AURORA | Businesses and residents agree the past year has been good for aesthetic and economic changes along the Havana Street corridor.
“Awesome would be the word for it,” Havana Business Improvement District Executive Director Gayle Jetchick said of the district’s growth and performance this year. “Everybody’s working together, and I can’t believe how many comments I hear a day from people who say how bad this area was five or seven years ago, and how there’s been such a change.”
This year has been by far the most productive for the district since it was established in 2008, according to statistics outlined in its annual report released in November. The project encompasses Havana from East Sixth Avenue to East Dartmouth Avenue.
Funded by a 4.5 mill commercial tax levy, the goal of the district is to brand the area as one for businesses and consumers alike to invest in a district that for many years was once riddled with crime, vandalism and little to no return on investment for prospective business owners.
“It’s very exciting in terms of the new business and new employees, and to think that year after year we’re achieving double digit successes, was just unimaginable six or seven years ago,” said Scott Goldhammer, BID board president emeritus.
The district added 75 new businesses and 430 jobs in the past year, bringing the total number of tenants in the 4.3-mile stretch to more than 500. With the addition of so many new businesses, sales tax revenue generated by firms in the district has risen significantly in the first eight months of this year, up 14.8 percent over the same period in 2013. Havana businesses make up roughly 12 percent of the total sales tax revenue for the city.
Medicine Man Marijuana is one of two new retail pot stores on Havana and the newest business to join the district, having officially opened its doors Dec. 1. Pete Williams, chief operating officer of Medicine Man, said that the operation fell into a location in the improvement district after fruitlessly scouring the city for buildings with owners willing to sell. Williams said he and his team are extremely pleased with their site on 1901 S. Havana, and believes they and other marijuana shops can help bolster security in an area where crime has been a lingering issue.
“We have cameras everywhere with a 360 degree view,” he said. “We’re making this area safer for everyone just because of the camera coverage we have.”
With recreational marijuana retailers now looking to capitalize on Havana’s heavy traffic and proximity to the Denver border — beneficial for luring in late night sales as Aurora stores may close as late at 10 p.m. as opposed to 7 p.m. in Denver — much of the available real estate in the district is being gobbled up, according to the annual report. The district’s vacancy rate hit a worrisome 2.3 percent this year, even though it’s nearly a quarter of what it was in 2010. Jetchick and others fear that the best properties are gone, and the last vacancies will be difficult to fill.
She said she hopes the blighted former Fan Fare site, approved for redevelopment by the city last year, and other newly developable lots will help spur new development by providing more available real estate.
“There’s a lot of redevelopment that can occur between Mississippi and Sixth (avenues) with a lot of possibilities,” she said. “We need to focus north of Mississippi.”
Currently, there are 209 commercial properties within the district’s borders. This year saw a $19 million leap in total property valuation over the previous year, clocking in at a value of just over $98 million for all of the properties in the district.
“The Chevrolet dealerships, Bella Vita and now Medicine Man have all invested quite a bit recently,” Jetchick said. An initiative that could be partially tied to increased property values is the Havana district’s Art 2C on Havana Sculpture on the Street Project, which brought 13 public art displays from around the country to businesses across the district.
“It totally changes the whole look and feel of the district,” Jetchick said of the four-year-old program. “The first year I really had to do some arm-twisting of business owners, saying this could really be a big tool for us and they all thought I was crazy. Now I have a waiting list of business who want to be included in the program.”
Mary Allman-Koernig, public art coordinator for the city, is writing a chapter about the Art 2C display for a book entitled “Creating Civic Engagement In Urban Public Art,” set to be published in 2016.
“We only have anecdotal evidence, but I’m going to describe how public art can contribute to economic development and point to numbers that suggest that businesses with Art 2C displays have seen their property values go up,” she said.
The Art 2C displays act as year-round marketing displays for the district, helping to provide interesting visuals and drum up business, according to Jetchick. In 2014, nearly 64 percent of the BID’s budget has been devoted to marketing and special events.
“We’re really trying to create that buzz by always having something going on, and giving people a reason to come over and see the big changes going on,” Jetchick said.
The strategy seems to be working, according to Aurora City Councilwoman Molly Markert, who applauded the district’s efforts and pointed to the constant traffic congestion of the Havana corridor as a subliminal marker of success.
“It’s so congested with traffic,” she said. “But that’s good, because it’s people driving, pulling in and out, buying things, trying new food. Now it’s pretty vibrant and no longer the deserted ghost town it used to be.”
The 2015 operating budget for the Havana BID has been set at $552,250, up 7.3 percent from the previous year.