Niwot LID board votes to partially fund Little Shops project
November 18, 2020
The retail incubator launched by the Niwot Business Association last month got a boost from the Niwot Local Improvement District's Advisory Committee when they agreed to recommend funding a portion of its marketing and promotional expenses at their virtual monthly meeting on Nov. 10.
By a vote of 8-1, the board granted a modified funding request of $4,554 that will cover advertising and printing costs, as well as costs associated with hiring an "ambassador" to assist shoppers during business hours.
"This is a different way of doing economic development, and I highly applaud that," member Jim Eastman said of the Little Holiday Shops of Niwot project, a micro retail space in Cottonwood Square combining 20 small sellers. "To me, it's a no-brainer. It's less than $5,000 to potentially launch one or two or three new retail businesses in town each year. I think that is tremendous."
The holiday shops opened in mid-October in the former Integral Cross Fit studio in Cottonwood Square. Twenty local artists and crafters have set up shop and are open for business Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., through December, using shared staff and equipment.
The approval for funding even part of the Little Shops project was hard won, coming after a debate that spanned two board meetings and ultimately involved the Boulder County attorney's office. At issue was whether such a project can be supported with LID funding, which is earmarked by statute for "public improvements"; "production and distribution of informational products"; and "the organization, promotion, marketing, and management of public events," including Rock & Rails.
During initial deliberations in October, many members felt that supporting a for-profit initiative was a violation of that rule, even if the initiative has an economic development component. Unable to come to an agreement, and uncertain if Colorado law allowed such funding, the matter was ultimately tabled.
The Little Shops organizers went back to the drawing board, while county liaison Mark Ruzzin consulted assistant county attorney Kate Burke, who concluded that some of the expenses do fall under the LID's purview, such as marketing and promotion, which it has often funded in the past. Less viable is the idea that the Little Shops is an event, even though the holiday iteration of it is due to end on Dec. 31. And the Niwot Business Association, a non-profit organization, became the applicant.
"At the end of the day, to be on the firmest ground, she [Burke] would suggest that the LID fund the components of this proposal that are consistent with the kinds of things they have funded in the past," Ruzzin said. "She would like to spend some more time thinking through the staffing piece."
The November discussion led the board to reject $546 of the NBA's initial request of $5,100, as that was meant for more ordinary operating expenses, such as paint and signage. However, they took a more nuanced view of the ambassador expenses, which many members felt could be justified since the LID has often paid musicians, performers, and security personnel in other venues.
"I viewed this differently when it came in, but I think they've addressed my concerns," member Bruce Warren said. "What I'm hearing tonight is that yes, this is an NBA project, and I view it as a marketing device. I don't have any problem at all paying $15 an hour to the people who are managing and marketing this. It's no different to me than what we pay Catherine McHale as economic development director for Niwot."
Not everyone was convinced, however. Treasurer Bruce Rabeler, co-owner of Little Bird, was comfortable funding the marketing portion of the request, which totaled $1400, but contended that the ambassador amount ($3,154), should be borne by the merchants who directly benefit. He ultimately voted against the request.
"If it's a holiday event, I'm willing to fund the advertising for it, but I'm not convinced LID money should be used for more than that," Rabeler said.
Other LID business
Before the great Little Shops debate, the LID meeting kicked off with a report from Rabeler on district finances through the end of October. To date, the LID has approved $249,749.08 in funding requests, including $105,000 for the parking lot. That will leave the district more than $100,000 over budget for the year, which will require a supplemental allocation from the capital reserve.
On the revenue side, the county's finance department is still awaiting more guidance from the state regarding an unexplained increase in collections for 2020. Last month, the Colorado Department of Revenue warned Boulder County that the LID was likely receiving erroneous payments from online retailers, and should be prepared for a 15% reduction in its annual earnings.
Parking lot update
Chuck Klueber of the NBA's streetscapes committee updated the board on construction of the public parking lot west of Murray Street in old town Niwot. According to Kleuber, the county has selected Whitestone Construction as the general contractor, and will allow them to directly bill the county finance department for expenses. Additionally, local architectural firm Fletemyer & Lee Associates, Inc., has agreed to provide supervision of the project on behalf of the NBA on a pro bono basis.
"Our next step is to meet with the contractor and go over the schedule of events," Klueber said. "Things are going smoothly. I had hoped to be started by now, but I don't think that's too far off in the future."
The LID advisory committee will hold its next monthly meeting in virtual format on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m.