Harbor's days could be numbered

One-time landmark hotel heading for demolition

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The prospective buyer of the Harbor Hotel plans to raze the structure and construct a new building at Lincoln Avenue and Seventh Street.

"That site is the crosshairs of the community," Realtor Jim Cook said. "The plan would involve a new city center building. The contracted purchaser has the capability to do it."

Cook said fact-checking and research leading to the purchase is expected to conclude this week.

"It will close very quickly if we get through the due diligence," he said, adding that the new owner is serious about pursuing new plans for the site within the next two years.

Cook declined to name the buyer. The new building would include commercial, residential and public space. A parking lot across the alley from the hotel, with frontages on Seventh and Yampa streets, is part of the pending purchase. It presently is owned by a separate ownership group.

The Harbor Hotel, originally built in 1939, last changed hands in September 2002, when investors in the Harbor Hotel Group purchased it from longtime owner George Hussey for $3.9 million.

That purchase included a separate 1970s-era addition, which the new owners remodeled. They condensed 60 rooms into 24 upscale condominiums called the Residences of Old Town. Those condominiums would not be part of the new purchase.

John Hillenbrand, a spokesman for the current ownership, said the plan in 2002 was to remodel the old two-story hotel and its commercial spaces on Lincoln Avenue. However, the building has not been operated as a hotel since the sale.

"It was a bigger project than they wanted to do," Cook said.

A series of three architects and two structural engineers have gone through the building, and the conclusion is that "it is structurally not sound," Cook said. Renovating the period building is "not an option" the new owner would be interested in, he added.

Laureen Schaffer, historic preservation specialist with the city of Steamboat Springs, said Monday that the "international-style" Harbor building has historic characteristics worth preserving, including a sleek look with rounded corners. She said that despite the developers' lack of interest in a restoration, she remains hopeful that they will consider an alternative to demolishing the building. She said the prospect of it being torn down "is very concerning."

"We've been thinking for years how great it would be to do a (restoration project) there," Schaffer said. "I've been working with Main Street Steamboat on the historic district from Seventh to 12th streets. The Harbor Hotel was going to be the anchor of the district."

The city's historic preservation ordinance provides that Schaffer's office has 28 days from the date the developers pull a demolition permit in which to schedule a public hearing. The demolition hearing would focus on the historic qualities of the building rather than its structural condition, Schaffer said.

Based on the information presented at the public hearing, Schaffer can impose a cooling-off period of as many as 90 days. The intent of that provision of the ordinance is to allow city staff time to communicate with the developers.

"We have approached Mr. Cook and offered to be flexible in the planning process (for a historic renovation) and to help the owners with seeking grants" that would help fund the project.

Braun's Bar & Grill is a tenant in the building. John Kole of One Stop Ski Shop said he is operating on a month-to-month lease in the Harbor.

Cook is among the principals in a development group currently in the city planning process with a proposal to raze the old Nite's Rest Motel a block east of the Harbor and replace it with a mixed commercial and residential building.

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