Victor Urban Renewal Agency is poised for action
Established in 2015, the Victor Urban Renewal Agency is finally positioned to bring revenue in and reinvest it strategically into Victor’s downtown, and quietly leading that effort is the agency chair Tom Clark, a highly credentialed academic who now calls Victor home.
The turning point
VURA is an independent public entity that operates under state statute and receives the taxes generated by increasing property values in its district, which encompasses three of the four blocks around the stoplight intersection. VURA then uses those funds to upgrade or improve infrastructure or amenities in the district.
However, since its establishment in 2015, there has been little in the way of development in that district, so the agency has had no revenue. VURA has spent those years in a holding pattern, planning, waiting, and trying to encourage development using ideas gathered from two collaborative planning processes, Envision Victor in 2011 and the New Mobility West workshop in 2016.
“Urban renewal had a gestation period before it showed an impact,” Clark told the Teton Valley News last week.
Last year was a pivotal time for VURA. Cobblestone Hotel, the Victor Drug and Clinic, and new residential rental units all popped up in the taxing district, meaning VURA now has a revenue stream. The agency also completed its first infrastructure project: Blue Flax Alley, which breaks up the large block on the southwest corner of Main and Center. The alley enabled significant development in previously inaccessible parts of the block.
VURA owes the city over $300,000 for its founding subsidy and for the loan that enabled the construction of Blue Flax, and the agency has a repayment plan with the city that ensures its own coffers won’t run dry. Clark estimates that VURA will bring in and reinvest at least $1.5 million over the remaining 16 years of its lifespan.
The Driggs URA was in a different position from its inception, Clark explained, because it was established in 2004 just before the new Broulim’s was built.
“Driggs was bringing in very healthy revenue from day one,” he said.
Erin Gaffney is the administrator for both DURA and VURA, and Clark said that VURA “is not ashamed to borrow a good idea” from Driggs.
The right man for the job
Clark has a curriculum vitae that couldn’t more perfectly match the unique developmental challenges that Victor faces. He is a retired professor of urban planning and policy development, is a principle referee for the journal Energy Policy, and is the author of several books, articles, and monographs on topics including regional land use planning, energy, growth management, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Serendipitously, as Victor city planner Ryan Krueger was writing his own master’s thesis at Clemson University, he relied heavily on the book Clark edited on mountain resort town development.
Clark has spent much of his life near mountains and found Victor deeply appealing when he and his wife Patricia O’Leary, an accomplished academic in her own right, visited family here. Once, during dinner at a restaurant in Teton Village, Clark struck up a conversation with Zach Smith, who was then the mayor of Victor. Smith encouraged Clark to get involved and asked him to serve on VURA. Jeff Potter was then the VURA chair, and when Potter moved on to replace Smith as mayor in 2015, Clark stepped up.
Clark and O’Leary sold their Denver home and moved to Victor full time earlier this year. They enjoy the many recreational opportunities the valley has to offer, including golfing, skiing, hiking, and painting plein air.
A shared vision
Clark is emphatic that planning alone doesn’t foster growth, that economic development is essential and “creates a receptacle for growth.”
“The urban renewal board and the planning department are determined to ensure we nurture an economy so it can fund those initiatives,” he said. “Envision Victor fell short because those ‘heart and soul’ objectives come with a price tag.”
He also questioned how much credence the city could give to the findings of Envision Victor, because there has been “a demographic tumult” in the valley in the last decade.
“Since 2010 a lot of new residents have come in who deserve a voice,” Clark said. “Those people are often younger, more economically vulnerable, and need essential services.”
More recently, the New Mobility West workshop helped Victor identify a number of concrete initiatives: reconfigure the historical depot area, relocate the park and ride, address the north entrance of town, break up the super blocks, and give purpose to the old elementary school property.
Some of those items have been accomplished. Clark thinks now that the challenges VURA might focus on include the “missing teeth,” vacant lots or dilapidated buildings in the downtown core, and the lack of cohesiveness in design.
“We have a community that’s increasingly committed to some growth, good growth that looks nice,” he said.
The future of Victor
A lot of VURA’s momentum will be directed by the city’s revised comprehensive and transportation plans. The revision process, which will involve extensive public engagement, should wrap up in 2020. Those plans will outline Victor’s vision for future community development and will be guiding documents in land use and capital project decisions.
Clark said that it’s important during the planning process for the city and community to think carefully about the magnitude of growth expected in Victor, not just in five years but decades from now. He has analyzed the annual rate of population growth and extrapolated that to 2040. The predicted population of Victor alone, based on past growth? Approximately 25,000. He called that an “unrestrained forecast,” but said Victor needs to be prepared for a burgeoning population.
“When you look at patterns of growth, the southern valley is the nexus,” Clark said. “Who represents the future? We must anticipate the will of the unarrived.”
He added that despite its size, Victor sees considerable leakage in sales tax revenue to Driggs, Jackson, and the Idaho Falls/Rexburg area. He also described the influx of national park tourists to the region every year as “a river of gold flowing through the valley,” and said it’s Victor’s responsibility to dip its hand into that river and claim some gold for itself.
While this is Clark’s last year as chair of the agency, he now has a co-chair, Lance Pitman, and he’s determined not to see the enterprise drift. He added that the board, also made up of Barb Dery, Zach Smith, Jason Borbet, Neil Ablert, and Deb Grove, is wonderful.
“We enjoy the support of Teton County staff. Bonnie [Beard, county assessor] and Bev [Palm, county treasurer] have worked closely with us to provide essential data and predict future revenue streams,” Clark said. “I have the highest regard for all the folks in the public sector as well as my colleagues serving on the council and urban renewal board.”
VURA meets on the first Monday of each month at 9:30 a.m. in the Work Farm conference room at 10 South Main. Meetings are open to the public and agendas are posted at victorcityidaho.com