City eyes demolition of Iron Horse Inn to make way for new police station | SteamboatToday.com

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

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.

— 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.

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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

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.

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