Steamboat council discusses plan to move police and fire stations
March 20, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs voters could have a big say about the future of Yampa Street in November.
City officials hope to ask voters to fund the construction of a new public safety campus in west Steamboat, which would allow the city to sell its current police headquarters and fire station at 840 Yampa Street and convert the building into retail and office space.
Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night that if a November ballot measure to fund such a project is successful, the city would move those facilities and Routt County Search and Rescue personnel, who work in an ambulance barn across the street, into a new public safety campus.
Officials already have identified five potential sites for such a facility near U.S. Highway 40 and Routt County Road 129.
Hinsvark said the move to the west could free up a "dead zone" on Yampa and jumpstart a revitalization project on the riverside street.
"The fire and police station on Yampa inhibits development," she said. She added the move could eliminate what acting Public Safety Director Joel Rae called a public safety nightmare on Yampa.
"When you add a fire truck to the combination of the biking lanes, parallel parking, crosswalks and large groups of pedestrians in the summer, it creates a nightmarish situation" for the emergency responders, Rae said. "It creates some significant delays in terms of response time."
He told the council that the 11,000-square-foot Yampa headquarters has space limitations for staff and storage and that it is not equipped to adequately house a full-time firefighting staff that must stay there 24/7. A city parking enforcement officer currently works out of a small storage closet, he added.
"This is not the place we belong from a public safety standpoint," Rae said about the Yampa headquarters.
He said housing emergency responders in a new campus west of downtown ultimately would give them more breathing room and decrease response times, among other benefits.
City officials said the revenue from the sale of the current police headquarters lot, which extends a block and has been appraised at $3 million, could be injected into a revitalization project on Yampa that has yet to be fully developed. Hinsvark said that the lot is separated into six sections and that pieces of it could be sold separately. She added that the city envisions the ambulance barn that currently houses Search and Rescue would be demolished and converted into a riverside park if a new public safety complex is constructed.
City officials estimate the construction of the campus would cost a maximum of $19.5 million. Officials added that if voters approved a general obligation bond, a Steamboat resident who owns a $500,000 home would pay a property tax of $99.50 per year for the bond if the construction cost came in at that maximum estimate.
City Council members on Tuesday night greeted the proposal with excitement and enthusiasm and voted unanimously to allow city staff to continue exploring its viability. The council ultimately will decide in August whether to ask voters to fund the project.
"This is great stuff. It's exciting. It's forward thinking, and it's wonderful," Councilman Kenny Reisman said. "But the plans for the Yampa Street revitalization currently are ambiguous."
Before they voted to allow the public safety campus project to move forward, council members agreed the city needs a concrete and clear plan for the revitalization of Yampa before it asks voters to fund the new home for the emergency responders. Some council members also advised city staff to seek alternative funding sources, such as grants, to lower the project's eventual price tag.
But not all council members agreed as to how the city should draft a new plan to revitalize Yampa.
Council members Cari Hermacinski and Reisman voted against Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs' proposal to pay the Urban Land Institute $15,000 to travel to Steamboat to develop a revitalization plan with Yampa stakeholders in July. Hermacinski expressed concern that funding the revitalization plan with taxpayer dollars could make it appear as though the council was influencing a potential election on construction of the public safety complex. She also questioned whether it was worth the cost.
Gibbs responded that he thought the Urban Land Institute panel would develop a plan that would be actionable and worth the cost.
While discussions about the future of Yampa continue, city officials said they plan to move forward with working on the proposal.
Hinsvark said the city starting Wednesday will accept bids to purchase the police and fire departments' facility on Yampa.
She told the council that Big Agnes, which has multiple offices in Steamboat, is a business that already has expressed some interest in moving into the building.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, City Council members:
• Voted unanimously to permit the construction of a public restroom, transit facility and parking lot paving project at River Creek Park.
• Heard a presentation on the plan to transform Chief Plaza Theater into a single-stage performing arts center.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com