Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group

City Manager Greg Caton - City of Grand Junction - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group

August 17, 2021 City Manager Greg Caton Season 1 Episode 17
Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group
City Manager Greg Caton - City of Grand Junction - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group
Show Notes Transcript

Christi sits down with Greg Caton, the City Manager for the City of Grand Junction.  Get an overview of some of the big projects happening in the city, how we are faring after a crazy year+ of COVID, and what the city is looking to in the future. 

Bonus - Greg answers his own phone and emails, so don't hesitate to reach out to him with your questions and ideas for Grand Junction!

Learn more about what is happening with the city at their website!

Christi Reece:

The Full Circle Podcast, compelling interviews and incredible tales from Colorado's Western Slope, from the mountains to the desert, Christi Reece and her team here from the movers, shakers, and characters of the Grand Valley and surrounding mountain towns that make the Western Slope, the place we all love. You'll learn. You'll laugh. You'll love with the Full Circle. Hi everyone. It's Christi Reece. Welcome back to the Full Circle Podcast. I am here today with Grand Junction City Manager, Greg Caton. Thank you for joining us, Greg. Thanks for having me. Yeah, you are a busy man. There's a lot of activity going on. There is a lot of activity going on. Tell me what your most excited about right now. That's going on in grand junction. I

Greg Caton:

Feel like it's our day in the sun, if you will. And uh, so many people are moving in the right direction, pulling on the rope in the same direction. And it's just great. I think grand junction has deserved it for many years. Our economy is I believe the most diversified it's probably ever been and that you can do a lot of things when um , revenues are coming in and things are diversified. So it's great.

Christi Reece:

That's exciting. I think we feel the same way in the real estate business. We're like we're on the map and people are noticing us from all over. People are moving here from other communities that always were kind of beating us out and now we feel like, oh, people want to come here. Most

Greg Caton:

Definitely. I think, unfortunately it, for many years thought we were kind of second choice. Or even when I came here, people are like, well, where are you headed to? Like, this was a stepping stone. This is not a stepping stone. This is a wonderful community. Yeah,

Christi Reece:

Yeah. Growing all the time. What do you see in the growth in grand junction? What kind of numbers are we seeing? Yeah, so our sales tax, that's

Greg Caton:

Really a good measure for us of really economic activity. Uh , we don't really compare too much to 2020 of course, because of the pandemic. So we go back to 19 and it's , double-digits over 19. And also when we look at , um , the different sectors, there's a number of different sectors that are doing well. And also , uh, just driving down here in this beautiful location. I , I think what we're starting to see is really the fruits of our labor from many years ago. And so we planted seeds and people were very excited about the first few years said , wait until you actually start seeing it go vertical. And just much like west of here, we've been working on for many years on dos Rios. People are going to start to see that activity and latter part of this year, early part of next year.

Christi Reece:

And, and a lot of people don't realize how long some of these projects have been in the works. I mean, they may have heard about him a year ago, three years ago, five years ago, but the seeds started well before then

Greg Caton:

A good measure of that references , beautiful building. We are here in Las colonias and that started actually in 16. Uh , I arrived in June of 16 and shortly thereafter that bonsai had the opportunity to sell their headquarters. And we started discussions about how do we keep them in grand junction. Um, and so yeah, here we are five years later and now we have this beautiful building and this beautiful park .

Christi Reece:

We're really excited to be here and wanted to talk to you about what you see coming next, because we love being down here and we're ready for some restaurants to move in down in this area. Yeah . So

Greg Caton:

We formed a partnership with , uh , Los Colonias development corporation LCDC, as we refer to it. And then also GJ grand junction, economic development partnership, and their opportunity or partnership for us is to help one fill out the , the business park. But then also ladder latter . Part of the development of the park was this idea of a Plaza or some type of restaurants to really add that mix. Um, because we obviously have the recreation elements, we have the business elements, and so there needed to be kind of that restaurant component. And so I, I know there's been continued discussions in that regard with LCDC and GJ . Awesome.

Christi Reece:

Well, we look forward to inviting any businesses that would like to come down and open , uh , some food , uh, any kind of food down here at the riverfront. We would be excited about it. Um, what are some of the biggest challenges we're facing right now in grand junction?

Greg Caton:

One that comes to mind is housing and housing. And so what I have said, some , we had challenges five years ago and thankfully is , uh , some of those have been solved or , uh, reduced as far as challenges, but now we have some new challenges. And I certainly think that housing is one of those. I'm a Colorado native. And so I've seen communities all across the state , um , with that challenge. And unfortunately what I've said is when you're you have that challenge, you never really solve it. Yeah . You work, you're always chasing it. So I think fortunately it's not as bad as some communities had it when they started with policies and with initiatives. And so I'm hopeful that if we really invest in this and resource it , that we can make more progress than many of our counterparts across the state. But what the challenge is, if you don't solve that problem, then it leads to other things such as transportation issues, right ? It's an employment issue. Uh , if you can't have a , a reasonable place to live or places to live for employees. And so then it translates into the business community. So there is a huge ripple effect

Christi Reece:

For sure. And one of, I guess, one of the advantages of us always feeling like we're a little bit behind some of the other markets in Colorado is we get to watch what happens to them. And boy are the resort towns feeling that to the nth degree. Um, I'm hearing that there are no place for people that work in the hotels and the restaurants to live in those communities. And it's always been tough in the resort communities, but it's even more so now

Greg Caton:

I watched that I read several papers every morning of the mountain communities and other communities across the state. And you're exactly right. It was. And I think that's a good example of kind of pre pandemic and post pandemic where it certainly hasn't exacerbated it as , uh , certain challenges that communities had, you know , in those mountain communities they've had that for years. And then now they have a real problem. Yeah . And unfortunately it's at a crisis point up in summit county. They were literally talking about , uh, some significant , uh , reactions to that crisis.

Christi Reece:

So being able to see that extreme level of housing problems in those communities, what are we as a city right here? So try to combat that. I saw

Greg Caton:

This comment about two years ago. So as we were developing, the comprehensive plan housing really started to emerge as a topic of concern. So we engaged a group called root policy, and they've been working with us to develop some, a list of policies and action items for council's consideration. And we're, we're narrowing the finish line for that process. And that will give us kind of a roadmap over the next several years to, to work towards , uh , really , uh, providing some relief in that area. And it's not just, there's not one solution it's going to be a multi-pronged approach and we need to work with our community. Some are more palatable than others, and some are very dramatic. And we certainly aren't, aren't suggesting at this point that we start with some of those. And , and to your point, I've seen some of those more dramatic ones across the state that have not been implemented the way the governing body thought they would be or the results. They didn't quite see the positive results. And so , uh , we can learn from those others. We literally hired the best. I'm very impressed with the work that's coming out of there. And so we look for community feedback, industry feedback on that and to chart this course.

Christi Reece:

And when you're looking for community feedback, how does that come to you? I mean, you do, are you still doing coffee with city manager? So is that one place you get feedback from community and also at city council meetings

Greg Caton:

For my own phone , um, and reply to emails and everything in between. And so , uh, we have over 700 staff members and we get feedback every single day, 700. Yeah. We have , uh , 7 0 8 authorized in the 2021 budget. And, and next year , um, we're still developing the 20, 22 budget, but we'll be adding staff particularly in the first responder area , uh, were voters in 2019, gave us the directive to add three fire stations, add police officers. And so we really are in a growth mode of a staffing

Christi Reece:

And how surprising and wonderful was it to have an excess in the budget. I mean, to have excess funds this year. And we

Greg Caton:

Did so , uh, to the point , uh, you know, a year ago when , um, at 60% of our general fund comes from sales tax. And so when you have governor orders that tell people to stay home , um, and not even show homes, for example, then that can certainly be a problem , uh, in our community. Thankfully, we were very different than many other communities across the state. And so to your point, there, we didn't, it did end up with revenues over expenditures for 2020 , uh, in large part because of our reductions in expenditures. So we did not have any layoffs or furloughs, but we kept a lot of positions open that just naturally are open. Or there was some vacancies that occurred. In addition to that, we did reduce some operating expenditures. And so I give credit to our staff who did a phenomenal job. They know their particular areas better than anybody else, and they dug deep and found savings. And the best thing about that is for the most part residents didn't see it. Yeah . And that's our always our goal. Now then people say, oh, you did it one year. Will they continue that? Right. It doesn't work that way.

Speaker 4:

Wouldn't , that'd be great. Okay .

Greg Caton:

And it was meant to be a cyclical , uh, um , solution versus a structural solution. The structural solution , um, for our budget came in 2016. Um, shortly after I got here , uh, we had a cyclical and a structural imbalance and we right-sized that , um, unfortunately we had touched 31 positions. Um, some of those , um , part-time some of those early retirement and then certainly some, yeah,

Christi Reece:

Well, I can sympathize with you because I'm early in my team building , uh, I hired a business coach and they said, let's start, let's start over. Like, let's scrap everything that you did before and start a new, and sometimes you have to do that, right. Just get rid of a lot of the fat and start over and what a great foundation you've laid now.

Greg Caton:

And so what , um, so there are a couple of goals early on in my tenure that was objective one to , um, right size, really our organization and find those opportunities. We did that early on, and it was kind of forced upon us because of the economic downturn. And two was to make investments , uh, in such as in the business park, really get engaged in the economic development. And our partners do a wonderful job. We outsource our economic development. Um, but , uh , down here along the river front , we've taken a direct role in that and also trying to be a good partner and being a good partner is having our own house in order with our financial condition. And , and then also investing in areas where we only control. And what I mean by that is infrastructure. And first responders in that is not by happenstance. That's comes out of our strategic plan. So we have a strategic plan that we update every two years. And so a lot of this has been the result of that strategic plan. We didn't just think of it overnight. It was investing in our infrastructure, investing in first responders, diversifying our economy. And for the first time in many, many years, our economy is not as tied to oil and gas as it once was the third quarter of 20, 20 19 oil and gas dipped. Uh , but yet our local GDP went up. That was obviously a sign of diversifying economy and that was the strategic initiative.

Christi Reece:

Fantastic. Um, I think those of us that live here full time can see a lot of the things that are going on right now with the city. Uh, not only down to here at the riverfront. I mean, there's a ton of construction. Uh, there's the first street intersection, a lot of activity there there's sidewalk improvements going on in the downtown core. So lots of money being spent on improving the city

Greg Caton:

Over $85 million that we'll be investing , uh , in capital infrastructure throughout our community in 2021 and likely be that same number, or maybe even a little bit higher for 2022 . The sidewalks is a good example and I'm really proud of our roads here. I think our roads are the con there's two components. One is the condition of him and to his expansion , um, handling growth. We've invested in both those areas. Happy to talk more about that, but the sidewalk pro program , um, many other cities struggle with that and we've invested in that we put $400,000 in investing in our sidewalks in 2021, and that will continue. Uh, that's not just a one and done, you continue to invest in the infrastructure. It's like the roads. Uh , we put a lot of over $5 million each year in maintenance of that. So over a $250 million asset, when you look at the system and now we're investing , uh , $70 million in expansion up in 24 in G and also what will happen is there'll be significant economic activity up there in a few years. It's already going on. People go, wow, look at this economic activity. Well, when communities have seen a direct investment in economic development in areas where they invest in transportation,

Christi Reece:

It's really important to look ahead, isn't it? You don't want to get caught. No.

Greg Caton:

I often say we're working with city council. You know, we're, we're looking at five and 10 years out. I'm not looking at tomorrow. If I'm looking at it tomorrow, then

Speaker 4:

It's too late. It's too late. It reminds me

Greg Caton:

Of those little kids when you play soccer. And when you

Speaker 4:

Were really little, you know, there's just like that little pack and they just look at you . Yeah. They just look

Greg Caton:

At their F and they look at their feet. If we're looking at our feet, we're in trouble. We need to be looking downfield. Yeah.

Christi Reece:

Well , let's circle back to housing a little bit, because of course that's our main area of focus here, but , um, lots of building going on. Uh, what do you see from the city perspective on that and the planning department? Sure.

Greg Caton:

So we're seeing a lot , uh, obviously in this, you know, this from the business to what we'll also see as the commercial follows the rooftops. So we'll have a surge here of the rooftops. Um, and then the commercial activity will start to flow after that. We've seen some interest in , uh, industrial space, if you will. And so that's , that's kind of a new and emerging, which is great,

Christi Reece:

Right? I've seen, I've seen some pretty big sales happening in the industrial sector, so that's

Greg Caton:

Really nice. But as far as the residential , um, in the housing study, it says we're a couple thousand units short we're under supplied in, and we see that you see that on the short days on , um, at least for listings, but then also just people are interested pre pandemic and then post pandemic there . You're more interested in grand junction. Just like you said earlier, I agree. I've heard say we're on the map, we're on the map. And so we're going to , we're going to see that residential construction for quite awhile . Um, what's really important. We just finished , uh , the comprehensive plan, which had significant community input. So that's our roadmap over the next 10 years. And again , uh , being a Colorado native, we can't say no to growth. Yeah . We can not say no to growth.

Speaker 4:

Where, where did you grow up? I grew up in Colorado Springs and yes. Um,

Greg Caton:

My parents moved there in 1970. It was a hundred thousand people and they left in about 2000 when it was about a half a million people.

Speaker 4:

And then it's even growing . That's really

Greg Caton:

Significant growth. So you don't say no to it. You can't. Um, but what you do is you manage it, you manage the growth. I think even for sometimes neighbors, they think density is a bad word. Density is important because if you either have a trade off between density or sprawl, and those are the extremes that we need to find where that balance is for us. So you'll start to hear more about sustainability , um, trail connection, connection in general road connection , um, in density as we move forward now, appropriate density. Um, it's not just density at any measure, but , um, we do not want to have sprawl. That would be really unfortunate. Cause we have looked across the state and in, beyond the state boundaries for four models that we don't want to , uh ,

Christi Reece:

Follow. Exactly. Yeah. And , um, the downtown obviously would love to have more density down there. What kind of initiatives are the city doing to try to foster that?

Greg Caton:

So we have one of the longest standing downtown development authorities in the state and they do a wonderful job , um, in, in part of that is funding through tax increment financing. So we refer to that as TIF . So the city provides those TIF dollars to the DDA on an annual basis , uh , to really partner , uh, in really look at those strategic investments. And they've done a phenomenal job in that area. One of the things that I know that DDA is working on and is really key is the 24 7 and mean by that they need residential. You need residential into downtown to really give it that life. And the opposite of that, just to paint the picture for people is you have employment-based downtown, that's wonderful, but a five o'clock people would drive home the drive away out of that downtown that doesn't make a healthy downtown nightlife and environment. Well , I mean my restaurants, all of that entertainment, but full-time residents downtown provide that. So continuing to focus on residential downtown will be really important. And then also look for street , uh , strategic redevelopment opportunities. And there's a number that were , got a little bit premature to mention specifics on, but , uh , coming soon,

Speaker 4:

I can I come on

Greg Caton:

Downtown's are the heart and soul of any community we have the best downtown. There is with a beautiful serpentine street that , uh , was really pushing the envelope and nearly 50 years ago. And so we've got the bones there and wonderful restaurants and, and uh, other establishments downtown retail, just the whole mix. So we need to support them. That's really important. So downtown supporting the core, supporting the heart of the community. So we do have a, we call it a redevelopment area and there are some basically reduction in fees in that area. And we expanded that area to include some strip of , uh , 650 down in an orchard Mesa to really help facilitate that type of redevelopment. Then there's a lot of opportunities in our community.

Christi Reece:

Yeah, I agree. Um, how about , uh , the marijuana issue? What's your take on that and what would you like people to know about where that stands right now?

Greg Caton:

Voter authorization to really it was prohibited before. And so now they really eliminated that prohibition and city councils working through the regulations. We've received a lot of , uh , community input and continue to have discussions at the city council level, that lots of attendance from community members and industry members, lots of feedback there. We were hoping to have the regulations completed , um , really fall , uh, that might be , um , pushed just a little bit, I would maybe say by the end of the calendar year, and then that's really just for the retail stores. Um, and then if there were other regulations that needed to be , uh, developed such as , uh , manufacturing potentially , uh, growing things of that nature, then that could come later. Um , but , uh, we could see, we'll see stores potentially in 2022.

Christi Reece:

Uh, I mean there's a lot of potential there, like you said , um, whatever side of the issue you're on. Um, it's interesting to see grand junction going through those issues again. Yeah , yeah. Um, what

Greg Caton:

I would say that's beneficial is if, if people are maybe struggling to accept that is we did put in the question, the focus utilization of the dollars for parks and recreation. And so , um, should that , uh , regulation and the stores come to fruition, which we are anticipating that will be a significant revenue source for parks and recreation.

Christi Reece:

And in my opinion, that's much needed. I mean, of course it is, but I think that the more people we draw here to this community , uh, with our trails and our open space, we've got to maintain it. We've got to continue to keep it clean and build new trails and we really need that funding source.

Greg Caton:

Um, and we've been again, kind of going back to the strategic plan, really focused on achieving those areas. You know , first responder we're in really good condition, they're that great, of course, police and fire. I often say businesses or residents don't move to a community that's not safe. And so we've invested in that area. Uh , and then our infrastructure, again, really proud about our continued investment in infrastructure. Um, most people think of that as transportation, but I would also submit parks and trail networks, things of that nature, and really recognizing them as an asset to the community and continue to invest in why I say invest, not just spend money, is there's an anticipation of a return on that investment. And that's building a healthy community that people are proud of. And we're look, we're looked upon as that. And that's what we were proud of , um, too . And it takes significant discipline , uh, to invest in some, some of that is, is boring infrastructure. Maybe some of that, that you don't even see underground, but what the, we have to invest in that, and we've done a good

Christi Reece:

Job over the recent years. We've had some rains recently, some pretty heavy rains that have not always challenges some of the stormwater systems and things like that, but , um, saw lots of crew out, cleaning things up and repairing things. And it's nice to see there's enough people to get that stuff done.

Greg Caton:

Then we'll try to stay really nimble and adaptive that I think of 2020 didn't teach us anything. It taught us that and we have excellent staff and they know their jobs, and sometimes we have to put them in a different area. And they're really adaptive to that. I just mentioned one example. We didn't have orchard Mesa pool open about 4 14, 15 months ago when this first started. And so Reed , we redeployed those staff members to our parks and actually our parks saw considerable utilization , uh, last , uh, last summer and continued this, the recreation elements is really been a post pant pandemic and then post pandemic, if we can say maybe we're posts , but there's cross is really given a boost and a level of heightened importance to parks and recreation, parks and recreation. I believe in particularly that outdoor recreation that's about all people could do for a while . And so it was really encouraged and we just need to make sure that we have those assets and amenities really for our residents, we build them for our residents and then , uh, tourists or guests in our community get to utilize them, but we need to build that . Okay . We become residents.

Christi Reece:

You know, we saw that a lot during the pandemic people coming from the mountain saying, I'm going to go down to grand junction to ride my bike. And wow, this is, this place is pretty cool. I haven't really gotten off the highway that much. And once they come into our downtown and some of the special places around here, they start to think, you know, I could live here.

Greg Caton:

You know , uh, the leisure traveler is, is often a gateway into business investments and permanent residency and, and many communities have seen that. And we're starting to see that we're we're , we are on the map, as you mentioned earlier, and seeing significant interest , uh, also we're on the we're being , uh , discussed more , uh, at the statewide level. And even beyond that , um, we are the , we are the metropolitan area and on the Western slope, and I think it's important for us to have our voice at the table. That's another thing we've worked really hard at the last couple of years.

Christi Reece:

Well, I think you've done a great job, Greg. I'm really impressed with all the projects that you've been able to manage. I don't know how you do it, cause there sure is a lot going on , um, in the, just a couple of minutes that we have left. Um, talk a little bit about the dose ratio side over there because there's so much activity and I'm sure people every day when they drive by it, think what's next. What's next?

Greg Caton:

Well, I do have to give credit , uh , first when you said we have a lot of projects to our city staff just phenomenal , uh , it's 700 plus employees doing just an excellent job each and every day. And then also to our city council, know our city council. They're our form of government there . The board of directors, city manager serves as the CEO for the organization. And this is my business. I've been in this for over 24 years, but great leadership from our city council. So , um , a staff saw many years ago, a cleanup opportunity back when there were junk cars on a dos Rios and they going to move the junk cars off and clean up the site, move the junk cars back. And they said, well, maybe you can just find a new home for the junk cars. I know many staff, including city attorney has been here over 30 years. Worked really hard on that. And so then we own the site and sat fallow set empty for many years. And then when I got here, I kind of joked that we were land rich and cash poor in the 2016. So we started to look at opportunities with that land that we owned. And , uh, we really thought if we put in the infrastructure and often people think we're in the D or accuse us, I'll say it that way of being in the development business. We're not what we do is form public private partnerships. And what we do is develop horizontal infrastructure and then the private sector comes in and develops the vertical infrastructure. So through a very creative financing mechanism, through a general improvement district and also , uh , doing some tax increment financing, we finance the infrastructure for $10.7 million that will be complete within about 45 to 60 days. And then we sold the property. So we found a buyer of it, actually two buyers. We often mentioned the second buyer. The first buyer has been a Jen Taylor bought it some time ago. Uh, but then the second buyer was out of Denver and then found a new partner who has great vision for the property. And we also develop the vision. So we developed the infrastructure, a little bit of vision and one to hand it off to the private sector. So , uh , we sold it for $4.3 million and they pulled down just a portion of it , a little over $1.8 million that they own and paid. It , paid us for that. And then we'll see , uh, oh , about a hundred million dollars investment over the next 10 years. We'll first start to see the investment in long Hale , along the Northern part of our pro the property, working to the south. There'll be a lot of residential and a lot density. Speaking of that density we spoke about earlier. So townhomes condos, apartments, and then when you get more to the core creates more public space. So we're going to invest about another million dollars in some public space. So the public will still be able to use the beautiful bicycle playground, the public space, and we're exploring maybe a beach type opportunity. Uh, and then in that core then you'll see some commercial activity. So probably by the fourth quarter of 2021, we'll see some activity. And then really in 2022, you'll see a lot activity down there,

Christi Reece:

Super exciting. And I love that you can ride your bike to connect all of these things. I mean all the way out to Palisade and all the way out to Loma and Mac , it's incredible what we've created here. So it's really just

Greg Caton:

A great community. And everybody with that same vision , um , we have so many great partners. Uh, we couldn't do this by ourselves and they couldn't do it by themselves. And we're all really moving in that same direction, residents , these major institutions, major businesses. And it's just a very thriving right now.

Christi Reece:

Well, thank you, Greg. Um, if , uh, our listeners or our viewers want to get in touch with you , uh, should they just go to the gjcity.org website? That's cue up. That sounds good. Do you want to announce your email

Speaker 4:

Address? So you

Greg Caton:

Can just go to the website, the city manager email also my phone number , uh , two four, four one five zero eight. And so , uh, we get so much feedback , uh , positive, constructive everything in between all day long. And I just tell a quick story the other day, somebody called and , and that's a good idea and wow, I didn't

Speaker 4:

Want, I didn't expect you to call me back in two . I didn't expect you to be so

Greg Caton:

Responsive. We're here to serve the community.

Christi Reece:

Well, thank you for listening. Thank you. I appreciate you. Great job. Thanks so much. I appreciate it. Thanks to all of our listeners and viewers and thanks to Greg Caton, and we will catch you next time on the full circle podcast. Have Great day. Thanks for listening. This is Christi Reece signing out from the Full Circle Podcast.