The best argument for a $106 million housing plan for Larimer lies west of the neighborhood, in East Liberty.
That newly vibrant business district has surpassed the most optimistic expectations of a decade ago when Home Depot took a chance on the once-blighted community. Over time, East Liberty drew big retailers Whole Foods and Target along with smaller outlets and the multiple-use developments of Eastside and Bakery Square.
Nearby Larimer would be a logical extension, and the community has been working on a long-term plan for years. New urgency was triggered in May when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued instructions for its 2013 Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grants, for which Larimer might be eligible.
But applications must be submitted by Sept. 10, and Councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents Larimer, introduced a resolution this month that would cement the city's commitment to a plan for 350 units of housing, public green space and job opportunities.
Although there is an obvious need to improve the Larimer community, council should apply the brakes on this plan for now. The reason is money, a whole lot of local money that would have to be pledged upfront.
The city housing authority voted Thursday to commit $16.5 million to the plan, but that's just the beginning. Mr. Burgess' resolution says $16.5 million would have to come from a combination of the city's share of federal block grants, its Urban Redevelopment Authority and its capital budget. (The figure may change because the housing authority upped its share from $12.5 million initially.) Either way, that's $33 million in local dollars. Private developers would provide an estimated $40 million.
If the application to HUD is approved, that money would leverage a $30 million commitment from the HUD Choice program. Delay will take the HUD dollars out of the equation, and it is impossible to predict if similar funding will be available in the future.
Nevertheless, it is necessary and reasonable to give council members more time to assess the Larimer plan and determine how the financing fits in with other city needs. This is not to suggest that city officials should ignore Larimer, but starting smaller may be the better way to proceed.
East Liberty's transformation didn't happen overnight; each project built upon the one that preceded it. Before city council pledges more than $30 million, members should be certain the project will provide what Larimer needs and that it is in the best interest of the city as a whole.