MEEKER I For two years Meeker, Rangely and Rio Blanco County have been working with Better City, an economic development consulting firm based in Ogden, Utah, to research and establish a “holistic” plan for economic development by coming up with “action plans” that are individualized for each community’s individual needs and culture. “Better City was selected due to their implementation expertise. When the committee made the final selection, the consensus was Better City,” said county economic development coordinator Katelin Cook. “Many firms will provide a plan, but few provide implementation to make that plan work for the community and not just ‘sit on a shelf’ like most governmental plans do.” To date, the two towns and the county have spent a total of $411,640 on the project, with the Town of Meeker investing $146,757. Thus far, 26 percent of the total has been funded through grants. That investment has generated a Meeker-specific proposal that Meeker Town Administrator Scott Meszaros and Cook are excited to see come to fruition. In a nutshell, the proposal for Meeker includes the development of an Outdoor Adventure Center in the downtown corridor, coupled with expansion and development of the shooting sports cluster (bowstring manufacturing, etc.), downtown redevelopment and creating additional affordable housing opportunities. The first suggestion for affordable housing was a rezoning proposal for the old hospital property. That rezoning proposal was turned down by the Board of Trustees amid significant community opposition, but there are many other options to fulfill the housing portion of the plan. According to Meszaros, the town is looking at various ways to satisfy that component and satisfy the townspeople, too. Meeker has long been a leader in bowstring manufacturing, thanks in part to a successful economic development program in the 1980s that helped Rocky Mountain Bowstrings, which has been one of the most stable employers in the community, get started. Currently there are two bowstring manufacturers operating in Meeker, and there is the potential to attract other hunting-related or outdoor-related small scale manufacturing operators to town with the right incentives and amenities. “Exploring this industry and determining how we best position Meeker to be attractive to this industry is a next step that we are developing at the time,” Cook said. One of those amenities, and perhaps the riskiest part of the proposal, is the Outdoor Adventure Center, which would be a unique “destination attraction,” housing a full-scale, state-of-the-art indoor archery and firearm range that could be used not just during hunting season, but year round for archery competitions, firearms training for law enforcement and more. In addition, the center would serve as a kind of local clearinghouse for all kinds of outdoor recreation providers, from backpacking and horseback riding and OHV tours to outfitting and fishing guides. “It’s happening faster than we expected,” Meszaros said, noting that outside interest from investors and developers has been substantial, with five operators and 19 local outfitters expressing interest so far. While the center is anticipated to cost approximately $10 million for the more than 65,000 sq. ft. complex, the town’s taxpayers wouldn’t be footing the bill. By utilizing tax increment financing (TIF) to subsidize the project, Meszaros said, any public investment would be repaid over time. Entrepreneurial risk is also reduced by having more than one operator buying in to the project. “This is tapping into what’s already here, where we already have so much draw,” Meszaros said. “It all fits together.” Beginning in October the towns and county will begin a large-scale public outreach program to answer questions, provide information and build momentum for the proposal. In the meantime, all four phases of the Better City project are available to the public free of charge at the county’s website at www.co.rio-blanco.co.us/248/Economic-Development.
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