Deb Hinsvark: The facts of the fire and police station move



Deb Hinsvark

A project with as many moving parts as the “Yampa Street redevelopment/Sale of fire and police building to Big Agnes/Relocate public safety campus project” isn’t often tackled by many municipalities. The opportunity for public/private development of this nature is simply not always there. But here in Steamboat Springs, we have a chance to dust off and inspire a 30-year-old Yampa Street Redevelopment Plan, resolve problems identified in a 10-year-old Police Headquarters Space Needs Analysis, and provide the space that one of our major contributing businesses needs for its international headquarters. While the project seems complicated, it is easier to follow when taken a piece at a time.

Let’s start with the sale of the current public safety campus at 840 Yampa St. Knowing the city would sell the building to plow funds back into this project — either by incorporating them into Yampa improvement projects or into the new fire and police buildings — we commissioned an appraisal on the property in December 2011 that was completed on Jan. 31, 2012. Our appraiser had some concerns about completing a commercial appraisal in this real estate economy. He pointed out in his report, in a section titled “Appraisal Problems,” that there had been no sales in the neighborhood since 2007. He went on to state that one other site had been listed in 2009 for $2,800,000 and by January 2012 had dropped to $1,650,000. Developments that had been approved for the area between 2007 and 2009 had either remained undeveloped or had been “flat-out abandoned.” The $3 million appraised value of 840 Yampa St. is diminished with qualifiers such as these.

Even though the validity of the appraisal on the public safety campus is questioned, it is still important to obtain a fair price for it. The offered price per square foot for the building at 840 Yampa St. is $159.69, which is better than the $145.28 received for the Chase building at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Third Street. Matt Miles, whose company purchased the building now being leased to Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers, indicated that any property off the main thoroughfare of Lincoln Avenue would have been a non-starter for him; only property on Lincoln carried value. Additionally, the appraisal commissioned by the city for the Yampa Street property stated that sales during the “boom” were between $125 per square foot and $190 per square foot. The city’s proposed sale of 840 Yampa St. certainly fits that niche. The Chase building sale, which was for less than both its listed and appraised values, netted more per square foot for the land, at about $120 per square foot, than the city’s Yampa Street property is expected to. But the $62 per square foot that Big Agnes will pay for the land certainly fits the amount an independent appraiser suggested in Tom Ross’ Oct. 31 Steamboat Today article should be paid for land in the downtown area — between $50 and $75 per square foot.

The economic benefit of having Big Agnes on Yampa Street includes the fact that its 63 employees will spend enough of their disposable income in Steamboat Springs to account for $41,203 in city sales tax dollars annually, according to local economist Scott Ford. Also, the anticipated addition of 15 employees over the next two years will grow that amount by $10,000 per year. If the changes being seen on Yampa Street because of the city’s departure and an added active commercial presence like the one Big Agnes will bring causes only one new restaurant to locate in the area, sales tax revenues would conservatively rise by $48,000. As the facility moves from governmental use to commercial use, over $22,000 will be added annually to the property tax coffers for those entities that rely on property tax. And Big Agnes employees are slated to spend $41,909 per year in sales tax to other sales taxing entities (again, according to Scott Ford).

Moving the city’s police and fire departments is the second facet of this project. The downtown fire station houses equipment that primarily is used to fight rural fires — brush trucks and tenders that carry water to a fire burning in an area without access to fire hydrants. Aside from the fact that these pieces of equipment need to move farther into the rural district, when Yampa Street is active, pulling this equipment out of the station is impeded. This drives our quest to find a location or locations farther west for fire. The police headquarters are inadequate and inefficient. A space study done 10 years ago indicated that headquarters needed twice the amount of space in which they were operating. Additionally, the police department is working in office space, not a police environment. At our police station, the victim of a crime is likely to meet the perpetrator of the crime in the hallway. Evidence is stored in an area that is as secure as it can be, but cold case evidence is stuffed in every nook and cranny that can be found. And police cars sit outside in our Colorado winters, requiring a period of cleaning and warming before a shift can start. The city will be better served by a new, larger and more effective police headquarters.

Finding the best and most affordable locations is a difficult task — not because there are not an abundance of opportune locations, but because the desire is to find the best locations; locations that will serve the citizens of Steamboat Springs for many, many years. We are narrowing our search and will present the City Council with more options at its Dec. 18 meeting. There are several ways citizens can keep abreast of the options and the facts surrounding each option. One is by attending the 5 p.m. Dec. 18 meeting. Another is to watch the session on Comcast Channel 6 — either live or in a rerun. The final way is to access the video of the meeting at These videos are found under the “Council Meetings and Agendas” section of the site, and you can jump right to the agenda item of your interest without having to wade through the entire session.

Deciding how to pay for the new fire and police stations has been an iterative process. It was first recommended that the citizens be asked to assess a property tax to pay for them, but council dismissed that idea and directed staff to keep the projects within a price range that could be afforded from current excess fund balances. At the end of 2011 the city had spendable general fund reserves of $15,271,532. That represented 69 percent of its general fund spending in 2011. This year the city will add another $1.3 million to $1.8 million to those reserves, growing them to more than $16.6 million. If we keep the new stations’ total cost to our general fund at or about $10 million, we will complete the stations and leave $6.6 million to $7 million in spendable general fund reserves. This amount is sufficient to meet four months’ of cash flow and is generally thought of as well within the range of safety for a municipal entity. Other sources of funding for the project include the funds received from the sale of 840 Yampa St., DOLA grants and cost sharing with the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District.

A lot of information is being circulated on this topic. Council has been vetting the facts of the project for 11 months now and has been discussing the project in public meetings since March. Citizens can catch up on those conversations via the online videos mentioned previously. Hopefully the information discussed in this article aids the reader’s evaluation of selling and moving the fire and police stations. The city offices at 137 10th St. are always open for anyone who wishes to obtain more data regarding this or any project.

Deb Hinsvark is the city of Steamboat Springs’ interim city manager. She can be reached at or 970-871-8240.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 5 months ago

Facts? Arguing one side of a case. It cannot be considered to be a rebuttal to the Good/Ford letter because it fails to address the points raised in that letter.

Hinsvark's arguments suggests a severe lack of understanding how the private sector determines fair market value. It is most definitely not an appraisal during a difficult and slow market, and then discounting that value by 30%. The free market determines value by making it available to potential buyers. For real estate, that is offering property through MLS. That is so true that courts in other states have ruled that real estate agents that fail to list a property in their MLS have failed to meet their fiduciary duty to get the best price.

Hinsvark's argument on how this is economic development suggests she also has a fundamental lack of understanding of economic development. When, Scott Ford, former head of the local EDC, co-writes a letter saying this is not economic development then that should be a hint to learn more on the topic..Instead her letter to the paper demonstrates her lack of understanding.

It is simply wrong to count the future employees of a building as economic development unless it can be stated with confidence that the building would not otherwise exist or be occupied. Considering the building is currently occupied then any proper analysis of economic effect has to compare the future use with the current use.

Likewise, if the building were to be offered at fair market value then there is no reason to believe that the new buyer would intend to keep it vacant. In fact, since the new buyer would be paying a higher price then that buyer would be under greater financial pressure to fully utilize the building. While Big Agnes group is under minimal pressure to fully utilize it because they have already profited from the deal by buying it for such much less than market value.

Oh well, this sets the stage for how big of a mistake the city council is willing to make. They can heed the advice of Scott Ford, former head of the EDC whom says this is not the way to do economic development. Or they heed staff advice that is so ignorant that they quote Scott Ford while ignoring the logic of his writings.


John St Pierre 4 years, 5 months ago

with all respect... how many employee's are working for the city in the existing bulding??? And where are 78 employee' going to park??


Scott Wedel 4 years, 5 months ago

"If we keep the new stations’ total cost to our general fund at or about $10 million ..."

And this proposal pretty much bets it all that the total costs can be kept to less than $10m. That critical assumption is being made prior to even picking replacement locations for either building. Neither replacement building has been designed. Neither replacement building has been put out to construction bid.

And yet the current building is to be sold and so if either proposed replacement location or building does not go as planned then there is no going back. That is the very definition of high risk. The way to limit risk is to be able to compare the new option to the current situation. Then it can be decided if it is worthwhile to go forward. The City is proposed getting rid of the current building and THEN seeing if the new options work out.

That is not only needless high risk, it also destroys their bargaining position on the new buildings because now City has no other options. If there is a dispute over the cost of change orders then the City will not have the time to spare to stand up against a contractor. And contractor's costs will be higher because City lacks the ability to accept any delays and so contractor will be working overtime to handle any change orders.

And so City won't be able to afford any change orders and thus any mistakes in the plans will not be corrected during construction.

The risk is that the City would not be able to build two buildings, of which neither have a location or a design, on time and on budget. I guess only anti-government crackpots could imagine how that might not go exactly as planned.

Lastly, delaying the sale of the current building does not delay the replacement buildings. The process for identifying a location and then a design for the replacement buildings can proceed. The sale of the public safety building should be among the last step of moving to new buildings, not the first. So delaying the sale just puts events in proper order and does not otherwise affect the process of creating better facilities for police and fire.


rhys jones 4 years, 5 months ago

This article appears to be a whitewah and justification for an obviously ill-considered maneuver. I would go so far as to suggest payola. Whar irks me as much as the creative accounting cited, is the faulty logic used to support it.

Why would a victim run into the perp at the PD? He or she would either be at the sheriff's department, or long gone.

Who says rural fires will all be west of town? Should south Routt feel slighted? What's wrong the current central location? I counted at least 18 pieces of fine emergency equipment in the parade on the 4th -- do we need more?

That property is prime real estate, unique, and to dump it at a million below even a deflated market is idiocy. BAP isn't married to this town, they could pull a TIC on us after their obligatory 5 years (assuming the market has recovered by then) where they make the money on the flip that the town should have.

This is the time to tighten the belt, not go squandering even more of our money.


Scott Ford 4 years, 5 months ago

When the logical reasons for doing something begin to fail rationalization takes over. It is what we do as humans when we really want to do something but there is no compelling or urgent reason for doing it.

In its simplest form, this is a discussion of wants vs. needs. If I want something but do not really need it or need it, but not right now, however I really want it now- I will find a host of rationalizations in an attempt to justify it as a "need" rather than a "want".

Deb's letter did not convince me of the critical need to sell the public safety building at this time or at this price. - The justifications raised in her letter, although very well articulated, sound more like rationalizations in an attempt to morph a want into a need.

Selling the public safety building without question creates a critical need. (Where are the police and fire folks going to go?) A need that did not exist until the building was sold off. Effective parents of teenagers do not let them get away with this tactic.

Let's not forget the simple truth that "Past is Prologue". What have we done in the past as a community where we rationalized a "want" into a "need"? I can think of a few examples.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 5 months ago


Thanks for the letter. I attended the public meetings on this topic, beginning with the first one Sept 18 this year, and never quite heard City Council make its case for this trifecta of revitalization, infrastructure and corporate incentive. The parts are truly moving and some, like the Iron Horse Inn, are now removed altogether.

I am most concerned about the infrastructure piece. Today still seems a time for conservative fiscal policy, something I thought to be a trademark of recent councils. This proposed project seems a reversal of that behavior, and seems to disregard future councils' fiscal needs. Thus my concern is similar to Scott Ford's above, are the new police and fire departments critical needs that absolutely must be met today? Do you think future council's will agree?


Kevin Nerney 4 years, 5 months ago

Talk about a trifecta. How about this one. Lets GIVE the Iron Horse to Bap. (That's about a 900 K gift) They win round one. The City gets the Iron Horse off the books (good bad or otherwise at least it will start paying taxes) The city wins round two. Bap gets needed square footage on riverfront property.(probably the same size as the Fire Station) Bap wins round 3.


John Weibel 4 years, 5 months ago

How about building parking for downtown on top of the parking lot for the police vehicles, enclosing it, and use the fire station parking for police expansion filling both needs more police space and the fire station moving west.

Then put the knew fire station at the transit center. Then you have all the needs covered. Though some of the wants may go unfilled in this option. But it probably is far more cost effective and then sell the Iron Horse to BAP as they need more space, including parking than is available downtown.


mark hartless 4 years, 5 months ago

Sure, the city would be "better served" with better police and fire facilities.

It would probably also be "better served" with a by-pass, a monorail, a gondola from Lincoln Av to Mt Werner, heated sidewalks, new water and sewer lines, a new post office, higher paid employees, a grocery store west of town, and 2,000 additional parking spaces.

So what??? Instead of expecting to have everything that "would better serve" the City of Steamboat Springs, perhaps the City of Steamboat Springs should do what the rest of us do every day: Make choices and trade-offs and economize. Taxpayers don't just go out and buy everything that would "better serve" them. And they certainly won't keep doing very it long if they engage in dumping their assets in down markets at rock-bottom prices.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 5 months ago

A word of caution to acting city manager Deb Hinsvark and city council members that support this - if you get this wrong then it isn't just another issue to be fixed in the future. You will be replaced like incumbent city council members were swept from office after Iron Horse purchase.

And then it is not merely a changing of those responsible for dealing with the problem, but people with a different political philosophy.

Just like those elected to replace those that supported Iron Horse didn't merely deal with Iron Horse, the city manager soon left and linkage which what was the "key" for creating affordable housing in SB was repealed and so on.


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