Steamboat Springs Tim Kohl watched with mixed emotions as a backhoe tore through the Harbor Hotel building Monday morning in the heart of downtown Steamboat Springs.
"That's the first place I lived when I moved to Steamboat 28 years ago," said Kohl, who spent a week at the hotel. Even then, he remembers it as being "dingy."
The high-profile demolition job drew a revolving crowd of onlookers in the 700 block of Lincoln Avenue. Some were there just to witness the physical destruction, others to say goodbye to a structure they thought needed to come down.
"I guess it could be considered historic, but you have to roll with the times," Kohl said. "You can't save every building."
"It's kind of too bad," said Katie Holmes, who has lived in Steamboat for three years. "I think a lot of people remember it as a big part of downtown Steamboat."
The hotel stopped operating as a hotel in 2002 and is being torn down to make room for Howelsen Place, an 85,000-square-foot residential and commercial development named after legendary Steamboat Springs resident Carl Howelsen.
The hotel, which opened in 1940, was at one time known as the finest hotel between Denver and Salt Lake City and cost about $70,000 to build and furnish.
It was considered a historic building by some and a valuable asset to the community.
"As ugly and decrepit as that building is, in a restored state, it would be as iconic as the Steamboat Barn, but we'll never see that," said Steamboat Springs City Council member Towny Anderson, who spent his professional career in historic preservation.
He said the hotel was representative of roadside architecture and the traveling public.
"It was a major statement about the automobile age," Anderson said. "It's something we can recognize as an icon."
He said it was unreasonable to expect a private developer to refurbish the hotel, and Steamboat is still young in terms of its willingness to embrace historic preservation.
"If we wanted to preserve that building, it would have had to have been the penultimate public-private partnership," Anderson said. "There will come a time when the community rallies behind a building."
Local historian, preservationist and former City Council member Arianthe Stettner said the loss of the Harbor highlights the shortcomings in the city's historic preservation policies when Howelsen Place was proposed.
"There were neither substantive financial or planning incentives in place to encourage preservation of the building, nor to maintain a downtown historic hotel, nor regulations to stop the building's ultimate demolition," Stettner said.
While crews from Drahota Construction and Big R Construction began the weeklong demolition job, developer Jim Cook was conducting lotteries at his sales office on Yampa Street to determine who got first dibs on the residential units at Howelsen Place.
The demolition and lottery were arranged to coincide, but not this well.
"We didn't know the backhoe was going to be in the middle of the building during the lottery," Cook said. "It worked out."
In addition to Howelsen Place, Cook also is working on the Alpenglow Steamboat development at Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue along with Riverwalk along the Yampa River.
The lottery marked the official release of the 35 market-rate and seven deed-restricted affordable units. Prices will not be finalized until early next year, but Cook estimated market rate units would cost between $600 and $750 a square foot.
"Eighty percent of the units are sold," Cook said. "In some instances, we have two or three names as backups. I expected this to be the case."
He expects all the units to be sold by the time vertical construction begins next year, and his focus now is on leasing the 11 commercial units.
Cook said Monday was a day to enjoy some of the fruits of his labor - for a project he and many others believe will help change the complexion of downtown and make it a more exciting place.
Cook said the demolition of the Harbor Hotel was a welcomed sight.
"Everyone said, 'God, yes we need to get this down,'" Cook said. "We need something better."
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