Police Sgt. John McCartin works Thursday afternoon at the Steamboat Springs Police Department headquarters on Yampa Street. The city is pursuing a plan to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and replace it with a 15,000-square-foot police station.

Photo by Scott Franz

Police Sgt. John McCartin works Thursday afternoon at the Steamboat Springs Police Department headquarters on Yampa Street. The city is pursuing a plan to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and replace it with a 15,000-square-foot police station.

City eyes demolition of Iron Horse Inn to make way for new police station



Steamboat Springs Police Department officer Matt Gadbois fills out paperwork Thursday at the city's police headquarters on Yampa Street. City officials are pursuing a plan to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and replace it with a new 15,000-square-foot police headquarters.

Revitalizing Yampa

The city's request Tuesday night to move the police station will be preceded by a presentation with great relevance to the cause.

An advisory board with the Urban Land Institute will present its suggestions for how to revitalize Yampa Street into a more pedestrian-friendly roadway.

A team of planners from the Urban Land Institute arrived in Steamboat in July and told Yampa Street stakeholders that a lot can be done to increase the street’s vibrancy and accessibility to pedestrians.

The planners' initial ideas for the roadway ranged from the addition of new river access points, sidewalks and overhead lights fashioned after Denver’s Larimer Square to better management of existing downtown parking.

City officials say the police and firefighting stations on the street create a “dead zone” that will hamper revitalization.

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.

— A motel the city of Steamboat Springs once saw as a smart $5 million investment in affordable housing soon could be razed to make way for a new police station.

The demolition of the Iron Horse Inn is the first step of a new plan being presented Tuesday night to Steamboat Springs City Council that would start to move Steamboat's police and firefighting stations off Yampa Street and help jump-start a revitalization effort on the pedestrian-heavy roadway.

The proposal to replace the Iron Horse with a 15,000-square-foot police station is a departure from the city's previous request to ask voters to help fund with a property tax increase a new $19.5 million public safety complex in west Steamboat.

“We've determined the best move forward is to look at moving the police station to the Iron Horse site, and for the time being, do nothing with the fire department,” Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark said Thursday. The Iron Horse site "is a marvelous space because it's halfway between the mountain and downtown, where a majority of our (emergency) calls come from.”

Hinsvark added that it will be more cost effective for the city to build on land it already owns.

A new plan

Hinsvark estimated the project, from the demolition of the motel on South Lincoln Avenue to the construction of the police station, will cost the city no more than $7 million.

The project would be paid for by reserve funds and proceeds from the sale of the fire and police headquarters at 840 Yampa St., a building that Big Agnes has offered to purchase for $2.1 million.

Big Agnes, Honey Stinger and BAP are eyeing the property as a new headquarters that also would feature retail space.

"We're busting at the seams with five locations right now, and we're trying to get everyone under one roof," Big Agnes owner Bill Gamber said. "What a great location to put our crew. The city has a big plan for Yampa Street, and we feel like we fit in there nicely."

He said the building will allow his company to continue its growth in Steamboat and to add to the vibrancy of Yampa Street.

Gamber said that a minimum of 50 employees could work at the new headquarters and that the plan would be to convert the downstairs fire station into a retail space for BAP.

He added that his company is willing to give the city 18 months after the sale to relocate the fire department.

“If council is open to the idea, we would start moving forward on it immediately,” Hinsvark said. “Let's improve Yampa Street. Let's find a new place for the police station, and let's find a better use for the property than the Iron Horse.”

She said demolishing the Iron Horse also would have the benefit of eliminating future maintenance costs for the aging building.

The city purchased the Iron Horse in 2007 for about $5 million with the intent to offer its employees and others in town an affordable place to live. But the property since has become a financial liability that will continue to eat hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city's budget each year until 2032 whether it houses a motel.

Still, several City Council members are excited about the idea of getting the city out of the motel business.

A better tenant

The city's shift from finding empty land to the west of town to settling on the aging Iron Horse as a site for a police station originated with members of City Council.

City Council member Cari Hermacinski said Thursday that she wasn't sold on the city's original push to construct a new public safety campus west of downtown. She also didn't want to ask taxpayers to help share the cost.

“I think it's a terrible time to go to the community to ask for a tax increase,” she said. “Businesses and families are struggling. They're living in their means, and the government can do the same.”

So in June, she said she approached city staff with the idea to convert the aging Iron Horse into a police station.

But a recent review of the property by city staff and council member Scott Myller, an architect, determined it likely would cost as much to convert the Iron Horse into a police station as it would to tear it down and construct a new building.

Hermacinski and Myller have been working with city staff for months to come up with a feasible way to move the city's emergency services off Yampa Street. They both saw an opportunity in the riverfront plot of land that houses the motel.

“It's an albatross around our neck,” Hermacinski said about the Iron Horse. “To convert it into a core function of government makes a lot of sense.”

A motel with many names

At some budget meetings, the motel is called a heavy burden, an albatross.

Hinsvark calls it “a ticking time bomb.”

City Council President Bart Kounovsky calls it “underperforming” and said Thursday that he's a fan of the city's proposal to demolish it and replace it with a police station.

But just five years ago, a different City Council saw the Iron Horse as a smart purchase of affordable housing.

The city purchased the property thinking it would be a great place to offer its employees an inexpensive place to live at a time when rentals were hard to come by.

Since the purchase, the property has been passed over as a source of housing for Colorado Mountain College students, roiled by management turnover and, at one point, infested with bedbugs.

Today, one of the buildings that makes up the 52-room Iron Horse functions like a hotel offering nightly stays while the other building offers tenants leases on a month-to-month basis.

Hinsvark said the city's debt service on the Iron Horse will average $480,000 per year until 2032 regardless of whether the motel stands or falls.

Council agreed this year to make a $330,000 debt payment on the Inn from the city's reserves.

Hinsvark added the city still owes about $5 million on the property.

If the Iron Horse is demolished, the city plans to work with adjacent property owners to create a better access to the site via Trafalgar Drive. Police then could easily access the stoplight at that street's intersection with U.S. Highway 40.

Ready to relocate

While city officials prepare to pitch the idea to City Council, Public Safety Director Joel Rae is ready for the move.

As he walked Thursday through the current police headquarters on Yampa Street, Rae pointed to several flaws in the building. He stopped at the closet his parking enforcement officer works out of. He said officers have to waste time in the winter scraping ice off the windshields of their patrol vehicles. He added that it would be great to have more space and that it would be safer for emergency vehicles to not have to navigate a pedestrian-heavy Yampa Street.

The proposed police station would increase his department's space from 6,600 square feet to 15,000. Rae said it also would be designed with increased efficiencies such as covered parking and more room for storage.

“I think it's a win-win in terms of win No. 1 being it brings us to a more central location between town and the mountain,” he said about the city's proposal. “Just as important, it opens up a potential vitality on Yampa Street and improves public safety by getting emergency vehicles off of Yampa.”

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


Tyler Goodman 4 years, 8 months ago

"(Gamber) added that his company [BAP] is willing to give the city 18 months after the sale to relocate the fire department."

Where is the fire department going to go? I'm sure it's been discussed but just wondering.


Harry Thompson 4 years, 8 months ago

Has the entire town gone crazy! How could anybody other the city think this makes sense. Just because the building(s) are torn down does not rid the city of the debt. The taxpayers need to fire the whole bunch of morons. If the police station really needs to move there is vacant ground. I guess the city is so embarrassed by the iron Horse fiasco that anything looks like an improvement


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

SB Pirate could reprint this article for the April Fool's issue without making any changes.

A site with all that river frontage makes sense as a police station? It adds value to demolish both buildings? Even the newer one? There are other vacant parcels between town and the mountain without river frontage that make much more sense to put a police station.

The Iron Horse is not a bad location for a motel and one of the buildings is relatively new. The City needs to sell it to someone that wants it. The excuse that the bonds does not allow that does not mean it cannot happen. It just means that the City needs to change that. The city could buy those bonds. I've checked and a chunk are available on the bond market. Once the City controls the bonds then it can sell or whatever the Iron Horse.

The bond market sets a fair value on these bonds based upon their interest rate and duration, and the city's financial rating. City may be so naive to think they should be able to buy out these bonds for the owed amount of $5 mill, but that is not the market value because the relatively high interest has increased the cash value of the bonds. No one bought or owns these bonds because they want SB to do this or that with the parcel. So city will not have any problems buying back the bonds at market value.

Nor do bondholders want a fight with the bond issuer since that cuts into their earnings on the bonds. So the City could find a municipal bond expert that could figure out a modification that would work for the city and the bondholders since the city is still in a strong financial position with lots of discretionary spending.

Any way you look at it, this claimed problem of the bondholders stopping the city from being able to sell Iron Horse is something the city could solve with a little work and money.


mark hartless 4 years, 8 months ago

More government intervention in market affairs... yep... that's the answer. Idiots.


jerry carlton 4 years, 8 months ago

Sales tax going up again and the residents of Steamboat Springs rarely see a sales tax they do not love. I live in the county and do not get to vote on these sales taxes that I get to pay but I expect to move into the city limits soon and can vote against them. Of course my vote will do no good because the sales taxes will carry and carry and carry ad nauseum.


Nicole Miller 4 years, 8 months ago

Tyler, the city has not identified a site for the fire department under the current plan.

Nicole Miller assistant editor nmiller@SteamboatToday.com


cindy constantine 4 years, 8 months ago

How about identifying an appropriate site for a police/fire station and having a builder/developer do a design/build then RENT it to the city. The last thing this city needs to handle is another real estate venture. Then they can sell the downtown station to Big Agnes and buy back IH bonds as Scott suggests. Talking about another $7 million investment in a city owned property which will always require on going maintenance (as all buildings do) seems to be sheer lunacy. Think of the highway signage and emergency stoplights that will be required in a location with a 45mph speed limit. What about a site contiguous to the new Walgreens where there is already an intersection stoplight and does not have Lincoln Ave frontage. Aren't the powers to be always concerned about the "entrances" to our beloved downtown? Is a police/fire station in keeping with that philosophy?


Fred Duckels 4 years, 8 months ago

Affordable housing has been a feel good fiasco and left us with mounds of debt. The Krawzoff debacle combined with the YVHA's attempt to purchase Sleepy Bear when the The Elk River Parcel is an an Iron Horse look alike, defy all logic. I think a mass neutering may be the only solution to eradicate this faulty gene.


Kevin Nerney 4 years, 8 months ago

Who was on the city council at the time of purchase?,and how do they manage to get re-elected. I thought the job of politicians was to be forward thinking enough that the ideas would last longer than 5 years. Our founding fathers ideas fortunately have lasted longer than 230. What would our world look like if those guys were as bone headed as the ones of today. {(we all know their names but I don't want to be accused of name calling}).

On another note. Here are a few common sense thoughts on the Iron Horse location. 1. any military strategist will tell you to take the high ground (iron horse is in a hole. ) 2. I don't think the police station needs one of the best views of the mountain or luxury waterfront property. 3. It is much more cost effective to house both police and fire under one roof.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

Cindy, To avoid the potential costs of a construction project gone wrong is why such projects are put out for bid. Thus, the risks of cost overruns is taken by the general contractor, not the government or developer.

Though, look at the difference between good management and inept management. Yampa Valley Electric Association (YVEA) buys 80 acres approved for a residential subdivision already with the access road for $2.1 million. They'll have the ability to relocate their HQ and, if they choose, turn a profit selling on the purchase more affordable housing lots than YVHA and the City of SB combined. And they'll be able to build their new HQ building from the sale of their Yampa St offices. So YVEA will make money moving their HQ and be able to do more community good than subsidized government agencies.

Meanwhile, City of SB is willing to convert a $5M purchase of a motel into a vacant lot so they can build a $7M building while being paid $2.1M. So City of SB will end up down $9.9M by moving just the police dept from downtown and still be facing the expense a new fire dept building.

And YVHA is willing to defend their incompetence by still claiming that only thing wrong with Elk River purchase was the timing and now defending holding secret discussion with secret votes on secret topics.

Kevin, Those on the SB City Council that made the Iron Horse decision were voted out of office a couple month later. They were so clueless that they made the decision just before an election and were so clueless that they failed to recognize that the public would see the foolishness of it immediately.

Though, they are not entirely to blame for IH becoming such a fiasco. The next city council signed a management deal that allowed the city to make money or at least come out even on the purchase. But that contract required the city as the property owner to be responsive on dealing with issues identified by the management company. And nearly a year later when the financial world collapsed and the deal was now a money loser for the management company, the SB city government failed to realize they had a precious valuable contract and instead did nothing when told of bedbug and other issues. And thus the management company was allowed to escape from the contract.

And the city management continued to be inept by signing another management contract which the city neglected to insist the operator pay the specified rent.

So now the reputation of the Iron Horse is so bad that it is known as the worst place to live in SB, if not the entire region.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 8 months ago

from the pdf above, "Police Station Proposal":

"Shall we sell the Yampa property to Big Agnes for $2.108 million? If so we will immediately begin negotiations for closing and will locate temporary space for the police department."

"Shall we build the Police Station as planned at the Iron Horse Site? If so, we will submit a supplemental budget ordinance at the next meeting to begin the purchase of property or easements for the access road. We will also contact our certificate holders to receive approval to swap collateral and we will begin the design process. We will add the police station to our 6-year CIP for future budgets."

A $7 million expenditure (committing the City to also spend a similar amount on a new fire department, another $5 million?) will have a public review of 4 days, all based on this article?

The lack of public engagement in the Iron Horse Inn housing project was its true flaw. The "albatross" factor, as Scott describes, came later with the market crash. The lack of constituent engagement here amounts to the same mistake. At least the Iron Horse housing project occurred during a boom. This proposal occurs amidst a bust, and ongoing City budget pain.


Harry Thompson 4 years, 8 months ago

You know you really can't make this stuff up. When I first read this story, I had to look at the calender and make sure it was not April 1st.

This is the kind of logic that gave us;

A multi million dollar terminal at the airport, now a sock company at the airport. The inner city modal transportation center (bus station). Don't even get me started. A Steamboat bus shelter in Craig. A multi million dollar road to a nonexistent subdivision and a law suit. A vacant base area (Ski Time Square) a completion bond should have been required.

The list goes on and on. It is time to change our charter and go to a mayoral system. Get a City Council that stops voting for their friends in special interest groups or their own agendas, stops spending our tax dollars on feel good programs, that drain the city coffers. Stop spending money on projects that they don't have money to maintain.



Steve Lewis 4 years, 8 months ago

Later in the same Sept 18 packet, with the LMD budget, is this cautionary text of economic challenges ahead re: our air program:

"In early August I sent you a graph of the air program’s Cost Cap/Seat trend. The most recent 5 years have seen that Cost Cap/Seat increasing at a 19% average, with the last two years increasing 25% or more each year. It is worth noting that across one winter of bountiful snow and another of no snow, the Cost Cap/Seat increased the same amount. This trend has nothing to do with snow or local events, and everything to do with air industry expectations prior to the season contracted."

"Carrying a 19% average Cost Cap/Seat increase forward while keeping the seats into Hayden constant at 111,000 seats thru 2016/17 would put the 2016/17 Cost Cap for our air program at just over $8,000,000. That is a Cost Cap we cannot afford to guarantee."

"Thus a strong possibility exists we will see fewer airline seats into Hayden in the near future. We should know more about this future… The City should insist on a LMD budget that projects air program performance beyond 1 year."

That warning is mine. I was going to attend to see which way City Council would go. Imagine my surprise to see this bullish proposal in the same agenda.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

Steve, and everyone; In my opinion, SB City government has failed to do the one thing that will prevent another mistake like the Iron Horse, airport terminal and so on.

When it is proposed, the big money project appears to make sense and is following city goals. So it is easy for the city government to think it is a good idea. Thus, the current opinion of city council members that they will not make a similar mistake is simply wrong because these projects were never seen by the approving city council as a mistake

What is needed is a change to city law to require a city council to get voter approval of issuing any bonds, or bond like instruments (aka articles of participation or whatever was used for the Iron Horse).

The reason there was no public participation in the Iron Horse purchase was because it was introduced as a done deal. There was the barest of opportunity for the public to do anything other than vote out those that approved it.

If there had been a required public vote on the proposal to approve the issuing of bonds then there would have been a public discussion on the various issues of affordable housing, city management of a typically private sector business and so on.

If the city goes forward with this then it could easily cost $20M, four times as much as the Iron Horse. And of a few weeks ago, a downtown police station and dire dept was a good thing. And, as of now, there is no reason to expect that the voters will be asked to approve anything.


Bob Smith 4 years, 8 months ago

maybe we should try and "follow the money". i wonder who win$ if this goes through...sounds like corruption to me


Alan Geye 4 years, 8 months ago

This proposal sort of reminds me of the expression, Ready, Fire, Aim. Let's see, the same rocket scientists who brought us the expensive failure in the Iron Horse now want to "save money" by turning riverfront view property into a police station. What's wrong with this picture? Anyone thought about the real estate development of "highest and best use" concept? Respectfully.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

Also, since when is a police station and a fire station bad for a business district? I think many people feel better walking past a fire or police station.


cindy constantine 4 years, 8 months ago

Being a member of City Council is more or less a thankless job as you can never make the right decisions according to some of the members of the community. It is a part time job at best as all members have other lives and careers so can never devote their full attention to the job that must be done. I agree with Harry that a Mayor is the way to go whose job is somewhat independent of Council and has the full time position of making the correct decisions on behalf of the taxpayers. Unlike a manager who does the Councils "bidding". Pursuing this path for a new police department location is just one more "knee-jerk" reaction to an already bad situation called the Iron Horse. What do we need to do as a community to start the ball rolling to change our governing system? Is a new petition drive the answer?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

I think a mayor would be a disaster since then silly ideas like moving the police station just need one person's backing who also has the staff to create supporting materials that just overwhelm the rest of the city council that are part timers with minimal resources.

Declaring that we will have a mayor does not mean the quality of the person in the job will be any better than those on city council.

Seems to me that the real problem is the culture of SB City government that sees how much money flows into city coffers and has the resources for their delusions of grandeur on how city government can operate businesses and real estate ventures smarter, more efficient and better than the private sector.

SB City can somehow issue highly restrictive bonds for the Iron Horse that eliminate city's choice of how to use the property and city council say "Oh well, try to do better next time". And the staff in SB government that said the city could efficiently operate the Iron Horse were not fired for incompetence even as the voters kicked out the city council members that approved the fiasco.

SB City can somehow issue bonds for the base area redevelopment district that includes materially false revenue numbers (due to school district property taxes), the underwriter immediately starts talking to the city about the problems, and after months of no progress on the issue the files a notice of default. At which point, City Council Pro Term says she was completely surprised by the default notice and never heard of a default when payments are still being made. So, if you believe that story, city finance dept messed up a multi million dollar bond offering and kept that secret from the city council. The bond issuer was upset, seeking corrections and negotiating with city finance dept which was kept secret from the city council. That city finance dept also failed to educate city council Pro Term that materially false info in the bond offering can result in a notice of default. And yet city council just said, "Oh well, do better next time". Which just goes to show how the City Finance dept is willing to work with elected officials and taking the blame to protect elected officials from bad publicity. And that elected officials will then protect the finance dept from facing accountability for the failed plans of the finance dept supported by elected officials.


cindy constantine 4 years, 8 months ago

Scott, I see the mayoral form of govt as a "checks and Balance" type of leadership. The Mayor as well as the Council are elected. The Mayor does not have "carte blanche" to do what he wants without the approval of the majority of the Council. It is his full time job as an elected official to do the work of the City, unlike the elected Council. What we have now is basically a "city manager" that does what Council assigns him to do. He does not have the authority to branch out on his own, nor is he elected. Plus everytime we have a new council, there are threats of firing the old manager which become very expensive for the City. I want my City run by elected officials one of whom, the Mayor, works full time for his taxpayer funded position.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 8 months ago

Cindy, The Iron Horse demo is simply the latest wrinkle in a slightly older train of thought - to sell the existing public safety site on Yampa St. to enhance redevelopment of that street. As I posted above, the haste of the proposal is it's obvious flaw. I should add another, moving the public safety site has no community mandate.

The concept of needed affordable housing grew over a decade of discussion by multiple councils before any action was taken. Vision 2020 and 2030 surveys consistently ranked affordable housing as an important community need.

The concept of moving the safety departments have no mandate and no history of public input. Before this year the only plans for Yampa St were "Streetscape" sidewalk plans for the 3 streets Oak, Lincoln and Yampa. This new stuff, moving and selling of City assets, is a $15-20 million addition with little background and no public mandate.

Sure, Big Agnes is a great company to have on Yampa St., but why a $1 million discounted price from the parcel's $3 million appraisal? It is bad enough to be selling City assets at market lows, but worse to further discount them without a sufficient market listing to get the best return.

Signing a sale contract to sell the existing safety campus will tie the City's hands to these other fiscal commitments for many years. Where are the details and diligence of that impact? Where will the fire station go and how much will that cost? Where are the easements for these uses? How much will those cost? What other goals become toast with this purchase?

The packet linked above contemplates committing to this foggy course tomorrow night. There must be some mistake.


Harry Thompson 4 years, 8 months ago

No Scott, let's do the math together. Ok let's get started, the department heads see what needs to happen, because they are out in the field. Department heads report to the city council who review the recommendation, they make a decision as to whether to act on it or send it back to the department heads for further review. You still with me bumpkin? If in fact the recommendation or plan has merit, they forward it to the mayor for approval or denial. No more gridlock, just a streamlined approach to goverment. 2+2=4. any questions?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

Yep, I get it streamlined government. No gridlock.

Difference between us is that a streamlined government scares me far more than a gridlocked government. A streamlined government means that one leader's ideas get implemented whether or not the idea is good or awful.

I greatly prefer a gridlocked government since then there are checks on the power of any one person. If the public thinks that some officials are blocking good ideas then they can elect people that support the good ideas.

The danger of this proposal to move the police station is not gridlock, but an unquestioning city council that rubber stamps a huge spending project.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 8 months ago

I should amend my comment above. Mandate is the wrong word, and is not generally required, for infrastructure decisions. Constituent buy-in is what the Council should seek on such an expense, when it is this much money.

I'm reminded of the City Community Center which went through a public vetting. As I recall, the end result was even support for two different locations, the other being on Pine St at the old school. Thus the controversy of that decision was mainly in the location chosen. The expenditure itself had large public support.

It would be best to take this new public safety siting question through some timeframe of similar public vetting. Get the community's buy-in for such an expense. It may be the public safety locations are harder to settle, but it would be smart for the City to allow the public to engage, understand, and comment on this large capital outlay.


Kevin Nerney 4 years, 8 months ago

Just another dumb question from that crazy guy from NY. Since when do the police need a quick access route from the station house or as we call it back east a precinct? Fire dept. personnel wait to be called and therefore like convenient locations but the PD is like a shark, constantly on patrol, always moving. So the iron horse location benefits the cops how?


Bob Schneider 4 years, 8 months ago

Please join the discussion in the commentary on the editorial page of the Pilot...9/23/12


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.