A police cruiser sits outside the Steamboat Springs Police Department headquarters on Yampa Street. City officials are working to bring the Steamboat Springs City Council more options to relocate emergency services out of the building. BIg Agnes is currently in negotiations to purchase the building.

Photo by John F. Russell

A police cruiser sits outside the Steamboat Springs Police Department headquarters on Yampa Street. City officials are working to bring the Steamboat Springs City Council more options to relocate emergency services out of the building. BIg Agnes is currently in negotiations to purchase the building.

Relocation of Steamboat's downtown police, fire stations enters critical phase

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A large mat welcomes visitors to the Steamboat Springs Police Department headquarters on Yampa Street downtown. City officials are working to bring the Steamboat Springs City Council more options to relocate emergency services out of the building. BIg Agnes is currently in negotiations to purchase the building.

— Inside Steamboat Springs City Hall, a new clock is ticking.

In the wake of the Steamboat Springs City Council's decision Tuesday night to start negotiating the sale of the city's downtown emergency services building to Big Agnes and Honey Stinger for $2.1 million, city officials now are pressed to find a new home for the police officers and firefighters who could begin to move out as early as March 1 if the sale goes through.

Council members heard the city's two final options for the relocation of police and fire services on Tuesday night, but they eliminated one and wouldn't commit to the other. Instead, they requested more options and sent city officials back to a drawing board they've been working off of for 11 months.

“I feel comfortable with (the sale), but I would be lying if I said it didn't make me a little nervous,” Public Safety Director Joel Rae said Thursday about the council's decision to begin the process of selling 840 Yampa St. before settling on a new home for the police and fire stations housed inside. “It's concerning when you sell a building and you haven't committed to a plan to build a new building.”

Rae and Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark were busy Thursday fleshing out other options for council to consider besides constructing a combined public safety campus at the Stock Bridge Transit Center for $11.4 million.

While Rae said the Transit Center option remains his top choice, he and Hinsvark specifically were looking at a map of west Steamboat and mulling the cost of purchasing land near U.S. Highway 40 and Elk River Road for an alternative building site.

If the sale of the current emergency services building goes through, city officials plan to temporarily lease office space for the police department from TIC, and will lease back the lower level fire station bays at 840 Yampa St. from Big Agnes and Honey Stinger for 18 months after the sale closes.

But their plan hinges on starting construction of the new facility this summer, making timing more critical.

In recent emails and at Tuesday night's council meeting, community members have criticized the city for proposing to sell the emergency services building for well below its $3 million appraised value.

Officials counter that they've been planning the move for nearly a year and that it would fill a longtime need as well as increase the efficiency of Steamboat's emergency services.

Rae and Hinsvark said now is also the time to build, and the city's sale of the building, dubbed an “economic development deal,” would allow an international outdoor retailer to stay in Steamboat while helping to kickstart a revitalization effort on Yampa Street.

“Whether we find a site to build on, it was the right thing to do to sell that building now while we can use the sale to incentivize the activity on Yampa,” Hinsvark said. "That was a big part of the project and the plan" to relocate our downtown fire and police stations.

An evolving plan

The city's plan to build new police and fire stations has evolved significantly since it was first publicly introduced to the City Council in March.

It started as a proposal to go to voters to help fund a new public safety campus in west Steamboat with a property tax.

But as they investigated purchasing property near the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Elk River Road, city officials said the high cost of land made them look at properties they already own.

They then presented a new plan to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and replace it with a police station.

That proposal, like the current one for the Stock Bridge site, has the city using a significant portion of its reserves to pay for the project.

But the Iron Horse plan was criticized by a majority of council members, and despite the city's effort to strengthen the proposal earlier this month, it was unanimously rejected last week.

Now, the city has returned its focus to the west, and officials plan to present council with a list of alternatives at an Oct. 30 meeting. Their only fully-developed option Thursday was the Stock Bridge Transit Center site.

Several council members expressed concern about that proposal Tuesday, including how it would significantly reduce the parking at a site designed to be a park-n-ride.

Rae said Thursday that Stock Bridge long has been underutilized as a parking facility, and the city is looking into how to maximize parking efficiency there if the public safety campus is built.

Still, some council members think the city should slow down the process.

“This is going a little fast for my taste,” council member Walter Magill said as he reacted to the relocation proposals.

He and fellow council member Cari Hermacinsiki voted against starting negotiations with Big Agnes and Honey Stinger to sell the emergency services building on Yampa Street.

Some members of the public who attended Tuesday night's council meeting questioned the feasibility of the entire proposal.

“I think this is the wrong time to do this,” Steamboat resident Steve Lewis said. “Your budget is already challenged, and because it is a budget challenge to do this, you're cannibalizing other city properties to do this.”

'Stars aligned'

Hinsvark said that Thursday a new police station has been on the city's capital improvement plan every year for the past decade. She said the need for more space and a more efficient building will only grow in the coming years.

“Our police department has never functioned in a building that was built to be a police station,” Hinsvark said, adding a space study conducted for the department in 2002 indicated police services needed "twice as much space as they have now."

Rae, too, has been quick to point out the flaws and inefficiencies in the current police headquarters.

A parking enforcement officer working out of a closet is evidence of the lack of space. He also worries the fire trucks that must exit onto the pedestrian-busy Yampa Street create a safety hazard.

Hinsvark said throughout the past year the “stars started to align” for the relocation project that has been passed over year after year because of its price tag and a lack of funding.

Conservative budgeting during the recession has helped to build the the city's reserves that would pay for the project.

The Urban Land Institute arrived in June and bolstered a grass-roots effort to revitalize Yampa Street and make it more pedestrian friendly.

Former City Manager Jon Roberts approached Big Agnes and Honey Stinger with the proposal to establish a headquarters and retail presence in the building, and company officials jumped at the opportunity to continue their growth downtown.

“There's really not a single driving force for the project,” Hinsvark said. “It's just the right time for all of these things to get done.”

Asked what would happen if the project didn't become a reality this year, Rae said he worried it never would happen.He said the drawbacks of their current police headquarters would worsen as the city grows and his department continues to work without sufficient space.

Hinsvark said the city still must work to convince the public the facilities are the best use of the city's reserve dollars.

“It's really not unusual for a community to have a little bit of difficulty with spending dollars on fire and police, it's not a sexy thing to do,” she said. “But it's an absolute municipal necessity. It's just hard to express that to the community.”

Rae said too many good opportunities would be squandered by delay the project: A growing international business's growth in Steamboat would be put in question. A grass-roots effort to revitalize Yampa Street would be disparaged. Emergency services would continue operating with too little space in a city he projects will continue to grow.

“Tell us why we should wait,” Hinsvark said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 6 months ago

Sure, there are good reasons to build new police and fire stations.

But it is utterly ridiculous to sell the current building without a site and construction budget for the replacement.

I predict this premature sale will cost the city more than the Iron Horse fiasco.

The Stockbridge transit center is supposed to also be overflow parking for downtown. Considering that downtown parking is fairly tight despite vacancies then it is not hard to imagine how Stockbridge parking could be needed in a couple of years. Truly shortsighted to sacrifice Stockbridge without a plan. But then, it was truly shortsighted to sell police/fire station without a plan so no reason to expect this city council will not do it again.

This is looking a local version of the Federal Fiscal Cliff. Both side in Congress agreed to spending cuts and ending tax cuts that is supposed to be so awful that neither side would allow it to actually happen. And yet both sides are convinced they will win because the other side will blink before letting it happen.

Our local version is to force construction of new police and fire that they;ve decided to sell the current building. So presumably that will force a decision on location and funding that causes the replacement to be built quickly. But what happens if suitable sites are not found? Police dept could easily end up stuck for years leasing space. Fire dept could end up with equipment in barns and also leasing space.

A plan this inept is going to find it hard to get public support for a tax to bail out their mistakes resulting from prematurely selling the current building as part of: an "economic development deal,” would allow an international outdoor retailer to stay in Steamboat while helping to kickstart a revitalization effort on Yampa Street.

An economic development plan that requires blowing a $10M hole into the city building and destroying the long term downtown parking plan (Stockbridge parking lot). And what happens if major food company buys out Big Agnes? Or any number of other reasons why Big Agnes does not become a major downtown employer.

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John Weibel 1 year, 6 months ago

I liked your idea of selling the iron horse to BAP.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 6 months ago

John, I just realized that according to city's logic of selling public safety building for $900K less than appraised, and city saying Iron Horse is worth less than $1M, that city would SAVE money if they GAVE the Iron Horse to Big Agnes as an economic development deal.

Far busier pedestrian areas than Yampa St have fire stations. That is not a hard problem to solve. I've seen sidewalks with warning lights and markings that make it clear where peds are supposed to quickly move. As a dedicated fire station, it becomes plenty big. Parking lot could be sold for development and thus provide additional retail opportunities. Eventual plan for fire station could be 4th and Oak which is more centrally located in downtown area.

Police station could buy YVHA's Elk River parcel (if city has to overpay so that YVHA can sell then city can give less money to YVHA in the future to even that out) and build on part and claim the rest is being saved for affordable apts or condos.

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Peter Arnold 1 year, 6 months ago

The economic outcome is likely what many are not wanting to say, a fiscal cliff. No building plan, no construction plan, no budget plan. Where is the planning? Officials passed on going for fair market value and counter with this...

"Officials counter that they've been planning the move for nearly a year"

Does that make it ok? Why is the public only now hearing about the planning? Zero transparency and just plain questionable logic. Personally, if I was a billionaire, I'd give the police and fire whatever they reasonably need. I support their efforts without question. If new facilities are needed, find a way to get them. It's too bad there is even an ounce of negative push back from the public.

The issue is how council has gone about making an economic decision this large happen, again.

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Harry Thompson 1 year, 6 months ago

A self imposed critical phase. With so many things needing done in this community to stay abreast of the other mountain resorts. Our leaders get us involved in this quagmire.

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cindy constantine 1 year, 6 months ago

If Council is hell-bent on doing something, how about this for an idea. The building housing the City offices at 10th and Oak could add a second story where the city offices would move leaving the existing first level for a new police station keeping them downtown. Parking behind the building as well as the underutilized lot at 10th and Lincoln. Then just build a new fire station at the Stock Bridge site. Keep in mind there is a playground there which could be moved to Elk Park which sorely needs new equipment and is used more heavily, freeing up additional land for more parking. And whose to say BAP might not be willing to pay $2.4 to $2.6 for the Yampa Street site in 18 mos to 2 years while the other facilities are being built. We could at least give BAP a first right of refusal to buy the Yampa Street site.

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John Weibel 1 year, 6 months ago

What I see in government makes me realize, I am nearing the point that I really want to pay as little in taxes as possible. It is hard to believe that the city employees are set on pushing through this proposed move.

Giving the IH away - as long as they take the debt would be a fantastic idea. You cut $500,000 in annual expenses that could be SAVED for a couple of years to pay for a new stand alone fire station at the transit center - debt free. That way the first budgetary item to be paid is not more debt.

What is more if IH is given away with little additional debt, then the city has reduced its expenses, which then can be redirected to giving critical service people raises - police and fire.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 6 months ago

Cindy, You seem to agree with the urgency of this. Thanks for offering ways to do it. I am trending the other way. Not quite as far as John Weibel, but this is beginning to irritate me.

Like many, we are also invested in Steamboat. I'm reading of the City's recent $1.45 million expansion loan to Smart Wool. Fine, that will be paid back over 10 years. That I can understand. This is different - a large discount to Big Agnes and the resulting, larger budget and property sacrifices it triggers.

At the same time, and for the past decade, clients and tenants of our office building on Oak Street have walked in the streets dodging cars to reach our door. During the winter their late day departure means they'll walk dark street. Who will build us sidewalks and install lights?

These needs of Oak Street are not even on the radar of the current crew downtown. It is fine to respect what Bill Gamber can deliver. But where is the respect for the 11 businesses in our building on Oak Street?

Call it a double standard, mixed up priorities, whatever. Our next City manager and our next City Council need to understand THE BASICS of building a City to its potential.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 6 months ago

John, You miss the point that the city have given up on the Iron Horse and says it is worth less than $1M. So yes, it is worth far less than the outstanding debt.

My point is that the city's own logic on this redevelopment is that it is fine to sell a building for $900K less than market value. So, by the city's logic, they'd come out ahead if they GAVE the Iron Horse to Big Agnes and kept the current police/fire station and still paid the debt on the Iron Horse.

Not intending to suggest that is a good idea. It is more a demonstration of what the city is willing to give away to Big Agnes in the name of economic development.

As for Oak St, why should property owners that paid to build a sidewalk on their property then be asked to help pay for other properties to build their sidewalks? In terms of campaign stereotypes, looks like the 1% feeling entitled like part of the 47%.

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cindy constantine 1 year, 6 months ago

Steve,

As you know with the Council, they will allow us to "spout off" but will make the decisions they see fit. Our option is to petition and have the voters decide. Unlike the Steamboat 700 debacle, this would be a hard fight to take to the voters, so lets keep trying to feed ideas that work for all parties that are less expensive. What the City should not do is to sell the existing Yampa street buildings until there is a viable home being built for police/fire usage. They could still give BAP the right of first refusal to buy the buildings say in 18 months, perhaps at some discounted amount to current market value as the selling costs would be minimal and there is wisdom in working with home grown businesses. I feel your pain on being an Oak Street property owner having to pay a tax for Yampa Street improvements, but I liken this to the approval by the voters of the 25% sales tax increase to support our ski business, which now has us all scratching our heads in disbelief. As we all have said before, the writing is on the wall for the ski industry--and for our mountain in particuplar under the current ownership--so promoting and financing a vibrant summer business is in our future and Yampa Street is the best place to to that. Compare the sales tax revenues to be gained on Yampa vs. Oak Street full of service businesses and you have the answer to your frustrations.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 6 months ago

Cindy, Do you know where Big Agnes has been operating from for the past decade?

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cindy constantine 1 year, 6 months ago

Of course--But they are one of the few sales tax generators on Oak Street and they will be better served in a new/higher traffic location. They are but one piece of the Yampa Street revit effort and new larger digs of a local company will showcase Yampa Street. Skiing is dying and Yampa Street could be the "anchor" of the other 3 seasons we have in Steamboat. Just sayin' . . . . . .It takes money to make money and we should be proactive about our future. Rates are at historic lows so we could take advantage of some borrowing cost savings. Do we NEED to move police/fire services--no--but does it make some sense for the long term viability of our community--probably--.

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John Weibel 1 year, 6 months ago

Sorry Scott, slow on the uptake.

Cindy, yes it is better to try to retain business' in this community than to recruit new ones from outside and yes, it would be nice to have BAP on Yampa street. However, the police station is hardly the only location as YVEA is moving out.

Heck, use the sales tax revenues set to bring in guests to the valley to purchase the city or YVEA building at market rates and help with the remodel at a discounted interest rate, have them then repay the loan over a timeline that works for all and then take those funds to fund some other business that is unique/not in competition with other Steamboat ventures to draw more people to the valley.

The knitting store is doing a very good business today, there is a lot of locally produced fibre in the area and it all has to be shipped out. So when BAP pays down there loan, take some of that money and reuse it to add economic base to the valley by helping fund a micro fibre mill which are very hard to come by... ask Nancy Mucklow who no longer produces great fibre products because of a lack of being able to refine at reasonable prices.

Keep the fund out of the governments hand so that they have no control over it and use it to build the economic diversity of the community. I had asked Tracey Barnett to use their application to revitalize Yampa Street to do something similar with the YVEA building to have it be a creamery - though today I am not sure what I am doing. Though if some mechanism like this came to fruition - keep the government out of it. Have the community foundation watch it with retired volunteers or CMC's business incubator help ensure it is run wisely - with no helping out friends at the expense of other local business.

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John Weibel 1 year, 6 months ago

""As you know with the Council, they will allow us to "spout off" but will make the decisions they see fit."

The question is do they really know what is being spouted. It seems the current system is broken and in need of change. With the technology we have today, why not involve the people in the process. You never know what someone is going to envision if public input was allowed early in the process. The people may have a far better vision than what the city/county staff are pushing for.

Have the city state what they are trying to do... on a big project and see what all the involved people (the community) have to say about the ideas that are put forth. It seems to me that the comment about the parking for 100 BAP employees could present a problem on Yampa street as brought up on this thread.

If public input were allowed in greater detail on big decisions, the purchase of Iron Horse, housing authorities land purchase and to a lesser extent the county airports decision to put in a restaurant - which as Scott pointed out probably could have been more cost effective in just obtaining bids from caterers/restauranteurs to see how much they would charge to operate the facility. A caterer with good summer/fall wedding business, might be extremely happy to fill that void at no charge, as it fits with their schedule and cuts costs. Who knows, if someone would have stepped up of not. Though that is a great example of government moving too far into the private sector.

How many gallons of diesel for your road graders will that cost you a year Doug? For that matter if the airport, heavily subsidized by Steamboat sales taxes now is making so much money that you can afford that loss then why not help to entice airlines with lower terminal fees. VOTE FOR CHANGE!

Heck, Roberts was doing a very good job at reducing government waste. Though I think that he could have taken it a step further and decided which jobs were critical to maintain as government employees and then outsourced the rest. I am sure that many duties can be done by the private sector for less money. It is simply figuring out where and how to outsource them effectively.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 6 months ago

John, I'd phrase the restaurant situation at the airport as being one where the county is currently happy running the restaurant itself when it is losing X dollars (forget the actual number) instead of putting it up for bid and seeing if the private market is willing to operate it for less.

The issue with the restaurant is that it seems pretty clear that no one will pay rent to properly operate it. But that should not mean that it must become county operated. It should mean the county see how much to pay a private company to operate it. And county should only operate it if they are pretty sure they can do it for less than any of the bidders.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 6 months ago

Cindy, Sorry, earlier I should have replied in more depth. I should also re-read my posts for grammar. Too nice outside today.

My point was the value of Oak Street is exemplified in what Big Agnes has become while residing there. Oak is a good fit for growing a business and a good place for attracting LNB's to settle. Both activities are as important as retail and food/beverage to Steamboat's future. We need all of the above to thrive.

You probably realize Big Agnes is not really a retail company and is not a serious sales tax generator. But they and the other businesses you'll find on Oak are the steady kind of businesses that hum 4 seasons of the year.

The sales tax thing - having little retail makes Oak less worthy of basic infrastructure - is a new twist. Mainstreet always said their goal was economic and property value gains. They also said they represent all downtown. But their Tracy Barnett has recently said the same thing to me as you have. Of course I disagree.

The amusing part? All those realty offices, i.e. dead zones, that none of these revitalization proponents want to move. But hey we gotta get the police department outta there right now! Cracks me up.

The airline tax came in last minute. They said the sky would fall. A difficult comparison to what we are discussing here. Particularly when the sky is falling anyway. Perhaps you read that they lost my vote.

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John Weibel 1 year, 6 months ago

Yes, but obtaining public insight prior to opening the restaurant themselves is the point I was driving home. Putting it out to bid on how much it would cost the county was the way to do it. The county has no business running a restaurant.

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JJ Southard 1 year, 6 months ago

Give the cops a double-decker, double-wide on the west end of town somewhere. That'll do for a while. That's what they do to school kids and school teachers when they planned too small of a school. :)

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 6 months ago

Steve, Logically, the city should expect the same transformative effect on Yampa as Big Agnes has currently had on Oak St. Which is to say is minimal.

I think the effects of government plans on transforming an area is being grossly overstated. Yampa and Oak are not failing because of wrong zoning or some other explicit government error. The issue now is basic economics of how much is rent on Lincoln vs the alternatives. When Lincoln gets expensive enough then capable people looking to run good businesses then find locations on Yampa or Oak.

I agree with you that City has gone off the rails in actions that are claimed to be good for the local economy for which the claimed benefits are way out of line with reality. That flawed thinking runs deep in SB government because that was the exact same flawed thinking behind the Iron Horse. The lesson should be to be skeptical of claimed benefits from government programs That the claimed benefits should be well documented like a business plan and not vague hopes like a marketing program.

John, I agree that the county should not be in the restaurant business. I just see the error as being that since county has decided that having a restaurant is a priority then the plans should not change just because rent is not greater than zero. County would get out of the restaurant business if rent was $1, but is now happily in the business since fair market rent with the lease conditions is a negative number. Even though it costs the county more each month to operate than it would cost in negative rent (ie subsidy)..

Rent is just a number and county should not have undertaken a completely different and more expensive plan just because it happens to be a negative number for operating a restaurant at the airport.

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John Weibel 1 year, 6 months ago

Scott, I think we are in agreement on the fact that they probably should have taken in essence negative rent or putting it out to bid. I also believe you stated it first before.

Had there been a way to receive input from the general public prior to them taking on the project the outcome for the county probably would have been better. We have the technology to have discussions today on what the government is thinking of doing. Some of the ideas are probably better and might just point out some potential pitfalls of rushing in.

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