Buena Vista – Sen. Cory Gardner made a stop on Main Street Wednesday as part of his tour of the state during the Senate’s August recess.
“We try to get in every county across the state all the time, and this is an important part of our state,” Gardner said. “I remember coming here as a kid, and it’s neat to see some of the economic opportunities that have blossomed … a lot of what we talked about were affordability issues and the constraints that can be put on a town because of success, and how do we address that.”
Gardner took a walking tour of East Main Street for about an hour, stopping to answer questions from constituents, discussing topics including energy, affordable housing, bipartisan compromise, cannabis and the Pearl theater.
“One thing we’ve done with rural theaters … we have theaters that are stuck with the choice of digital cameras that cost a quarter of a million dollars more than they have. And this is the other thing I find interesting: For the towns like, say, Akron, Colorado, if they want a first run of a movie, say they want to get the new Spider-Man movie or the new Marvel movie, they’re required to keep those in the theater for three weeks. In a small town, you’ve seen it the first weekend,” Gardner said while standing outside the Pearl.
“So I actually called the CEO of Disney and said, ‘Can you make some kind of exception for rural theaters? I guarantee they’re not making the difference in your quarterly profit. So can you just say you guys don’t have to keep it for three weeks?’”
Outside the Trailhead, owner Dave Blazer spoke to Gardner about the importance of the outdoor recreation industry to the town.
“As we have seen more proliferation of the outdoor industry within Colorado, how do we utilize and interconnect what we do well, what we have right around us that has both good commercial and enterprise opportunities?” Blazer said.
“What we’re finding is, we’re talking about how do we alleviate or move away from a very summer-seasonal economy into trying to create more opportunities for businesses like light manufacturing or anything to offset with more of a year-round economy.
“One of the biggest parts of that is housing,” Blazer said. “If we had companies we wanted to court and bring here …”
“How would you convince them, on the workforce side, that you have housing?” Gardner said.
Blazer mentioned The Farm, a concept of building more affordable housing using manufactured homes, as a possible pilot program for bringing in workforce housing to communities quickly.
Gardner said he’s been involved in legislation to increase the affordable housing tax credit by about 50 percent, which he thought Congress can get through this year.
He said he is also working on a “dream zone” bill, not yet introduced, that would take the idea of opportunity zones and use them for affordable housing.
“You can take an opportunity zone now and use it for affordable housing, but that opportunity zone has been set, and your town may or may not have one,” Gardner said.
“So, if you had this sort of floating ‘dream zone,’ which was a standalone opportunity zone, as long as it was dedicated for affordable housing and met the standards of affordable housing, why could it not have the advantages of an opportunity zone?”
Gardner said the advantage of the opportunity zone, in addition to other affordable housing benefits like tax credits, could drive the cost of housing in those zones down by as much as 30 percent.
“That’s something that’s been brought to us before,” Mayor Duff Lacy said. “What can the town do about affordable housing? And the little things that we have aren’t going to reduce it that much.”
Gardner also discussed the STATES Act, proposed with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which would recognize the legal status of cannabis in states that have legalized it. The act would exempt organizations from federal enforcement of controlled substance laws if those organizations are acting in compliance with state laws.
“This would legalize the banking side of things, the marketing, the radio advertising, decrease crime by getting the cash out of the shadows,” he said.
Lacy said his goal during his face time with the senator was to impress upon him “the difficulty in getting funding. The competition against the Front Range. The dollars and cents that are there are not designed for us to compete with them. It makes it real hard for small towns to get into those dollars and cents.
“It’s interesting. And, according to what he was saying, that’s some of the stuff he’s working on.”