Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Warm Springs economic benefits extolled

Study says project could bring millions of dollars to local governments

Express Staff Writer

Henry Dean, director of a proposed project to redevelop Warm Springs Ranch, toured the site last winter with a group of architects. Dean said this week that the estimated $180 million project would boost the local economy and deliver millions of tax dollars to public entities. Photo by Willy Cook

As Ketchum's Planning and Zoning Commission prepares for a second round of hearings on the proposed redevelopment of Warm Springs Ranch, project representatives are touting the findings of a study that indicates their plan would pump millions of dollars into local government coffers.

Henry Dean, project director for Sun Valley Ventures, the development group proposing to redevelop the high-profile 77-acre golf-course property north of Ketchum, released a set of figures Monday from an approximately 60-page report on the economic impacts of the project.

The study—conducted by Idaho Economics, a Boise-based economic analysis firm hired by Sun Valley Ventures—predicts that the Warm Springs project would generate more than $10.4 million for local governments in its first seven years.

In subsequent years, approximately $1.7 million would be derived annually from property taxes alone, the report predicts.

John Church, president of Idaho Economics, said more than half of the projected revenue from taxes and fees would go to the city of Ketchum. Blaine County and other local government entities, including the Blaine County School District, would split the remainder.

"The positive economic reach of this project is indisputable," Church said. "The city and the county all benefit directly, but so does the Blaine County Recreation District and Ambulance Service, the Ketchum Cemetery District, the Idaho Tourism Council and, of course, local businesses."

Sun Valley Ventures earlier this month asked the city of Ketchum to approve what would be the largest development project in the city's history. The plans call for annexing into the city approximately 65 acres of land under the jurisdiction of Blaine County and completely redeveloping about 9 acres already within the city's boundaries.

The estimated $180 million development would include 75 townhouses and condominiums, a 60-unit boutique hotel and a new Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant.

In exchange for approval, Sun Valley Ventures has proposed to include in the project various amenities to benefit the city and the public at large.

This week, Dean said the economic boost the project would provide to regional governments is one of the "cornerstone" benefits for the public.

The key findings by Church—who has written numerous economic-outlook reports for the state of Idaho, regional utilities and a variety of private enterprises—indicate that Ketchum City Hall would be biggest beneficiary.

The city, Church predicts, would garner nearly $443,000 from the its 1 percent local option tax on construction materials used in new development.

By 2011, his report indicates, the city could be bringing in nearly $850,000 per year from a combination of property taxes, local option taxes and fees associated with the project.

Church said the numbers are "conservative," but noted that they are gross figures that do not include all costs to local governments.

However, Dean said, the net figures would likely resemble the gross figures because the developers expect the city to link a variety of impact fees—which cover the costs of providing various public services—to any approval of the project.

The economic benefits of the project, Dean said, would come in addition to other, more tangible public benefits.

Sun Valley Ventures is proposing to deed at least 34 acres of open space to the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust for use as a public park and nature preserve. The group is also offering to build eight to 10 units of affordable housing.

Sun Valley Ventures has withdrawn an offer to build 30 units of affordable housing on the city-owned Park and Ride Lot after P&Z commissioners on Nov. 8 said they want deed-restricted housing on the developers' property.

An offer to build a community swimming pool and complex of tennis courts on public property still stands, Dean said, but is also finding lukewarm reception at City Hall.

Dean said the Church report will be submitted to the city in the near future.

Whether P&Z commissioners are swayed by the numbers is yet to be seen. While some developers have argued in the past that an increase in the tax base is a benefit of development, support for such a concept is not guaranteed.

The P&Z will next review the plan during a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 9. The panel will ultimately be asked to recommend whether the proposed annexation should be approved by the City Council, which will have complete discretion in making a final decision.

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