Steamboat officials work to strengthen Iron Horse proposal
October 6, 2012
Steamboat Springs — The Iron Horse Inn is a motel full of questions.
Its 26 long-term tenants are wondering whether their home will be razed to make way for a police station.
City officials are wondering how much it’s going to cost to replace a roof above those tenants and overhaul the motel’s "sinking" parking lot.
And because the city again is projecting it will lose money operating the hotel this fiscal year, some members of the Steamboat Springs City Council are wondering why it shouldn’t be torn down or, at the very least, mothballed.
Since the motel’s future was put into question last month, community members have reached out to the council to weigh in on the city’s proposal to raze the building and replace it with a new, 15,000-square-foot police station.
The buzz of public commentary, which has included support and opposition to the city’s plan, ultimately has convinced several council members that they need to take more time to decide the fate of the Iron Horse.
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"Everyone has their take on why one spot or another would be better" for the police and fire stations, council member Kenny Reisman said Thursday. "But more than anything, I’m hearing, ‘You better be certain to make the right decision.’"
Recognizing an endorsement to demolish the Iron Horse will have financial implications that will last longer than their four-year terms, several council members said Thursday that they are in no rush deliver their ultimate judgement on the plan.
They also want the public to be more involved in the decision.
"I don’t think we’re pressed for time here," council member Walter Magill said. "I do believe it’s something we should have on several agendas to make sure the community understands all the details on it. I don’t want to vote for something the community hasn’t had time to review and understand."
The proposal to demolish the 54-room motel and replace it with a $7 million police headquarters paid for by reserve funds was met with mostly negative reviews when it first was presented to council last month.
The hope is to move emergency services off Yampa Street and jump-start a revitalization effort there by selling the building to local outdoor retailer Big Agnes for $2.1 million.
Council member Sonja Macys said that she’s supportive of fostering Big Agnes downtown and aiding the revitalization effort but that she continues to question the financing of the construction of new police and fire stations.
"One of the concerns I’m hearing is, on one hand, the council is cutting the budget to get to the bare bones and making sure the city’s staffing is as streamlined as possible. Yet, on the other hand, we’re going to go out and take on a costly project," Macys said, adding that the project could "tie the hands of future councils."
She also is concerned the city is preparing to sell the building well below its $3 million appraisal value and without advertising it more on the market.
City officials are preparing to pitch a more detailed version of the proposal to council when it meets Oct. 16, and they think their plan still is viable.
The plan already has the support of council President Bart Kounovsky and members Cari Hermacinski and Scott Myller.
But because of the criticism from the remaining four council members, the city also will present an alternative option to construct a unified police and firefighting headquarters adjacent to the Stock Bridge Transit Center just west of downtown. That facility is projected to cost $10 million to $10.75 million, depending on whether the city decides to construct an eight- or two-man fire station.
Strengthening the plan
While council members say they want more time to weigh the move of the police and firefighting stations off Yampa Street, city officials are working to bolster the argument the Iron Horse site still would be the ideal place to start.
The city specifically is taking a closer look at the building and hopes to give the council a more concrete idea of what it will cost to keep it versus raze it.
City officials have argued at previous council meetings that the cost to maintain the motel, which has become a financial liability for the city and council members since it was purchased for $5 million in 2007, is a reason the city should consider demolishing it and replacing it with a "core function of government."
City officials acknowledged earlier this month that their original presentation of the Iron Horse plan to the council had some holes that need to be filled before it is presented again.
Deputy Manager Deb Hinsvark said Wednesday that staff now is working to give council a 20-year outlook on the capital costs of maintaining the Iron Horse.
"The older building has a lot of deficiencies that need to be addressed," Anne Small, the city’s director of general services, said last week.
To prepare that report, the city has enlisted the help of a structural engineer to examine the motel and its "sinking" parking lot.
Small said earlier this month that major work to the parking lot and the eventual replacement of the roof on the building that houses the Iron Horse’s longer-term tenants is projected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coming years.
Council also learned Thursday that the city is projecting the motel to bring in 15 percent less than the $400,000 in revenue the city budgeted to receive from its operation this year.
A short brainstorming session of other ways to cut losses from the hotel quickly was met with cold water from city officials.
Cari Hermacinski, who supports the plan to demolish the building, asked why it isn’t mothballed if it’s losing the city money each year.
Hinsvark replied that the building is collateral and that the property’s debt holders could object to closing the facility and not maintaining it. However, she said the city is confident the debt holders would approve of swapping out the motel for a police station as collateral.
Hinsvark said Wednesday that she expects the Iron Horse’s future to be decided by the end of this year.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com