work myself, but I can’t do this by myself. & But, in a way, the more amorphous it is the better. Public policy is not noted for imagination. I want to apply some imagination here.”

FORT COLLINS — Developer Bill Neal and downtown property owner Bill Sears say they are close to forming a partnership to get the jump on redevelopment plans for the Cache la Poudre River’s urban corridor.

And the two said construction of a building that replicates the flavor of 19th Century Fort Collins might be the catalytic first step in the process to push forward a city program for a riverfront overhaul.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re there,” Neal said. “The time has arrived. Let’s do it.”

Formation of a private development corporation could draw other property owners along the south side of…

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