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TIF For Wheat Ridge Development – Still Useful?

By Mike McKibbin

For every $1 in tax increment financing the City of Wheat Ridge approved for several development projects, private investors put $13 into the pot. While city officials are proud of that fact, others look at the use of the growth and renewal funding method as improper and outdated.

Tax increment financing, or TIF, allows an urban renewal authority to use net new tax revenues generated by projects within a designated area to help finance improvements. TIF is a new source of tax revenue, not an added tax, that would not be available but for new investment, according to a definition from the Denver Urban Renewal Authority.

When a redevelopment project is proposed, the amount of added property and/or sales taxes that may be generated upon completion is determined. That “tax increment” is then used either to finance the issuance of bonds or to reimburse developers for some of their project costs. In either case, that new tax revenue must be used for improvements that have a public benefit and support the redevelopment effort, such as site clearance, streets, utilities, parks, the removal of hazardous materials or site acquisition.

Wheat Ridge has had an urban renewal authority – Renewal Wheat Ridge – since 1984. The authority can help address development in five city council-approved urban renewal plans: the Wadsworth Boulevard Corridor, from 35th Avenue to 44th Avenue; the West End of 38th, four parcels at 38th Avenue and Upham Street; the 38th Avenue Corridor, between Sheridan and Wadsworth boulevards; West 44th Avenue and Ward Road; and the Interstate 70/Kipling Corridor, nearly 1,200 acres north of I-70 at 32nd Avenue to 26th Avenue.

Steve Art, executive director of Renewal Wheat Ridge and the city’s economic development manager, said the last change to those plans was in December 2015.

“When those plans are formed, it’s not with any specific projects in mind,” he added in an interview.

Renewal Wheat Ridge lists eight projects on its website, from 2007 through this year, with one – Town Center North – not receiving TIF money. Instead, the city bought and cleaned up the land, then resold it for development.

Projects that did receive TIF money included Wheat Ridge Cyclery, Perrin’s Row, Kipling Ridge Shopping Center, Hacienda Colorado Restaurant at Applewood, Corners at Wheat Ridge, West End 38 and a traffic signal at 32nd Avenue and Xenon Street at the Applewood Shopping Center.

Those projects received a total of $12.8 million in TIF money, along with nearly $164 million in private investment money.

In the Town Center North project, Renewal Wheat Ridge bought land that housed a contaminated transmission shop, antique shop and closed retail outlets. Renewal Wheat Ridge cleaned the site, created a subdivision, completed all the infrastructure, found a developer and created 188 affordable apartments for active adults. That was done for $3.9 million in city funds and $25 million in private investment money.

TIF money: economic development or not?

Art stated the use of TIF money is “not really for economic development.”

However, an August 2017 document on the city website, entitled “Economic Development Main Story August 2017,” stated the use of TIF money “has proven to be a powerful economic development tool in Wheat Ridge, transforming vacant lots into thriving residential communities and bustling retail hubs.”

Art is quoted in the document as noting Renewal Wheat Ridge “is getting more aggressive about using TIF for economic development efforts – even for smaller projects.”

“Our board recognizes the advantages of using TIF to assist projects to fill in any missing funding gaps,” Art is quoted in the document. “Development can be very expensive, and these projects would not come to fruition without some type of public assistance.”

Tim Rogers, the chairman of the Renewal Wheat Ridge board at the time, is quoted in support of TIF money as “a perfect example of reinvesting in a neighborhood to improve it. I am excited about the future of this type of reinvestment increasing for the city as we start to generate revenue from other projects.”

Rogers added that TIF funds will become more crucial in future years, as the city focuses on attracting development that will create jobs for the local economy.

“We need more employment opportunities within the City of Wheat Ridge that can support a family and that means something above service-level jobs,” said Rogers. “The city is working hard and rolling up its sleeves and competing as best it can to attract those businesses.”

TIF has ‘outlived its usefulness’

Some government-watching and think-tank organizations, such as the Independence Institute, have criticized the use of TIF money for economic development.

“It was to address slums, blight and areas that endangered public health and welfare,” spokesman Mike Krause said in an interview. “The language specifically mentioned people living in squalor. I think while you might find a few isolated places where that is still the case, TIF is something that’s really outlived its usefulness.”

Urban renewal authority language in state statutes requires a project be located in a “blighted area,” or “an area that, in its present condition and use … substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality, retards the provision of housing accommodations, or constitutes an economic or social liability, and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare; …”

Krause also noted the funding method unfairly keeps other taxing entities – such as water, fire and school districts – affected by a new project from receiving enough increased tax revenue to pay for the increased service costs while the bonds are being paid off.

“So those other entities must either cover their added costs or go to voters for a tax hike,” he added. “It’s actually a tax hike without a vote.”

Krause said the state legislature had recently amended urban renewal authority statutes to help address that funding issue. Now, sponsoring governments must enter into revenue sharing agreements with affected entities on new TIF arrangements.

Krause also referred to a recent Jefferson County District Court ruling that invalidated Wheat Ridge voter-approved restrictions that would have required any TIF agreement over $2.5 million be approved by city voters. District Judge Margie Enquist ruled the city measure could not pre-empt the state’s supremacy on the issue.

“What we want to see is free market growth, but TIF uses privatized profits for socialized risks because it’s spread out among taxpayers,” Krause added. “It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. Developers say if there is not TIF money, projects won’t get built. But maybe that’s just in the first place. Projects most likely will get built, but politicians want them built now.”

Krause also noted the cities of Estes Park and Castle Pines dissolved their urban renewal authorities in 2010, while the state of California outlawed TIF funding.

“They did that because it was a success,” he said. “It eliminated squalor, slums, and blight. We think Colorado should do the same. If local governments want to use their own money for economic development, they can do that. They don’t need an urban renewal authority or TIF money, and they can answer to their own taxpayers. And in this booming economy we have right now, we should we pay developers to build?”

No Gym? No Problem – Head To The Park

By Meghan Godby

Thanks to the mild temperatures we’ve been having lately, we’re not just limited to snow sports this winter. In fact, outdoor recreation opportunities abound. This is a great time to make some progress towards your health and fitness goals; January may be over, but we can still piggyback on the magic of a New Year.

As you may have guessed, however, this is also prime time for local gyms and recreation centers. And as facilities experience an influx of new members, this can translate into more crowds and potentially longer wait times for fitness equipment.

Does this mean your workouts need to be on the backburner? Absolutely not. While you’re waiting for the New Year rush to wear off, consider heading to Hayward Park, located on the corner of West 29th Avenue and Wadsworth in Wheat Ridge. Thanks to a $5,000 grant from Jefferson County Public Health, the five-acre park now boasts two pieces of outdoor fitness equipment - an elliptical and a static combo station.

The equipment, which was purchased from Greenfields Outdoor Fitness and installed in November of 2017, takes up a small footprint but still allows for a full body workout. The elliptical may lack the fancy screens and controls found at traditional fitness centers, but it will still help you squeeze in some cardio and strengthen your lower body. The static combo station can accommodate up to three people at once and allows for a complete upper body and ab workout  (think sit-ups, pull-ups and dips), with no need for extra weights or special accessories.

Matt Anderson, analyst for Wheat Ridge Parks and Recreation, helped land the grant and is excited to bring this equipment to the community.

“Since [it] is so new, we have not received much feedback yet,” Matt explained, “but the goal of this project is to increase physical activity for residents and employees near Hayward Park."

The two stations have explanatory signage, so you won’t be scratching your head trying to figure out how to use it. The equipment is suitable for most persons over the age of 14 (as always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program), but Hayward Park has a small playground to entertain any younger members of your group.

If you’re feeling up to it, consider heading over to Crown Hill Park once you’re done. The 242-acre park is just a few blocks away. Featuring a wildlife sanctuary and miles of trails (paved and unpaved), it’s the perfect end to your workout. At the end of the day, not only will you have gotten some fresh air, but you’ll also have worked every major muscle group.

And the best part? It didn’t cost a dime.

Farmers’ New Principal Angles For More Students

By Alexander Rea

Wheat Ridge High School has been making Farmers for a long time, established in 1886 to be exact. That long standing success is there because administrators have reacted accordingly to hurdles along the way. First year Principal Josh Cooley has his sights set on one of his first hurdles with getting more students to attend the Farm.

“If you look at the overall trend of Wheat Ridge High School for the past six years, although we’ve had spikes here and there, there has been a general decline in enrollment. So it was actually brought up in my interview, in regard to how I would address the issue,” said Cooley.

The location of Wheat Ridge presents the challenge of a large field of competition for other schools to attract students from surrounding areas. Just to name a few, schools like Lakewood High School, Golden High School, Thomas Jefferson High School, and Arvada West High School are all logical alternatives for Wheat Ridge-based lives.

“In this day and age, there is a lot of choice out there. The kids who live right across the street aren’t going to come here just because they live across the street. So how do we do a better job of marketing ourselves, so kids choose to come to Wheat Ridge,” Cooley explained.

Under the auspices of the Wheat Ridge Community Foundation, the high school even purchased an advertisement within the Neighborhood Gazette that mentioned numerous successful Farmer graduates in all types of work.

“I think there are some really great programs that we offer, that have been here for a long time, people just may not be aware of them. So it’s our job to bolster that awareness, to help get these great programs some attention,” added Cooley.

Principal Cooley also targeted the revamping of the Fall Showcase to help improve awareness of academics. The Showcase acts as a preview into the school year, mostly directed at incoming freshman and their families.

“When we did our Showcase night back in November, I asked the head of each department, to talk academically about the things we do. We didn't leave out sports and activities, as they are important to high school life, but first and foremost is our academics,” said Cooley.

While attending Wheat Ridge High School, one thing I remember noticing about school culture was how athletics were the only thing people were talking about. I don't believe that sports are the only thing that people cared about, but it wasn't until the emergence of the STEM/STEAM programs that the athletic conversation was really contested.

“It’s easy to fall into; look, I love our athletic programs; they are very important, but at the same time we are here for academics. That is why this school was built, to prepare kids for the real world,” said Cooley.

On top of wanting to give out a great education, schools need more enrollment of students as it is directly tied to funding. According to Jefferson County Public Schools’ 2017/18 Budget Plan, each school receives $7,483 per pupil just from the state itself. So the more students that attend a school on a regular basis, the more available funds for that school.

“I love the idea of attracting students from other areas, but right now I want to focus on who are  the ones that live in our attendance area but are thinking of attending another school, and why that is? So that’s my next step, asking those students why they chose another school, and making sure they were aware of everything we have to offer. I don’t expect to change their minds, but that is good information that we can use moving forward,” said Cooley.

It’s important for high schools to keep in contact with surrounding elementary and middle schools as they all eventually feed into the high school population.

“We’ve also opened up more involvement with Everitt Middle School and Manning Middle School to help point those students our way,” stated Cooley.

This is similar to the action that was taken when I was at Prospect Valley Elementary in Kindergarten. I remember taking a class field trip to the high school where we attended a event in the gym. Everyone in my class wore shirts stating the scheduled year of our high school graduation, “Class of 2016.” So we knew right then and there, we were all lined up to attend Wheat Ridge High School.

“That’s something I would love bring back, or at least those type of community events. I want kids in fourth grade to know that they are future Farmers. That's something that is going to develop as I familiarize myself with the surroundings,” said Cooley.

It hasn’t even been a full year of service for Cooley, but his energy and ideas shine bright to accompany the blue and gold. He even admits his work is still cut out for him.

“Still have a lot to do, but we have made some good steps.”

TIF Money Aiding Sloan’s Lake Developments

By Mike McKibbin

Amixed-use residential and commercial redevelopment project on the shores of Sloan’s Lake would not have happened without financial help from local government tax increment financing, according to a project official.

City and County of Denver records show Trailbreak Partners and Koelbel & Co., acting as Sloans Block 3 LLC, bought a 2.2-acre block of the Sloan’s Lake St. Anthony’s site – on the southeast corner of Sloan’s Lake, bound by West 17th Avenue, Quitman Street, West 16th Avenue and Perry Street in northwest Denver – for $5.69 million. Koelbel has reported the Sloans Block 3 project cost at $35 million.

Financing support for the Sloans Block 3 project came from the City and County of Denver, Denver Urban Renewal Authority and Colorado Housing and Finance Authority in the form of developer equity, low-income housing tax credits, tax increment financing (TIF) money and a performance loan from the Denver Office of Economic Development.

The TIF process allows an urban renewal authority to use net new tax revenues generated by projects within a designated area to help finance improvements. TIF is a new source of tax revenue, not an added tax, that would not be available but for new investment, according to a definition from the Denver Urban Renewal Authority.

When a redevelopment project is proposed, the amount of added property and/or sales tax revenues that may be generated upon completion is determined. That “tax increment” is then used either to finance the issuance of bonds or to reimburse developers for some of their project costs. In either case, that new tax revenue must be used for improvements that have a public benefit and support the redevelopment effort, such as site clearance, streets, utilities, parks, the removal of hazardous materials or site acquisition.

The Sloans Block 3 project received close to $7 million in TIF money from the urban renewal authority, something Carl Koelbel, vice-president of Koelbel and Co., called “absolutely” key to the project.

“This project would not have occurred without it,” he said. “The cost to adapt the Kuhlman Building was very high and we used the money for site work, asbestos rehabilitation – which isn’t cheap – and a wastewater detention system.”

Koelbel referred to the nearly 80-year-old Kuhlman Building, originally built as a nursing residence around 1940. The five-story brick building served as a nunnery, nursing school, dormitory and administrative offices for St. Anthony Central Hospital, which opened in 1893. By the early 2000s, St. Anthony began to outgrow its 19-acre campus. In 2005, plans were announced to build a new facility at the Federal Center in Lakewood and St. Anthony abandoned the Sloans campus in 2011. Demolition began on April 22, 2013, except for the 16th Avenue Chapel, a parking garage and the Kuhlman Building.

Koelbel said renovation work on the Kuhlman Building began last August and finished in December. Work on 49 affordable apartments – to be called Sienna – inside the building is scheduled to be finished in August, he added. They will be available to households earning 60 percent area median income or less.

Other Kuhlman Building amenities include an on-site leasing office, community room with entertainment area and kitchenette, fitness center, 30 reserved parking spaces in Block 3 with another 15 reserved spaces in a parking garage, and an adaptive re-use of a 5,800-square-foot gymnasium on the north side of the building for retail and restaurant space.

“We’re looking at some combination of restaurant, microbrewery and café users,” Koelbel said.

Those tenants could move in before the end of the year, he added.

TIF has ‘outlived its usefulness’

Some government-watching and think-tank organizations, such as the Independence Institute, have criticized the use of TIF money for economic development.

“It was to address slums, blight and areas that endangered public health and welfare,” spokesman Mike Krause said in an interview. “The language specifically mentioned people living in squalor. I think while you might find a few isolated places where that is still the case, TIF is something that’s really outlived its usefulness.”

Urban renewal authority language in state statutes requires a project be located in a “blighted area,” or “an area that, in its present condition and use … substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality, retards the provision of housing accommodations, or constitutes an economic or social liability, and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare; …”

“What we want to see is free market growth, but TIF uses privatized profits for socialized risks because it’s spread out among taxpayers,” Krause added. “It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. Developers say if there is not TIF money, projects won’t get built. But maybe that’s just in the first place. Projects most likely will get built, but politicians want them built now.”

Townhomes, public plaza and public art also in Sloans Block 3

Work on 25-27 market-rate townhomes in Sloans Block 3 that will face West 17th Avenue, Quitman Street and West 16th Avenue will begin in early March, Koelbel said, with each townhome having either a one- or two-car garage for homeowner parking. Also planned are a 4,300-square-foot public plaza at the northeast corner of 17th Avenue and Perry Street, with 2,200 square feet of single-story retail and restaurant space and approximately 32 parking spaces for customers.

Koelbel said a public art piece – which he did not want to detail – has been chosen. Created by a local artist, it will need approval by the urban renewal authority, he added.

Meanwhile, Sloans Block 9, at Perry and West 16th, is where the Denver Housing Authority is building Vida, a 175-unit, seven-story affordable housing project. Those units are aimed at senior and disabled residents who earn 30 percent or less than the area median income. Denver City Council approved $5.5 million in property tax increment financing to help the $59 million project.

Other amenities include up to 20,000 square feet of ground floor medical office and clinic space, a 6,500-square-foot senior activity center, a publicly accessible 5,000-square-foot amenity deck, 125 parking spaces and retail storefront on West Colfax.

Edgewater doesn’t use TIF money

The projects are near the City of Edgewater, a community of about 5,300 people in a 7/10-of-a-square-mile area. City Manager H.J. Stalf said only one development project in city limits, the Marketplace, has received TIF money since the city formed its renewal authority in 1985.

“That’s why the authority was formed,” Stalf added. “But the rules have changed so much since then that we just don’t see it as a tool we want to use.”

He also noted Edgewater’s small and confined size prevents any measurable expansion via annexation. The city also wants to avoid any controversy TIF money often generates, Stalf said.

A “virtually vacant” 11,000-square-foot strip mall was bought by the city’s authority in 2011, Stalf noted. It features an abandoned King Soopers store at 20th Avenue and Depew Street. Called Edgewater Village, the 6.73-acre site is under contract to be sold, Stalf said, with closing scheduled for this spring. In late 2016, Trinity Development Group received a signed letter of intent from a local organic grocer to operate at the site.

The only other major project in Edgewater is the new civic center, which Stalf said did not involve any authority or TIF money.

Dentist Also A Passionate Concert Pianist

By Ken Lutes

Ipractice piano six to eight hours a day, on days I’m not practicing dentistry – at least three hours on days I’m in the office,” says concert pianist and dentist Dr. Cody Garrison. “As much as you can be a good musician in your mind, you have to keep making your fingers work.”

Garrison’s piano playing ranges from recitals at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he’s on faculty, to accompanying opera stars and performing concertos. This year he was chorus pianist for Opera Colorado. So, just how does a person balance a professional dentistry practice with the performance schedule of a busy concert pianist?

“Some people have lots of hobbies; I don’t,” Garrison said at his City Roots dental practice on W. 29th Ave. “It can be challenging sometimes, though. Like tomorrow, I have to play a recital at school, then come back to work. I have to carefully plan my days. In both music and dentistry, you have to be kind of a perfectionist.” He says he can be picky and obsessive. “When I practice music, if I can’t play it perfectly 10 times in a row I start over. If something’s not ideal, it drives me bonkers. That said, I’m a perfectionist at dentistry and at the piano, but nothing else.”

Garrison was 8 years old when he began to study the piano. By sixth grade, he was accompanying junior and high school choirs. “I played for church every Sunday, from fifth grade until I graduated,” he said.

Garrison grew up in St. John, N.D., a small farming town on the Canadian border with a population of barely 300 people. “My mom was my history teacher for six years,” he said, “and she played drums in a band called ‘Tickled Pink.’ My dad was a really good singer. Some families have good athletes, some have musicians.

“My first piano teacher was also a teacher at my school. She was a good mentor in the sense that she could tell I wanted to work very hard and didn’t put me on a particular track. She led me but let me do my own thing at the same time. Technique was never a problem for me.

“In seventh grade, I was studying with a gentleman who was more classically trained. I didn’t take piano lessons from that time until halfway through college. In dental school, I started studying with Tamara Goldstein, another North Denver resident, and I still do.”

Garrison knew when he was young that he wanted to be a pianist, but he also knew that it’s always been difficult for musicians to make a living, even during the times of the greatest composers like Haydn or Mozart. In eighth grade he began considering dentistry as a career. The leader of his youth group was a dentist. “He seemed to have it all – a good job, respect in the community.” Garrison shadowed him and soon developed the idea that becoming a dentist would support his creative need to play the piano.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Jamestown in North Dakota, Garrison went to dental school at CU Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, graduating in 2012.

“When I graduated from dental school, I thought I’d work in community health,” Garrison said. “I moved to Steamboat Springs and worked at a clinic in Craig. Then a job opened in Denver at Interstate Health Center at 38th and York. After two years, I became the clinic director. It was great to oversee a staff working together to develop goals and a mission that would allow us to treat our patients well, enjoy work and each other’s company. My rules were: don’t be late, don’t be lazy, and ask what can be done to help somebody else.”

Garrison assumed that he’d stay in community health, but his piano playing life was getting busier and busier and the clinic was a full-time job. The idea of starting a private practice made sense. Talks with one of the staff dentists, Dr. Carley Janda, evolved into their opening a private practice together (City Roots). “We had gone to dental school together and were on the same page about the appropriate way to provide health care.

“[Dentistry] is one of the few professions in which you can choose how many hours to work and still make a decent living. I like it more than I thought I would. It’s fun to work with patients to, hopefully, better their lives. Going to the dentist is not an easy thing for most people.” He joked that getting people to come to the dentist is like pulling teeth. “I love helping people to enjoy coming to the dentist. Keeping up to date on changes in dentistry is the hardest thing. Advances are being made all the time. But patient interaction – that’s my favorite part.

“Piano-wise, people ask me what I want to accomplish, and I’ve already done more than I anticipated I ever would in my life. I never would have believed I’d be working with a Grammy-winning mezzo soprano (Michelle DeYoung). I’ll be playing a concerto on Feb. 17 with the Boulder Symphony (bouldersymphony.org/tickets/2018/2/17/composing-the-end). In July, I’ll play at the Colorado Music Festival in recital with Michelle DeYoung (coloradomusicfestival.org/concert/scheherazade/).

“I feel very blessed that I’ve been able to do the things I’ve really cared about.”

Beyond The Dreadmill: Fitness Options For All

By Jennifer LeDuc

Right about now, statistically speaking, eight out of 10 of you reading this article will give up on a New Year’s resolution. According to a 2015 U.S. News and World Report study, by mid-February most people who set life-changing goals – be it in career, health, relationships, financial – shift their thinking from the jump-start, can-do mindset in January to slouching, slacking, excuse-making couch potatoes just in time to tuck into that box of Valentine’s truffles or make a second pass at the box of donuts in the breakroom (no one has to know you brought them in).

Luckily, you live in one of the healthiest states – if not counties – in the entire country, which means you have more resources at your fingertips to commit to a healthy lifestyle (if you already don’t) than nearly anywhere else. Jefferson County is only second to Denver in the number of fitness-centric facilities in the state, edging out not only uber-fit Boulder County but Arapahoe, El Paso, Adams and Douglas counties as well. In fact, the approximately 240 fitness facilities in Jeffco offers nearly twice as many options for residents as the entire population of West Virginians (which may or may not correlate to it consistently ranking as one of the least healthiest states).

So you can’t blame the coal mines or lack of options for what’s stopping you from getting, and staying, fit this year. Perhaps it’s lack of awareness into your options. While it may seem like there’s a fitness center on every corner – and in some places there may be – how many have you tried? Fitness centers are like stretch pants: no matter what they say, one size does not fit all.

Rec centers and big-box facilities offer more of a homogenized and price-conscious setting and although personal training sessions are available, the individual is mostly left to use equipment and create a regimen independently.

Boutique gyms – smaller facilities with a bit more esthetic and flex appeal – are on the rise. Though pricier, they offer a more intimate, attentive environment that typically revolves around a session with a small group and more opportunity for personal attention.

Fitness Together is a small, one-on-one personal training franchise. Pueblo-native David Dias owns the Edgewater location. The former high school coach agrees that in order to stick with a fitness regimen, be it at his facility, a rec center, kickboxing or Crossfit, it needs to be the right fit. “Not everyone who comes through buys in,” he said.

For some, stepping on a scale, checking your heart rate or staring at yourself in the mirror while beads of sweat glisten on your bat wings – er, triceps – is neither pleasant, nor motivating, even with someone like Dias encouraging you on. One industry study revealed 67 percent of memberships go unused, meaning two thirds of the multi-billion-dollar industry profits are made by people just giving up.

Which is why one fitness program, despite stereotypes, has defied the trends and competition and boasts a seven-year average retention when other gyms hope a member sticks around for six months.

Founded in 1969, Jazzercise, the “original dance party workout” is not, as instructor and franchise owner Missy Ahr assures, about leg warmers and leotards – because she knows that’s what just crossed your mind.

It is also not about weigh-ins, mirrors or monitors, and although many of the attendees at a recent mid-morning class in the very unsexy gymnasium of the Wheat Ridge Anderson rec center were grandmothers, Jazzercise fuses cardio, yoga, Pilates, kickboxing and dance, and will very much kick you in your gluteus maximus, and you will probably go back for more.

As a guest at Ahr’s class, I joined a group of nearly twenty women who sashayed, kicked, sweat, crunched and pumped for an hour. After 10 minutes I was seeing stars, at 11 minutes I was exhausted, and on or around the third round of side-kick-lunge-ish maneuvers, I could only laugh. The woman in front of me appeared to be in her late 50s or early 60s. She had the poise and rhythm of a trained ballerina and the body of someone who stayed as fit. Another woman to my left modified her moves as it suited her and offered a supportive smile and understanding “it’s ok” when I apologized, worried I was throwing her off.

Kimberly Giles, 53 of Edgewater, was 80 pounds heavier in 2006 when she tried Jazzercise.  A “yo-yo dieter,” Giles was hooked.  She  admits she stepped away from Jazzercise to try out other programs and a gym, but she was unmotivated.  She came back. “This is the only thing that keeps it off.”

Christine Meyer took her first class when she was 28 years old and eventually became an instructor.  Now 65, the Golden resident has few, if any physical complaints, and doesn’t supplement her Jazzercise regimen either. “You don’t have to do anything else if you do this regularly,” said Meyer. “You’ll see for yourself: you’re going to be worked out from your neck to your toes.”  She wasn’t exaggerating.

It was evident speaking to many of the women at class that the program wasn’t intimidating or competitive yet there was camaraderie, and enthusiasm from the instructors, to stay motivated and challenged. There are no spin-off products to buy into and its month-to-month annual rate and class availability makes it a commitment without pressure, but as Ahr reflected after class, it’s a promise of an hour of the day spent feeling good, and that means many of her classes see between 30 and 40 attendees .

At Fitness Together, Dias recounted asking a former boss to share the secret to his success. “Just love them,” he told Dias. “He told me ‘If we take care of them, they’ll keep coming back. And here, it’s more than just jumping jacks,” Dias said of his studio’s personal approach. “If we can maneuver our way into someone’s heart, that’s what gets people to grow. I want someone to try and become more confident, and a lot of times it takes going deeper into the psyche.”

An initial session with Dias is really an introduction to each other, and Dias assesses not just physical condition, but mental and emotional, while exploring what the individual’s goals are.

Finding that right fit can be the fun part. Most facilities offer a free initial session or discounted day pass to give new customers a feel before committing, making it possible to experience several facilities in a week – provided you aren’t too sore.

Club Pilates, with locations in Edgewater, Lakewood and around the country, offers a free half hour intro which gives some meaning to the complicated system of ropes and pulleys that is Pilates. From there, guided exercises at varying levels help to develop one’s core strength.

At Break the Stigma Fitness Studio in Wheat Ridge, however, one needs an invitation. Described as the first cannabis-friendly fitness facility in the country, Break the Stigma Fitness was founded by in 2017 Jennessa Lea after suffering through years of illness and subsequent opiate addiction from pain management of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – a connective tissue disorder.

Since Break the Stigma is on private property, one must be submit an application for an invitation to a drop-in session or membership. From there, you can experience yoga, high intensity interval training, and cardio classes infused with cannabis and nutritional and training support.

With so many stereotypes and misinformation surrounding the benefits of cannabis, Lea explained, she is passionate about providing an opportunity for people of all backgrounds to explore what she experienced in cannabis’ benefits as a fitness and life-changing supplement.

Whether you’ll find motivation through a group or one-on-one training, the fitness options in the metro area are vast. Exploring new approaches and adventuring beyond the dreadmill may make the difference between the resolve to reach your fitness goals, or reaching for an extra donut.

Raccoons: Bandits in Your Backyard

By Sally Griffin

Is it a bandit? Is it a wrestler? Who is out there going through my garbage? Who is the most smart-aleck party animal in our city? That would be raccoons, the masked invaders. They are portrayed by Hollywood and television as wisecrackers, devil-may-care, sassy but not threatening characters that provide levity in threatening situations. Think Rocket, the raccoon, from Guardians of the Galaxy or Rocky Raccoon from Saturday cartoons.

Raccoons are probably the only animal I will write about that is “dressed” appropriately for how they act. The most characteristic physical feature of the raccoon is the area of black fur around the eyes, which contrasts sharply with surrounding white face coloring. They are about 16 to 28 inches long, with a bushy tail that adds another 8 to 16 inches. Their weight ranges from 5 to 60 pounds. This range in weight is the most extreme for any small mammal and is influenced by where they live: city raccoons weigh more than country raccoons.

They steal seeds out of bird feeders, have fun fishing in koi ponds, rearrange garbage to include the whole yard. Then they move into our attics and garages. They consume our liquor. What? That’s right, they are omnivores and that seems to include alcohol.

When I first was talking about doing this article, my sister-in-law, who lives in an unincorporated part of Arvada, told me a story about their raccoons. She and my brother host a big Halloween party every year. One of the guests often brings “Jell-O shots” as her contribution to the party. These are portions of Jell-O in small containers that have shots of liquor infused in them. Most guests will try them, but not all guests enjoy them. The plastic containers are not completely emptied before being thrown in the trash. A helpful guest had placed the plastic containers and other trash in a plastic bag for trash pickup, then it was forgotten. Forgotten, that is, until early morning when it sounded like there was another party going on in the side yard. Upon investigation, the small party-goers scattered to reveal a precisely placed line of completely clean Jell-O shot containers. The other trash had been separated into food or play things, but then forgotten as a party commenced. Not all guests in the first party may have liked these Jell-O shots, but there was no doubt as far as the raccoon party was concerned.

When I researched this raccoon behavior, I found it was not an isolated incident. There have been reports of an invasion of a beer distributor’s warehouse, where a party of the rascals were found still staggering around, apparently still inebriated. In another instance, a single raccoon found a hole in the roof of a liquor store and proceeded to trash the goods until he found the $50 bottle of bourbon. Raccoons seem to be willing to try almost anything. They are omnivores whose diet consists of about 40 percent invertebrates, e.g. bugs and worms; 33 percent plant foods, particularly berries and nuts; and 27 percent vertebrates, e.g. mice, snakes, frog, lizards, fish. Zoology professor, Samuel I. Zeveloff argues that raccoons “may well be one of the world’s most omnivorous animals.”

Raccoons are noted for their intelligence with studies showing an ability to remember solutions for problems they solved almost three years earlier. Within the raccoon’s cat-sized brain, scientists say the neuron count, which indicates active intelligence, is very similar to that found in small primates. And, city raccoons appear to be smarter than their rural cousins.

Suzanne MacDonald, studying raccoon behavior in Toronto, found that urban raccoons outdid their rural counterparts in both intelligence and ability.

“Where rural raccoons took a long time to approach novel containers, city raccoons would attack them the moment I turned my back,” she said. Unlike many animals, raccoons have “flourished rather than receded in face of human expansion.” As cities invent more complex latches and levers to keep food sources from these animals, they may also be training raccoons to open them. Heaven forbid, but some have turned the tables on researchers and have even have taught themselves to open doors with knobs. (Note to self: They don’t close them.)

This intelligence makes raccoons extremely adaptable. They often migrate to and stay in suburban and urban areas, making their home in man-made structures, including attics, sewers, barns and sheds.

National Geographic points out that urban raccoons often travel by using the sewers. This keeps them from being hit by cars or harassed by people.

The Washington Post published an article last year by Karin Brulljard, with the headline, “It’s winter. Watch out for falling raccoons.” The article quotes a wildlife control company saying that about once a month in the winter, they get a call about a raccoon plummeting through a ceiling, stunning the people working below. They particularly like buildings with dropped ceilings that they can use as racoon terrain. The problem is that most dropped ceilings cannot support the winter weight of most raccoons. John Griffin (no relative), the Director of Urban Wildlife for the Humane Society of the U.S., says that, in houses, falling raccoons occur when ceiling drywall has become weakened by moisture or mold or when the critters have had enough time to produce a heavy latrine, as the toilet area is known. There is even a story of a surprised homeowner whose ceiling suddenly gave way, dumping the raccoons and the contents of their latrine on him in his bed in the middle of the night. All I can say to that is “Yuck!”

Unfortunately, raccoons can carry many diseases such as rabies and distemper. According the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, while rabies in Colorado is usually confined to bats, raccoons have accounted for the largest percentage of animal rabies cases reported since 1990. This is because rabies in raccoons can spread widely and quickly.

The symptoms of rabies in raccoons are a generally sickly appearance, impaired motion, strange vocalizations and aggressiveness. Most raccoons are smart enough to know that they will usually lose the fight with humans, but they will become aggressive if they are sick or if it is a mother defending her kits. It is a good rule of thumb to stay away from any animal acting strangely and call Wheat Ridge Animal Control or the CPW.

CPW emphasizes problem prevention by altering human activities such as leaving pet food outside, securing garbage cans, making landscaping changes to discourage raccoons. Havahart – at www.havahart.com/how-to-get-rid-of-raccoons – says that getting rid of raccoons takes an integrated approach and that applying several control methods at once will give you better success. They go into greater detail on these in their website, but generally they include removing food and water, identifying and removing areas where raccoons spend their time, live raccoon traps, raccoon repellents, electronic repellents and fencing.

Also, as my own tip, you might want to be careful how you dispose of your liquor.