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New West Daily Roundup for Sept. 8, 2016

Today in New West news: $3.2M approved to purchase parking in new Missoula construction project, “ganja-preneurs” in Colorado, and Wyoming state senator mulls omitting CSM project from wind tax hike.

According to the Missoulian, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Directors has approved spending up to $3.2 million of Tax Increment Financing (or TIF money) to purchase a floor of parking in a planned six-story, 488-bed student housing complex. The complex, which will include another story of parking and 6,200 square feet of commercial retail space, is slated to be done in late spring 2018. From the Missoulian:

On Wednesday, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Directors approved spending up to $3.2 million of Tax Increment Financing to purchase one entire floor of parking – 150 spaces. The goal, according to city officials, is to use a public/private partnership to address the Downtown Master Plan’s stated goals of both increased housing density and parking. The TIF money will eventually be paid back by $300,000 in annual property taxes that the project will generate for the city’s coffers. The project, which includes $28 million of construction costs, could generate as much as $320,000 a year in property taxes.

“Basically what we’ve said to (the developers) is we will buy a floor of parking from you on Front Street for (the cost of construction) or $3.2 million, whichever is less,” MRA executive director Ellen Buchanan told the board. “We went back and forth on this, and finally a light bulb went off at MRA. Why don’t we just buy a floor of parking?”

Buchanan said that there is a dire need for more parking in the downtown area, and the MRA and the Parking Commission didn’t have enough money to build the nearby Park Place structure any larger.

“Someday we would like to get parking off the riverfront and turn it into something more than just storage for cars, and this is the first step in getting that done,” she said.

The developers, led by Farran Realty Partners of Missoula, have already started tearing down the old buildings at the site of the former First Interstate Bank drive-thru on the corner of East Front and Clay Street. Jim McLeod and Pat Corrick of Farran were at the meeting and told the board that the project will provide University of Montana and Missoula College students with secure, convenient housing near the two campuses.

Down in Colorado, according to the Summit Daily, with the rise of recreational marijuana in the Centennial State, another business class has risen: so-called “ganja-preneurs” catering to tourists looking to partake of the state’s new cash crop:

[Joel Schneider] and his wife, Lisa, launched their cannabis lodging business in April 2014 and, two years later, have four locations across the state. The group has Bud+Breakfast hotels in Silverthorne and Denver and ranch retreats in Colorado Springs and Grand County. All cater to folks wanting to make cannabis a part of their vacations while immersing themselves in mountain culture and enjoying the outdoors.

The Schneiders are among a small but dedicated group of ganja-preneurs looking to create an industry that is organic, high-end, customer-friendly and respectable in the same way other Colorado products, such as food and beer, have become.

“We have the best agriculture in Colorado,” pointed out Philip Wolf, founder of Cultivating Spirits, a high-end cannabis event company based in Summit County. “That includes the farm-to-table movement, craft beer and why not pot tourism?”

[…]

Colorado is quickly becoming a destination for health and wellness, and Regina Wells, of Durango Artisanal Tours, thinks pot tourism can be part of that industry.

The company, which launched in 2015, offers tour guiding and cannabis concierge services. Some of its most popular tours include a walking tour of downtown Durango, visits to several dispensaries, shopping for local artisan goods and lunch in a mountain setting. One of its fastest-growing events is the wellness tour, which introduces smokers to the health benefits of cannabis, along with a massage and hot tub soak.

Wells’ interest in the industry came from personal experience. After a health scare in her 40s, she had to look for a less physical occupation and discovered pot tourism.

“After my cancer scare, I started taking an interest in learning about cannabis and health. I was spending long hours on the computer finding out everything I could about its therapeutic effects. It was an eye-opener just how many folks out there were helping themselves and their loved ones with this awesome plant,” she said. “Legalization happened at the same time, so it was a perfect time to jump on in.”

Finally, over in Wyoming, we’ve been following developments in the proposed Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which has been in the works for almost a decade. Denver-based Power Company of Wyoming, the company behind the $5 billion project, has been delayed (or delayed itself, depending on who you ask in the Cowboy State) by financial hurdles throughout this process. The biggest hurdle? The fate of Wyoming’s wind production tax. Legislators hope to raise the tax to shore up a projected $600 million revenue shortfall caused by declining returns from mining and oil-and-gas extraction, but PCW reps say raising the tax would make the project unfeasible.

According to the Casper Star Tribune, State Senator Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) is leading an effort to exempt the CSM project from a proposed tax hike, to incentivize getting the project beyond the planning stage:

If built, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project would have 1,000 turbines, creating electricity for California, Nevada and Arizona. Over the construction period and the following 20 years, the project is expected to provide $780.5 million in property, wind energy and sales and use taxes to Carbon County and the state.

However, the project’s developers have warned that if the Wyoming Legislature hikes the state’s wind energy tax, the project may not be completed. Construction is anticipated to begin at the end of the year.

In anticipation of the 2017 session, the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee is studying taxation and ways to increase money to the state coffers at a time when revenues from fossil fuels are down. The committee will discuss at a meeting later this month draft legislation that would increase the wind production tax — currently $1 per megawatt hour, the nation’s only such levy on wind production.

The committee concluded that wind had been taxed at a lower rate than coal and natural gas. Lawmakers based their conclusions on a study that has been criticized by local government and renewable energy officials.

Driskill, a committee member and a proponent of raising the tax, said he’s talked with officials from the Power Company of Wyoming, which is developing the Sierra Madre project, and from Carbon County. He said he is warming to the idea that the project should not be included in any tax increase.

“They sent a crew up,” he said of the Power Company of Wyoming. “I met with them. They’re great people. I enjoyed the visit with them. It definitely had an impact on me, and I’ve had a lot from input from people down in that area of the state.”

A Sierra Madre exemption could be viewed as a victory for Power Company of Wyoming and the 15,000 residents of Carbon County, which is named after coal reserves that haven’t been mined in a decade due to the depth of coal and expense of mining it.

At this time, there is no word on whether the tax will be raised and, if it is raised, by how much.

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