In March 2018, the City of Grand Junction broke ground on Las Colonias Park, a 140-acre city park located along the Colorado River. This was a project unlike any other, a true public-private partnership that would transform a former uranium processing site into an amenity that our community can be proud of. In April 2018, Boulder-based bike rack manufacturer RockyMounts announced that after 25 years, it would relocate from Boulder to Grand Junction and it was Las Colonias Park that got them here. Owner Bobby Noyes toured the park, recognized what a transformative time it is for our community and wanted to be a part of it. Fast forward a year and a half and construction of the park is almost complete. The infrastructure – parking, sidewalks, irrigation and ponds – is complete. Public restrooms and the River Park, consisting of a lazy river with two standing waves, are close to completion, and the fence around the public dog park is going in. But what’s most exciting is seeing how the city’s investment in Las Colonias Park has spurred private investment all around the park as housing and mixed use commercial projects begin to pop up, creating an entirely new River District in what was and still mostly is an industrial eyesore.
Las Colonias Park has a complicated history. It started out as a sugar beet factory in 1899, but was purchased by the Climax Uranium Company in 1950 and became a uranium processing mill. Mill tailings were piled high along the riverfront property until the late 60’s when concerns about adverse health affects slowed operation. In the 70’s and 80’s, the Climax Uranium Company demolished most of the buildings except for the sugar beet factory, sold off equipment and did some decontamination of the area. In the 90’s, the Department of Energy hauled off the remaining mill tailings, completing the remaining remediation in 1998 under the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project, when they transformed ownership to the City of Grand Junction for a future park development.
And it sat there for the next 20 years with the Grand Junction Lions Club as it’s only true advocate. In 2014, the NorthStar Report recommended developing the riverfront. Local company Bonsai Design partnered with the City of Grand Junction to design the park and include a 15-acre business park focused on outdoor recreation manufacturers within the city park. (This is one of many community-wide efforts at diversifying our economy and at GJEP, we are tentatively optimistic that it’s working. The third quarter of 2019 is probably the first time in our history that energy jobs declined, but our economy continued to grow. While we’d like to see those jobs come back, we’re hopeful that we won’t feel the loss of those jobs as severely as we might have in the past.)
Because the park is a Legacy Management site, the lots within the business park cannot be sold. They can, however, be leased. Most city charters allow 99-year leases and there are parts of the country where this is very common. Most of Palm Springs, California and the state of Hawaii are land lease areas where private developers build on land owned by another entity. You might know someone with a cabin that they own on US Forest Service land – those are land leases. Most of the hangars at the airport are on land leases where the land is owned by the airport. Banks consider a 99-year lease the same as a purchase. They are comfortable financing a $4M building on a 99-year lease because they will be paid back long before the land lease terminates.
The Grand Junction City Charter is unusual in that it only allows the city to offer 25-year land leases and this single issue has hampered our recruitment of companies into the park. Using the example above, if a business is building a $4M building, but they are only guaranteed the land for 25 years, that investment really doesn’t pan out well. Of course, they have the option to renew, but this is asking them to “trust” a future city council to approve that lease renewal and most of the companies that have been interested in developing within the park simply don’t, especially when we’re talking about millions of dollars in investment.
This past April, you saw a ballot measure requesting a change to the City Charter extending the lease time from 25 to 99 years. It was a blanket ask, allowing for 99 year leases on all city property, and the voters rejected it. City leadership got the message, dialed the ask down and are now asking voters to allow for the 99-year lease ONLY on 28 acres at Las Colonias Park in an area already zoned for business development. The 28 acres consists of the 15 acre business park within Las Colonias and an additional 13 acres of city property adjacent to the park, but within the Legacy Management Site.
Measure 2B is truly about economic development. It’s about attracting good-paying jobs, helping local businesses to grow and diversifying our economy. It’s also a story of transformation that will prove to be a national model- turning a neglected and blighted area of the city into one we can be proud of. Vote Yes on 2B.
For more information and to see a map of the areas included in the ballot measure, go to www.voteyeson2b.com.
This story originally ran in The Daily Sentinel on October 20, 2019, and has only been slightly modified for clarity.