After sale of downtown public safety building falls apart, city and outdoor retailers still have same goals
February 7, 2013
Steamboat Springs — With the sale of the city’s downtown emergency services building scrapped, the major players involved in the deal are moving on.
Public Safety Director Joel Rae is on the Front Range touring several police and fire stations built within the past five years. He hopes the new stations he tours will serve as a guide for Steamboat Springs if it eventually commits to building more efficient facilities for the police officers and firefighters who work at 840 Yampa St.
And at BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger, the outdoor retailers that came close to obtaining a new downtown headquarters, company officials continue to dispatch their employees to conferences across the country, design new tents, ship their products around the globe and grow in the four separate buildings they call home in Steamboat.
But the cancellation of the sale by the Steamboat Springs City Council earlier this week marked the loss of a great opportunity, BAP owner Bill Gamber said Thursday, because it would have brought his growing business and a majority of its employees together under one roof while injecting good energy, and money, downtown.
Gamber said his employees were "super excited" by the chance to be closer together than they are now, not to mention the chance to have better access to the bike and ski trails on Howelsen Hill and the fishing holes in the Yampa River that speak to the culture of the companies and the products they create.
"We’re stepping back, taking our time and looking at all of our options," Gamber said in his office in BAP’s “little red house” on Oak Street. "We’re currently fine with our situation, but with strong plans to grow."
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He added that his company still has a great desire to continue its growth in downtown Steamboat and consolidate many of its more than 70 employees in one central location. They currently operate out of the Oak Street location and in warehouses and office space west of downtown.
"We’re bummed, but we’re pushing forward," Director of Operations Chris Tamucci said.
The company still needs more space, and with the public safety building off the table for the time being, it’s uncertain where that growth will occur.
"We’re not actively trying to move out of town," Gamber said. "But as we grow and build, if it makes sense to do something out of town, it has to be part of the equation."
An exciting opportunity
The seeds of the sale were planted long before five members of the City Council voted unanimously to scrap it Tuesday night because the city’s plan for an interim move of its police force skyrocketed in cost.
On an outreach tour of Steamboat businesses about a year and a half ago, Gamber said former City Manager Jon Roberts noticed the outdoor retailers were outgrowing the spaces they had.
Saying that the city needed more efficient police and fire stations, Roberts floated the idea of the outdoor retailers occupying the city’s downtown public safety headquarters. He saw the sale as an economic development deal that would satisfy a host of needs.
Gamber entered his companies’ $2.1 million bid for the Yampa Street building in March as the city pursued a plan to ask voters to help pay for an $18 million public safety building in west Steamboat. After that project was rejected by the City Council, several other options were proposed and eventually ruled out.
Even today, plans for new fire and police stations haven’t been finalized.
"I don’t think the city had an easy project," Gamber said, adding that he appreciated the work city staff and the council put into the relocation project. "Our vision of it all was that we would help the city by bringing in 50 full-time employees downtown, expanding our retail presence and becoming an anchor and working with other businesses to kickstart what they were starting to do on Yampa."
He envisioned BAP would establish a retail presence in the fire bays of the Yampa Street building, with shoppers able to see part of the manufacturing process happen inside the store.
"We have really good, incredible, hard-working and creative employees who are really invested in these companies," Gamber said. "And we aren’t just looking to move into an office building. Everybody was really excited by the opportunity to move downtown because everyone can ride to work, everyone can go ski Howelsen at lunch or go fishing."
In the spotlight
For months, the pending sale put the outdoor retailers in the public spotlight, an arena their leaders chose not to engage in during the many City Council meetings involving the sale.
Gamber said he’d hear on the ski slopes from supporters anxious to hear how the sale was progressing. But he and his employees also followed the criticism of the sale, some of which they said was based on misinformation.
Gamber and Tamucci said they specifically were frustrated to see some opponents of the sale imply that their companies could use the transaction to add to their balance sheets and make them more attractive to potential out-of-area buyers.
BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger each are their own legal entities, and the sale would not have done that.
But Gamber and other company officials didn’t publicly engage opponents of the city’s emergency service relocation plans. They said Thursday that they didn’t want to become involved with the political debate about the city’s desire to construct new fire and police stations by using as much as $10 million of its reserves.
"We’re just running businesses, and to be all of the sudden in this public spotlight, we’re all probably glad we’re not in local government," Gamber said.
He added that he hopes community members five years from now won’t be able to look at 840 Yampa St. and see a "decrepit police station."
“What a shame that would be,” he said.
Learning along the way
On his tour of new police and fire stations Wednesday, Rae said he understood City Council’s hesitation to continue with the relocation proposals.
"There’s obviously a lot of other financial issues with the city with deferred maintenance and stormwater infrastructure," he said. "It’s clearly understandable the council wants to look at the entire picture before committing to funding a project of this size."
But he said the need for new police and fire facilities exists.
"We’re not going to forget everything we’ve done to this point," he said. "It’s not ‘Hey, stop altogether.’ It’s government, and we have that responsibility to make sure what we’re going to spend those taxpayer dollars on is one of the highest priorities."
Gamber and Tamucci said their companies still have an interest in the downtown public safety building, but only time will tell what the companies look like when the city is ready to move out, and what their space needs will be.
"We learned a lot from this process," Gamber said. “We saw how vital we are in this community, and what kind of impact we currently have and what kind of impact we can have five years from now.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com