Steamboat Springs Grand Junction-based Monument Oil officials have signaled their intention to reopen the Space Station gas station and Go-fer Foods convenience store in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Paul Brown, who owns Monument with his father, Bob, said Wednesday that the company is in negotiations with a local party to lease the site and serve as its independent operator. Brown said the reopened store certainly will sell gas, but he is not sure how the potential new operator will use the convenience store space.
Brown said he hopes to strike a deal within the next week to 10 days and said he expects the new operator would open immediately. He acknowledged, however, the difficulties of the current economic climate, especially when it comes to lending.
"Timing couldn't be worse," Brown said.
The store closed Dec. 22, 2006, after former operator Dan Bonner decided not to renew his lease after a decade. Earlier this fall, a Rob Douglas column in the Steamboat Today - which called the neglected site an eyesore and compared it to a vacant lot in Newark, N.J. - prompted a meeting between city officials and Brown.
"We met with them and said, 'This is a mess,'" interim City Manager Wendy DuBord said. "It's really kind of a nuisance."
City officials said Wednesday that the site could be considered a "public nuisance" as defined in the Steamboat Springs Municipal Code. In response to Brown's assurances that he is trying to do something with the lot, the city has not cited Monument Oil.
"We don't want to cite them into court if they're trying to reopen," DuBord said.
Brown apologized for the condition of the lot, which sits at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue in the heart of downtown and is surrounded by a chain-link fence. Brown said he had the site under contract for sale but that the deal fell through in September.
Negotiations with a local operator to lease the space hinge on the securing of financing, Brown said. If a deal is not made, Brown said, Monument probably will reopen the store as a company-operated business rather than the independent-operator model it uses at other Go-Fer Foods stores on the Western Slope. Brown said he hopes to reopen before the end of the year and noted that the property is not serving as a good investment for his company.
"It's expensive to have a piece of property sitting vacant," he said.
In what he called a "worst-case scenario," Brown said that at the very least he will come to Steamboat to replace the chain-link fence with a more attractive barrier such as planters.
"We absolutely are trying to be a responsible corporate citizen and neighbor up there," Brown said. "It does reflect on us and me personally, so I do want to get something done.
"I certainly don't like having that fence up there," Brown continued. "If we don't have something solidified by next week, I'll be up there. : The fence was supposed to be a short-term solution to keep people from parking there."
DuBord said the city is sympathetic to the liability issues facing Monument. But she said the city will get tough if something doesn't happen to the lot soon.
"If someone's not going to be moving in soon, then we need to talk about something more attractive than a chain-link fence," DuBord said. "We understand that he has to secure his property, but we need something different than a chain-link fence."
Mainstreet Steamboat Springs President Towny Anderson welcomed the prospect of Space Station reopening.
"It's a better deal functioning than being vacant and neglected," Anderson said. "Having it reopen with its historical use is the best we can ask for at this time, especially in this economy."
Mainstreet Program Manager Tracy Barnett agreed and said there is a "desperate" need for the type of small-scale grocery services Go-Fer Foods used to provide for Old Town residents.
"It's a major corner in downtown, and with the fencing up, it makes it look like a demolition zone or something," Barnett said.
Earlier this year, Mainstreet backed a push by some locals to turn the blighted site into a small community "pocket park," but Anderson said that idea is several years from fruition.
The reopening of the business "doesn't preclude that option at some point in the future," Anderson said.
Downtown Steamboat has seen substantial redevelopment since the Space Station closed its doors almost two years ago. Despite the facelift, Tom Leeson, the city's director of planning and community development, said the business still is a good fit for downtown.
"We fully support that," said Leeson, who noted there is only one gas station in downtown Steamboat. "I think opening another gas station is a reasonable use. It's essentially an established use."