The past and present

Former city hall's future could contain retail and office space

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— Jim Cook hopes his new building at 41 Eighth St. can become a test case for urban renewal in downtown Steamboat Springs.

Cook's three-story, mixed-use building is just beginning the city planning process. It would replace the old city hall building that housed the Whiteman Primary School for a number of years and currently houses a children's museum. The new building would include 9,200 square feet of space. It would provide retail spaces on the ground level, office space on the second level and two residential units on the third floor.

"I hope people will see this building as a blend of the old and new," Cook said. "We want to use some contemporary features that are exciting and materials that work with neighboring buildings."

He is also encouraging the city to use his project as a test to determine how the alleyways in downtown Steamboat could be revitalized and made more attractive. And Cook wants to offer his project as the first step in the city's longstanding ambition to begin undergrounding overhead utility lines.

Cook said he is sensitive to the fact that his new building will be just two doors down from the historically designated First National Bank Building (currently occupied by Vectra Bank). The new building would be built immediately across the alley from Antares restaurant, which occupies a period building that has an exterior of roughly quarried native sandstone.

In order to achieve his goal of blending old and new in a landmark building, Cook has retained architect Nan Anderson of Andrews and Anderson.

"I was impressed with what she did with Centennial Hall," Cook said. "That was a complicated project."

Cook said the project was presented to the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee and met with general acceptance, although some members asked him to go a little further with design measures intended to preserve view corridors down Eighth Street to Howelsen Hill.

The third story of the building is stepped back from the street-level elevation to help ensure views to the south aren't compromised, Cook said. He also intends to employ creative use of lighting and tempered-glass awnings to attract browsers and shoppers down Eighth Street.

"The idea is that as you're standing at Lincoln and Eighth, there will be something exciting to draw you" down the street, he said.

The design of the building is actually the easiest part of the project, Cook said. The challenge will be accommodating parking and access at the rear of the building.

Cook purchased the site of his new building from the city two years ago. It will back up to the parking lot of the city's Public Safety Building.

The developers are proposing to provide 12 bumper-to-bumper stacked parking spaces at the rearing of the building. But access into the city lot from the alley, and a staircase that leads into the city lot from a parking lot at the corner of Eighth and Yampa streets, will have to be altered.

"That's going to be a real exercise," Cook said. "The site issues are going to be some of the difficult things."

Another thorny detail is the need to move a city trash dumpster as well as a communal trash compactor used by businesses in the 800 block of Lincoln Avenue, which back up onto the alley. Both the dumpster and the compactor are on his property, Cook said.

He'd like to take a constructive approach to all of the related site problems and work with the city on making the alleyway more attractive.

"We are going to try real hard to take that block underground (bury the power lines) to see how much it really costs. We've got to start somewhere."

Cook has heard estimates for undergrounding the utilities that range from $175,000 up to $300,000.

Cook's original intention was to move the offices of his company, Colorado Group Realty, into the second floor of the new building. But he has since purchased the building at 509 Lincoln, where his offices are currently located, from Sol and Carol Ginsberg. He plans to renovate that building and keep his offices there.

Consequently, when the new building at 41 Eighth St. is complete, he'll be looking for both commercial and office tenants, as well as marketing the two third-floor residential units. Cook agreed the current demand for commercial space isn't sufficient to fill the available spaces in Steamboat.

"It's a little soft right now," Cook said. But he believes that a continuing trend to build residential spaces in the heart of downtown will gradually create a built-in market for commercial. New office spaces will also continue to create more walk-in traffic for downtown restaurants and retail space, he predicted.

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