Steamboat Springs Police Department officers attend a daily briefing last month at the police headquarters on Yampa Street. The Steamboat Springs City Council on Oct. 16 will hear more detailed versions of proposals to build a new police station at the Iron Horse Inn site or next to the Stock Bridge Transit Center.

Photo by Scott Franz

Steamboat Springs Police Department officers attend a daily briefing last month at the police headquarters on Yampa Street. The Steamboat Springs City Council on Oct. 16 will hear more detailed versions of proposals to build a new police station at the Iron Horse Inn site or next to the Stock Bridge Transit Center.

Steamboat officials work to strengthen Iron Horse proposal


— The Iron Horse Inn is a motel full of questions.

Its 26 long-term tenants are wondering whether their home will be razed to make way for a police station.

City officials are wondering how much it's going to cost to replace a roof above those tenants and overhaul the motel's “sinking” parking lot.

And because the city again is projecting it will lose money operating the hotel this fiscal year, some members of the Steamboat Springs City Council are wondering why it shouldn't be torn down or, at the very least, mothballed.

Since the motel's future was put into question last month, community members have reached out to the council to weigh in on the city's proposal to raze the building and replace it with a new, 15,000-square-foot police station.

The buzz of public commentary, which has included support and opposition to the city's plan, ultimately has convinced several council members that they need to take more time to decide the fate of the Iron Horse.

“Everyone has their take on why one spot or another would be better” for the police and fire stations, council member Kenny Reisman said Thursday. “But more than anything, I'm hearing, 'You better be certain to make the right decision.'”

Recognizing an endorsement to demolish the Iron Horse will have financial implications that will last longer than their four-year terms, several council members said Thursday that they are in no rush deliver their ultimate judgement on the plan.

They also want the public to be more involved in the decision.

“I don't think we're pressed for time here,” council member Walter Magill said. “I do believe it's something we should have on several agendas to make sure the community understands all the details on it. I don't want to vote for something the community hasn't had time to review and understand.”

Reader poll

Do you support the city's proposal to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and build a new police station at that location?

  • Yes, getting rid of the Iron Horse is a great idea. 28%
  • No, I prefer the plan to build a public safety complex in west Steamboat. 38%
  • No, the fire and police stations should remain on Yampa Street. 22%
  • I like the idea, but it's too expensive. 7%
  • I haven't made up my mind. 6%

810 total votes.

Mixed reviews

The proposal to demolish the 54-room motel and replace it with a $7 million police headquarters paid for by reserve funds was met with mostly negative reviews when it first was presented to council last month.

The hope is to move emergency services off Yampa Street and jump-start a revitalization effort there by selling the building to local outdoor retailer Big Agnes for $2.1 million.

Council member Sonja Macys said that she's supportive of fostering Big Agnes downtown and aiding the revitalization effort but that she continues to question the financing of the construction of new police and fire stations.

“One of the concerns I'm hearing is, on one hand, the council is cutting the budget to get to the bare bones and making sure the city's staffing is as streamlined as possible. Yet, on the other hand, we're going to go out and take on a costly project,” Macys said, adding that the project could “tie the hands of future councils.”

She also is concerned the city is preparing to sell the building well below its $3 million appraisal value and without advertising it more on the market.

City officials are preparing to pitch a more detailed version of the proposal to council when it meets Oct. 16, and they think their plan still is viable.

The plan already has the support of council President Bart Kounovsky and members Cari Hermacinski and Scott Myller.

But because of the criticism from the remaining four council members, the city also will present an alternative option to construct a unified police and firefighting headquarters adjacent to the Stock Bridge Transit Center just west of downtown. That facility is projected to cost $10 million to $10.75 million, depending on whether the city decides to construct an eight- or two-man fire station.

Strengthening the plan

While council members say they want more time to weigh the move of the police and firefighting stations off Yampa Street, city officials are working to bolster the argument the Iron Horse site still would be the ideal place to start.

The city specifically is taking a closer look at the building and hopes to give the council a more concrete idea of what it will cost to keep it versus raze it.

City officials have argued at previous council meetings that the cost to maintain the motel, which has become a financial liability for the city and council members since it was purchased for $5 million in 2007, is a reason the city should consider demolishing it and replacing it with a “core function of government.”

City officials acknowledged earlier this month that their original presentation of the Iron Horse plan to the council had some holes that need to be filled before it is presented again.

Deputy Manager Deb Hinsvark said Wednesday that staff now is working to give council a 20-year outlook on the capital costs of maintaining the Iron Horse.

“The older building has a lot of deficiencies that need to be addressed,” Anne Small, the city's director of general services, said last week.

To prepare that report, the city has enlisted the help of a structural engineer to examine the motel and its “sinking” parking lot.

Small said earlier this month that major work to the parking lot and the eventual replacement of the roof on the building that houses the Iron Horse's longer-term tenants is projected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coming years.

Council also learned Thursday that the city is projecting the motel to bring in 15 percent less than the $400,000 in revenue the city budgeted to receive from its operation this year.

A short brainstorming session of other ways to cut losses from the hotel quickly was met with cold water from city officials.

Cari Hermacinski, who supports the plan to demolish the building, asked why it isn't mothballed if it's losing the city money each year.

Hinsvark replied that the building is collateral and that the property's debt holders could object to closing the facility and not maintaining it. However, she said the city is confident the debt holders would approve of swapping out the motel for a police station as collateral.

Hinsvark said Wednesday that she expects the Iron Horse's future to be decided by the end of this year.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email


Alan Geye 4 years, 6 months ago

I hate to say it, but it sounds like the City may be limiting the number of strategic choices. Could it be that choosing between false choices just might not be in the long term benefit of Steamboat? Why haven't we heard about a choice like selling Iron Horse for private development. That may or may not be doable in the very near term, but shouldn't someone consult with someone to explore the risks and possible benefits of a longer term disposal plan? We should not compound the strategic mistakes of prior Councils by not exploring ALL options.


cindy constantine 4 years, 6 months ago

Agreed, Alan!! Very disappointing to see Council pursuing this path at all! The IH site deserves the insight of a private developer because of its location on the bike path and river. A true misuse of the City's reserve funds. It certainly will not relieve the burden of the bonds which can be secured by other City assets. We can sell the IH site and put additional funds in the reserve account and forego one further $$ in costs. Lets take our lumps now and get on with more reasonable use of the City's reserves.


Fred Duckels 4 years, 6 months ago

When the TIC parcel comes on the market we will have more options. To decide anything now would be rushing and could prove that the Iron Horse debacle is the standard for our decision making. Good business decisions are seldom knee jerk and we need not rush. Let's look the TIC property over and see if it has potential. I see no magic bullet for the Iron Horse and it is a shame that the city is competing with the private sector.


Kevin Nerney 4 years, 6 months ago

This whole town is about marketing. Good or bad the objective is always about selling the idea. My dad use to say "That guy could sell ice to the eskimo's". He also use to say' you can't make a silk purse out of a sows ear", and the Iron Horse is a pig. PD should not get this premium location.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 6 months ago

It is pretty bizarre to compare one project that includes a fire station with a project that does not. Considering just the police station is projected to cost $7M and the combined fire and police station is projected to cost $10M then building at Iron Horse would require assuming that Iron Horse could be sold for $Zero dollars and a separate fire station could be built for $3M, less than half of the police station.

This idea that removing all of the employees of the police and fire dept from downtown offices will somehow jumpstart Yampa St business activity defies common sense. Police and fire employees do not eat or shop near their jobs? Employees of a food making company relentlessly eat out?

First, cancel the poorly marketed below appraised value proposed sale of the existing building. That is, by itself, as inept a plan as the Iron Horse purchase.

Second, quit lying that moving fire and police will jumpstart Yampa St unless people are willing to put their careers on the line if their projections are wrong.

Third, any plan for police at Iron Horse also needs a plan on where fire station is going to be located and the costs of that project.

Fourth, quit claiming that nothing can be done about selling Iron Horse when the exact same workout with bondholders is needed to demolish the Iron Horse buildings. If City needs to do a collateral land swap to demolish Iron Horse buildings then it could do a collateral land swap to sell Iron Horse.

If that can be done then there could be enough honest information for the public to consider the different proposals. Right now, the proposal is a hare brained marketing scheme that is undergoing a makeover to look less like a hare brained marketing scheme.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 6 months ago

Adding my two cents… The constant pairing of the needs of our police/fire departments with Yampa Street revitalization is mistake. These should be separated and the taxpayers should review their money going to infrastructure, not solving a doubtful real estate "dead zone". Real estate offices are well known to be dead zones in a retail district. Are the realty groups making plans to vacate their offices in Steamboat's retail districts?

The Stockbridge location is a bad idea: The Urban Land Institute panel report on Yampa Street revitalization calls parking a challenge. They suggest transportation modality changes like walking and transit as solutions. They recommend against a parking structure as an inefficient use of funds. At the same time folks on the Yampa Street steering group envision eliminating the current large parking lots on western Yampa Street. This prompted the planning department to say other parking areas need to be found.

Meanwhile the Stockbridge parking site was created for exactly that purpose - remote parking at a nearby transit hub for employees and shoppers. Unlikely our ULI planners would agree that moving the public safety campus to Stockbridge, thus eliminating that remote parking, is a winning downtown revitalization strategy.


cindy constantine 4 years, 6 months ago


The latest twist on the IH is the sinking parking lot. Sink hole, spring, leaking pipe, porous sub-soil? As an engineer, what could be the expense with building a new building? Are the sub-soil conditions possibly a deterent to even building a new facility in that location? Has the Council even started that investigation while they incur time and expense with police department plans?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 6 months ago

Cindy, Well, what is the reality of the "sinking" parking lot?

If you believe the city then it is a sinkhole.

If you look at it then you see the parking lot has puddles instead of draining properly. Hardly a crisis or something not present in other parking lots. Sure, it should be fixed before it destroys the pavement, But hardly a situation forcing an immediate decision between repair or annihilation.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 6 months ago

Cindy, We walked by the IH today. I took a passing look at the roof on that older building. With no sign of sagging on the south pitch or ridge, I would say the City is probably talking about simple replacement of the membrane, i.e. shingles and maybe bituthane.

Normal roof duration/replacement is not a cost to stress about. Do it. If they have some rot in the trusses, this is usually isolated and they may be looking at $30-50K to re-truss and fix the roof of that older building.

As for the parking, and also the soils, most of downtown is river cobbles. Clays are common where our ridges approach the river. These can be expansive clays, but only moderately so, and easily built on. The IH is at one of those ridges and also on the river. It could be clay or cobbles. Don't worry, we will never see a sink hole in Steamboat because neither clay or cobbles support that phenomenon. Think silts, sands, and Florida.

I suspect Scott has captured the essence of the parking lot. It may be that bad subgrade material was imported into the parking lot, but the more likely scenario is poor or uneven compaction of the native materials they had. Excavate the sunken portion a few feet and re-compact it. A spring may be involved. Pipe it to to a gravity outlet or a sump pump. Not a big deal for a City with heavy machinery.

I'll be interested to see what their consultant has to say.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 6 months ago

The City has a few irons in the fire. I was just reading a draft of the next ordinance for Land Use changes being discussed at Thursday night's planning commission. The last Land Use changes adopted didn't make the paper, so here is the next batch being discussed. I inserted layman's terms, but it is mainly their draft/discussion text cut to the chase:

Create a “PUD parcel”, a custom zoning, to allow individual City lots to 
create their own regulations and zoning in perpetuity. A PUD custom zone parcel shall be required if a project’s variances exceed those set forth in the existing City codes, and at least one of the following is met: - site has special physical characteristics, or - improved siting of the development will … increase the amount of functional open space within the development, etc, or - protect and preserve the character of a historic structure or historic district; or - scale or timing of a development project demands a more customized zoning, or - permits integration of commercial land uses near a mix of housing types, or - PUD is necessary to meet the needs of the parcel owner, or - change to PUD addresses a community need


Steve Lewis 4 years, 6 months ago


A PUD parcel is not intended as a vehicle to develop a site inconsistent 
with the applicable neighborhood context and character (except it's obvious result is patchwork zoning).

The rezoning will substantially conform to the community plan land use map designation for the property, or apply for an amendment to the community plan land use map.

In return for flexibility in zoning; development under a PUD District should provide significant public benefit … Public Benefit can include diversification in land use zoning.

A PUD applicant may apply for a zoning change on any land within the city, except the Ski base area.

New PUD parcel shall clearly define new allowed use, dimensional standard, development standard, architectural design standard, and subdivision standard that has been established for the property.

Minor amendment. A minor amendment to an approved PUD is any revision that is in substantial conformance. The determination of substantial conformance shall be at the director's discretion and may be approved administratively by the director.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 6 months ago

Changes like that make no sense. If the zoning changes in the PUD make sense then allow those changes for everyone, not just those with the resources to create a PUD.

Just like all the zoning rules that were ignored to allow Walgreen's to build. If the rules were excessive and shouldn't apply in one case then instead of creating a way to bypass the bad rules then just remove the bad rules.

That is different from variances which take into consideration special circumstances of the lot and allow a building to follow the spirit of the zoning rules while not conforming to some of the specifics of a zoning rule


Steve Lewis 4 years, 6 months ago

I attended the work session. They may nix zoning changes in single family districts. The typical dimensional variances would apply.

The real discussion so far is the Change of Use, and Permanent Vesting of any variance or Use. I referred to this ULI article to speak against the spot zoning of Use anywhere in Steamboat. In essence it argues that consistency and future certainties create property value, inconsistency and future uncertainties undermines property value.

In my opinion the current PUD has performed far better than it is credited for. Several examples of projects built were given as reasons why it isn't working. I would argue the opposite. These projects are examples of it working the way it was supposed to. There is a rejection of the current PUD's requirement of public benefit in exchange for variances. It is deemed a buying of a variance. What they lose sight of is that buy is a PUBLIC BENEFIT. The cure here? Throw out the required public benefit altogether.

In it's place would be a standard of a "superior result". The recent condo buildings downtown had variances that were traded. One got extra height in exchange for affordable housing. In this new system, you will still be making a trade, only the specifics and public benefit now in place will be gone. It will be more subjective, and less certain.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 6 months ago

Another coming discussion will be early approvals of a project's pieces that bust the rules, to save the applicant wasting $$ on an eventual rejection. After these early approvals, the rest of the project is assumed to meet approval and will likely have administrative approval with no hearing. Beats me how one will determine that superior result with 1/3 of the project in view.

Put a Walgreens in this way and you will have some unhappy citizens.

Zoning changes are a big deal. Zoning changes throughout Steamboat are a bigger deal. I hope the Pilot will take notice and cover these meetings. Meanwhile, you get the above.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 6 months ago

I should have said, They may nix allowing USE changes in single family districts


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