Large swath of Evanston an ‘opportunity zone’
EVANSTON — A sizeable portion of Uinta County has been designated as an “opportunity zone.”
In addition to the publicized tax cuts contained in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed into federal law in late 2017, the legislation also authorized an Opportunity Zones program aimed at incentivizing investments into low-income areas across the country.
Essentially, the program aims to create growth and investment in targeted areas by allowing investors to defer capital gains taxes through investing gains in an opportunity fund. Opportunity funds are those that hold at least 90 percent of their assets in investments in a qualified opportunity zone, such as real estate, equipment, infrastructure, stock or equity in a trade or business located within the zone.
Qualified opportunity zones are based on census tracts in which the poverty rate is greater than 20 percent or the median family income is less than 80 percent of the statewide median income. In addition, census tracts that are contiguous with low-income tracts may also be eligible.
Wyoming has more than 50 eligible tracts.
Evanston City Clerk Amy Grenfell said local officials were notified in early March that an eligible tract was located in Uinta County, and they were given three weeks to respond and submit required documents about the area, including information on zoning, existing land use plans, workforce, and infrastructure and accessibility. Documents were first submitted to the Wyoming Business Council and then to Governor Mead, who then nominated 25 zones to be certified as qualified opportunity zones by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in late May.
The opportunity zone in Uinta County is located north of I-80 and includes the area west of Hwy. 89 North past Bear River. The zone encompasses the Bear River Drive corridor, North Evanston, the industrial area near Union Tank and Carbon Fiber, the airport area and downtown Evanston, including the Roundhouse and Railyards Complex and the city-owned rail spur.
Land use plans previously in place for land within the tract include the Bear River Drive Corridor Renaissance Plan, the Evanston-Uinta County Airport Commercial Site Development Plan and the Evanston 2010 Plan: A Community Vision.
Gary Welling, Uinta County GIS coordinator, said he hopes existing local businesses are able to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the designation and consider reinvestment into the community.
Welling, Grenfell and City of Evanston Community Development Coordinator Mieke Madrid said the hope is that the designation can also be used to help lure new businesses to the area, especially in light of the long-range plans already in existence and the potential for development in areas surrounding the airport, for example.
Welling, Grenfell and Madrid also believe the designation may be helpful in applying for grant funding from other entities. The three said it’s a bit of a double-edged sword to have the designation in Uinta County. On the one hand, it means there’s a poverty tract in the area, but on the other hand the designation may help bring some much-needed development and economic growth to Evanston and the county.
Elaina Zempel, Wyoming Business Council Western Regional Director, said the WBC would use the designations in marketing the state to outside investors as well. Zempel said businesses and investors interested in finding out more or learning if they’re able to take advantage of the benefits afforded in the Uinta County Opportunity Zone can contact her or Sarah Fitz-Gerald, industrial development manager, at the Wyoming Business Council.
Questions can also be directed to Gary Welling with the county or Amy Grenfell with the City of Evanston.