Greg Nidy, left, Dan Briley, right, at Northern Lights Cannabis Co in Edgewater, Colorado on January 1, 2014. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

This city needs a new $7 million civic center. Marijuana taxes to the rescue?

Marijuana taxes are having a huge impact on Edgewater, where more than half of the Colorado city's proposed $7 million city hall, police station, fitness center and library would be covered by pot money

EDGEWATER — This may not be the city that cannabis built, but Colorado’s most famous cash crop could soon be the driving force behind construction of a $7 million, 40,000-square-foot civic center in this tiny community wedged between Lakewood and Denver.

Edgewater is exploring using sales tax revenue from marijuana sales to cover more than half the cost — $4 million — of building a facility that will house a new city hall, police station, fitness center and library.

It’s a project that likely wouldn’t move forward — at least not for years — absent the tax remittances made by the city’s half-dozen pot shops. The city expects to collect north of $1.2 million in sales tax revenues from pot in 2016.

“There is no way we could have gotten the civic center together as quickly as we have without the retail marijuana revenue,” Edgewater Mayor Kristian Teegardin said Thursday. “Having that retail sales tax from marijuana definitely sped up the process.”

It’s not the first example in Colorado of a community using cannabis tax revenues for public infrastructure improvements or public programs. Adams County devoted more than half a million dollars in sales tax money from recreational pot sales to fund scholarships for 50 low-income students, while Aurora is dedicating $1.5 million in pot revenues to helping the homeless and Pueblo West is putting $200,000 toward street repairs.

But it may be the most powerfully symbolic. The new facility at 19th Avenue and Harlan Street would represent the very civic identity of Edgewater, a placid city of 5,300 across Sheridan Boulevard from Sloan’s Lake.

Mark Slaugh, executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, said Edgewater’s welcoming approach to the recreational marijuana industry since it was legalized statewide nearly four years ago has been “pretty advanced, pretty progressive.” And now the city and its residents, who voted in favor of Amendment 64 in 2012 by a 73 percent majority, are reaping the benefits.

“They’re going to help get kids off the streets, they’re going to help kids get educated at the library,” Slaugh said.

Already the city has used $3 million from both medical and recreational pot sales to repave all 12 miles of its streets and fix miles of sidewalks as well. City Manager HJ Stalf said cannabis revenues essentially cut in half the time needed to do the repairs compared to the budget before pot was legalized.

“I had thought about using green asphalt,” he joked.

The civic center plan must still go before voters this November because the city proposes to build the facility on land currently occupied by an under-utilized park. If it gets voter approval, a groundbreaking would occur next summer with completion of the building in 2018, Stalf said.

Edgewater could save up to $100,000 a year in maintenance costs keeping its government facilities going in various locations throughout the city, Stalf said. It could also generate millions of dollars selling off those properties and getting them back on the tax rolls as private businesses.

“We spend a lot of money keeping all these systems running in buildings that are 30 to 100 years old,” he said.

Stalf said the advantages of a civic center will be immediately apparent to the community. Currently, the city’s police force is jammed into a leased single-story brick building on West 25th Avenue that Stalf said the city is “embarrassed by.”

Edgewater’s library would grow in size by a factor of 10, moving from a 1,000-square-foot space to a 10,000-square-foot section of the new center. And the city’s one-room recreation program would blossom into a 14,000-square-foot fitness center at its new location, with a workout room, basketball court and upper-level running track.

Frank McNulty, Colorado’s former speaker of the House who was recently part of an effort to push forward a ballot measure that would have placed strict THC limits on the state’s recreational marijuana industry, said Edgewater can do what it wants with its cannabis revenues.

But he said the industry shouldn’t “disguise and distract” from the social harms it is causing by pointing to the tax collections it generates. Whether that’s increased crime on the 16th Street Mall that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock attributed in part to legal marijuana or reports of elevated levels of THC in babies’ blood from mothers who use the drug, McNulty said “the marijuana industry can’t buy its way out of the negative impacts it has on society.”

Erika Lindenauer, store manager for Northern Lights, said her shop and the five others in Edgewater have caused no trouble for police in the city. She said it’s “nice” to see money generated from the sale of cannabis “go into something beneficial for the community,” like a civic center.

“It shows our head and hearts are in the right place,” said Lindenauer, as a steady stream of customers entered her shop midday Thursday. “We’re not just cashing in — it shows marijuana dollars can be used for a good thing.”

Stalf said the marijuana sales tax revenues are coming at a time when Edgewater is being “discovered,” with younger families moving in and rejuvenating the look and feel of the city, which incorporated in 1901.

Teegardin, the mayor, said having a signature civic facility could open a new chapter for the city.

“This turns a major corner for Edgewater, and not only for Edgewater, but for the surrounding area,” he said. “It’s a big cornerstone for the next generation.”


Pot revenue in Edgewater

Marijuana sales tax revenues in Edgewater (including state portion)

2014 — $550,000

2015 — $973,000

2016 (projected) — $1.2 million

Source: Edgewater

This story was first published on DenverPost.com