Metro Denver arts tax isnt helping Aurora, and one man wants to fix it

An Aurora man wants to pull the suburb out of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District — the seven-county arts and culture organization that distributes more than $60 million annually throughout metro Denver.

Jeff Brown, a former member of Aurora’s budget advisory committee, thinks that by keeping the approximately $7 million city residents pay to SCFD each year through a sales tax, Aurora can grow its arts scene and boost economic development at the same time.

Colorado’s third-largest city saw less than $700,000 in 2019 in the form of grants to help fund artistic venues and endeavors, Brown said. Last year, SCFD gave out about $64 million to more than 300 organizations, ranging from the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Zoo to smaller operations like the Thornton Community Chorus and the Broomfield Symphony Orchestra.

“There’s never been proper reconciliation between SCFD’s tax collections and grants awarded within the city of Aurora,” Brown said.

His proposal, which he hopes makes it on the November ballot, would essentially redirect to Aurora the 0.1% SCFD sales tax that residents have been paying since 1988. It would create a new Aurora cultural facilities district and establish an 11-member board of directors appointed by the commissioners of Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

Brown hopes its crowning achievement will be a 10,000-seat performing arts center, which he believes would attract more retail opportunities that are missing. He created the Venues Aurora website to fuel his efforts.

“We’re adding all these homes and miles of street networks, and everyone is leaving Aurora to have fun,” Brown said. “Beyond the Gaylord (Rockies Resort & Convention Center), Aurora does not participate in tourism today.”

SCFD Executive Director Deborah Jordy told The Denver Post her organization “was conceived and has always operated as a regional entity that benefits all seven counties that participate.”

“That has been critically important over time, because sales taxes don’t adhere to county borders or city limits,” she said.

Last year, Jordy said, 44% of Aurora’s population — or 169,000 people — visited the major venues in Denver. And this year, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is projected to sell 60,000 tickets to Van Gogh Alive at Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace.

“This data point highlights the intertwined nature of sales tax and highlights the need for a regional approach so that all boats are lifted,” she said.

Multiple attempts to reach the Aurora Cultural Arts District for comment were unsuccessful.

There is also the questionable legality of Brown’s attempt: Jordy said voters in all seven counties approved the continuation of the arts and culture tax in 2016 “and their will cannot be changed by the vote of one city.”

Brown acknowledges he is threading a needle with his secession attempt, but he thinks it will pass legal muster. He is awaiting affirmation from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office of the language in his proposed ballot measure and then he plans on starting to collect the 4,000 signatures he’ll need by Aug. 3 to move forward.

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