Our View: Positive signs showing for Iron Horse Inn

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Editorial Board, February 2009 through May 2009

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Paul Hughes, community representative
  • Gail Smith, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— The city's potential lease of Iron Horse Inn motel rooms to Colorado Mountain College could be a sensible short-term solution to an increasingly embarrassing expenditure of taxpayer money. Better yet is the city's long-term plan to redevelop the site, buoyed by last week's City Council adoption of a motion to put out a request for proposals for the 52-room motel.

Anything seems better than the present situation. Of the Iron Horse Inn's 52 rooms, only five currently are occupied. And of those occupants, only three are city employees. Keep in mind that the intent of the $5.3 million Iron Horse Inn purchase in October 2007 was to provide affordable housing to city employees. Although it's true that a few seasonal city bus drivers occupied Iron Horse Inn rooms until recently, it's safe to say the motel purchase has fallen far short of expectations.

The pending lease agreement with Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus provides some hope of a turnaround. City and college officials are putting the final touches on what could be a two-year agreement to rent 26 rooms to CMC students. The deal would provide the college with much-needed student housing and the city with stable rental income. City officials say only minor work is needed to ready the rooms for students, and new mattresses have been ordered for the rooms.

The deal would need to be signed off on by Resort Group, which has the contract to manage the Iron Horse Inn on behalf of the city. While Resort Group continues to manage the property, it removed all of its employees who were renting rooms in the motel in early February because of a bedbug infestation. Those rooms - 36 in all - remain unoccupied, and no rent is being collected from them. The city and Resort Group plan to meet soon in hopes of ironing out a compromise.

Long term, the city is looking at redeveloping the Iron Horse site and has narrowed down a list of potential development firms to five. On Tuesday, the City Council approved a request for proposals process for the potential redevelopment project. The five firms chosen by the city have experience developing affordable housing projects.

It appears the city remains open to allowing the developers to be creative in their proposals, and that's an approach we fully support. We hope they bring forward proposals that make long-term housing and economic sense for the city. Better yet, the city hopes to capitalize on federal stimulus dollars and Community Development Block Grant funds to help with any potential redevelopment of the site. That's the best news we've heard in months about the Iron Horse.

Who knows, maybe there's long-term hope for this boondoggle after all.

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