Deb Hinsvark: The facts of the fire and police station move
December 11, 2012
A project with as many moving parts as the "Yampa Street redevelopment/Sale of fire and police building to Big Agnes/Relocate public safety campus project" isn't often tackled by many municipalities. The opportunity for public/private development of this nature is simply not always there. But here in Steamboat Springs, we have a chance to dust off and inspire a 30-year-old Yampa Street Redevelopment Plan, resolve problems identified in a 10-year-old Police Headquarters Space Needs Analysis, and provide the space that one of our major contributing businesses needs for its international headquarters. While the project seems complicated, it is easier to follow when taken a piece at a time.
Let's start with the sale of the current public safety campus at 840 Yampa St. Knowing the city would sell the building to plow funds back into this project — either by incorporating them into Yampa improvement projects or into the new fire and police buildings — we commissioned an appraisal on the property in December 2011 that was completed on Jan. 31, 2012. Our appraiser had some concerns about completing a commercial appraisal in this real estate economy. He pointed out in his report, in a section titled "Appraisal Problems," that there had been no sales in the neighborhood since 2007. He went on to state that one other site had been listed in 2009 for $2,800,000 and by January 2012 had dropped to $1,650,000. Developments that had been approved for the area between 2007 and 2009 had either remained undeveloped or had been "flat-out abandoned." The $3 million appraised value of 840 Yampa St. is diminished with qualifiers such as these.
Even though the validity of the appraisal on the public safety campus is questioned, it is still important to obtain a fair price for it. The offered price per square foot for the building at 840 Yampa St. is $159.69, which is better than the $145.28 received for the Chase building at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Third Street. Matt Miles, whose company purchased the building now being leased to Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers, indicated that any property off the main thoroughfare of Lincoln Avenue would have been a non-starter for him; only property on Lincoln carried value. Additionally, the appraisal commissioned by the city for the Yampa Street property stated that sales during the "boom" were between $125 per square foot and $190 per square foot. The city's proposed sale of 840 Yampa St. certainly fits that niche. The Chase building sale, which was for less than both its listed and appraised values, netted more per square foot for the land, at about $120 per square foot, than the city's Yampa Street property is expected to. But the $62 per square foot that Big Agnes will pay for the land certainly fits the amount an independent appraiser suggested in Tom Ross' Oct. 31 Steamboat Today article should be paid for land in the downtown area — between $50 and $75 per square foot.
The economic benefit of having Big Agnes on Yampa Street includes the fact that its 63 employees will spend enough of their disposable income in Steamboat Springs to account for $41,203 in city sales tax dollars annually, according to local economist Scott Ford. Also, the anticipated addition of 15 employees over the next two years will grow that amount by $10,000 per year. If the changes being seen on Yampa Street because of the city's departure and an added active commercial presence like the one Big Agnes will bring causes only one new restaurant to locate in the area, sales tax revenues would conservatively rise by $48,000. As the facility moves from governmental use to commercial use, over $22,000 will be added annually to the property tax coffers for those entities that rely on property tax. And Big Agnes employees are slated to spend $41,909 per year in sales tax to other sales taxing entities (again, according to Scott Ford).
Moving the city's police and fire departments is the second facet of this project. The downtown fire station houses equipment that primarily is used to fight rural fires — brush trucks and tenders that carry water to a fire burning in an area without access to fire hydrants. Aside from the fact that these pieces of equipment need to move farther into the rural district, when Yampa Street is active, pulling this equipment out of the station is impeded. This drives our quest to find a location or locations farther west for fire. The police headquarters are inadequate and inefficient. A space study done 10 years ago indicated that headquarters needed twice the amount of space in which they were operating. Additionally, the police department is working in office space, not a police environment. At our police station, the victim of a crime is likely to meet the perpetrator of the crime in the hallway. Evidence is stored in an area that is as secure as it can be, but cold case evidence is stuffed in every nook and cranny that can be found. And police cars sit outside in our Colorado winters, requiring a period of cleaning and warming before a shift can start. The city will be better served by a new, larger and more effective police headquarters.
Finding the best and most affordable locations is a difficult task — not because there are not an abundance of opportune locations, but because the desire is to find the best locations; locations that will serve the citizens of Steamboat Springs for many, many years. We are narrowing our search and will present the City Council with more options at its Dec. 18 meeting. There are several ways citizens can keep abreast of the options and the facts surrounding each option. One is by attending the 5 p.m. Dec. 18 meeting. Another is to watch the session on Comcast Channel 6 — either live or in a rerun. The final way is to access the video of the meeting at http://www.steamboatsprings.net. These videos are found under the "Council Meetings and Agendas" section of the site, and you can jump right to the agenda item of your interest without having to wade through the entire session.
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Deciding how to pay for the new fire and police stations has been an iterative process. It was first recommended that the citizens be asked to assess a property tax to pay for them, but council dismissed that idea and directed staff to keep the projects within a price range that could be afforded from current excess fund balances. At the end of 2011 the city had spendable general fund reserves of $15,271,532. That represented 69 percent of its general fund spending in 2011. This year the city will add another $1.3 million to $1.8 million to those reserves, growing them to more than $16.6 million. If we keep the new stations' total cost to our general fund at or about $10 million, we will complete the stations and leave $6.6 million to $7 million in spendable general fund reserves. This amount is sufficient to meet four months' of cash flow and is generally thought of as well within the range of safety for a municipal entity. Other sources of funding for the project include the funds received from the sale of 840 Yampa St., DOLA grants and cost sharing with the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District.
A lot of information is being circulated on this topic. Council has been vetting the facts of the project for 11 months now and has been discussing the project in public meetings since March. Citizens can catch up on those conversations via the online videos mentioned previously. Hopefully the information discussed in this article aids the reader's evaluation of selling and moving the fire and police stations. The city offices at 137 10th St. are always open for anyone who wishes to obtain more data regarding this or any project.
Deb Hinsvark is the city of Steamboat Springs' interim city manager. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-871-8240.