City of Boulder passes sales and use tax benefiting cultural institutions and more

Photo: Boulder's Dairy Center for the Arts renovation rendering
A rendering of the exterior design renovations that Boulder's Dairy Center for the Arts plans to realize after voters approved ballot measure 2A during the 2014 elections.

Voters in the city of Boulder approved a short-term .3 percent sales and use tax benefiting cultural and public safety projects. The measure passed by a margin of nearly 2-1 Tuesday.

As the only tax increase proposed for the city in the 2014 general election, Ballot Measure 2A passed with 20,492 votes, making up more than 60 percent percent of the total.

The capital improvement package -- projected to provide $27.6 million -- will support a range of cultural and public amenities, including the development of Boulder’s proposed Civic Area, renovations to the Dairy Center for the Arts, and street lighting along the Boulder Creek path.

“I think it’s fair to say that Boulder has under-invested in facilities around arts and culture compared to other Front Range communities and nationally,” Deborah Malden, arts liaison and adviser at the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, says. “For a community of our size and economic health, we don’t have strong investment in arts facilities. So I think this is a very good start to closing that gap.”

The outcome of Ballot Measure 2A will raise the city’s sales and use tax rate to 3.86 percent, which exceeds those of other Boulder County cities like Longmont and Lafayette. Officials say Boulder’s sales tax will remain competitive compared with others in the region, on par with cities like Westminster and Fort Collins, but below Broomfield.

Supported projects and estimated funding, unanimously approved by the Boulder City Council in August, include:

  • Civic Area park development - $8.7 million

  • Boulder Creek Path safety lighting - $5.1 million

  • Museum of Boulder construction - $4 million

  • Dairy Center expansion - $3.9 million

  • University Hill safety lighting - $3.3 million

  • Chautauqua park improvements - $1.5 million

  • Public art projects and maintenance - $600,000

The public funding will allow the Dairy Center to realize renovations that are “desperately needed” and would otherwise not be feasible, executive director Bill Obermeier says. “It really is important for us because it’ll make it possible for our presenters to upgrade the quality of their work in quality facilities and it’ll make the experience that patrons have when they come here even better.”

The Dairy Center -- a city-owned building that pays $1 in rent annually and contributed $10,000 to the 2A campaign -- expects to begin its renovation efforts in 2015. The plan includes soundproofing its three theater spaces, upgrading its sound and lighting systems, and expanding the facility’s lobby.

The Museum of Boulder (formerly known as the Boulder History Museum) is also planning to use money from the new tax to fund building renovations. The Museum purchased the Masonic Lodge building at Broadway and Pine Street in 2013 and hopes to move in to the nearly 18,000 square-foot space in 2017.

But first, the organization must privately match the funds in order to receive the full $4 million on the table from the tax. Currently, the Museum of Boulder has raised $1 million.

While some community members have reservations about the new tax, Boulder County Republican Party chair Ellyn Hilliard says the issue had bipartisan support.

"This wasn’t an issue we opposed and we certainly didn’t take much of a stance on it, but from a principled standpoint it's important to keep within our means," Hilliard says. “We’re trying to make sure we’re fiscally responsible and not bankrupting our citizenship and also preserving individual liberties and rights."

The passing of 2A also comes amid the development of Boulder’s new citywide cultural plan, launched earlier this year.