Steamboat Springs City Council divided on Iron Horse demolition
September 18, 2012
Steamboat Springs — The city of Steamboat Springs’ proposal to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and replace it with a 15,000-square-foot police station got mixed reviews Tuesday night from the Steamboat Springs City Council.
The council endorsed the city’s greater plan to move its police and firefighting stations out of 840 Yampa St. and replace the emergency services there with local outdoor retailers Big Agnes, Honey Stinger and BAP.
But four council members were critical of the city’s desire to start that process by demolishing the Iron Horse and building a new police headquarters on the riverfront site off U.S. Highway 40.
At the end of a lengthy discussion, the council decided to take some more time to weigh the proposal and consider an alternative plan from the city next month.
"To go out on this and head to this spot (at the Iron Horse Inn), I think, is misguided," council member Kenny Reisman said.
He added that he would prefer for the city to construct a combined fire and police headquarters west of downtown near the Stock Bridge Transit Center, an option the city revealed as its second choice behind the Iron Horse proposal.
Council members Sonja Macys, Walter Magill and Kevin Kaminski also criticized the plan to demolish the Iron Horse.
They argued it was not the ideal location for a police station and questioned whether it was wise to pay for the $7 million project with reserve funds.
They also wondered whether the city instead could sell the hotel in the future, an option city staff said would be unfavorable because the sale still would lose the city millions of dollars.
Despite the criticism, city officials still are holding out hope they eventually could move forward with the plan and earn the support of a majority of the council.
Magill said he could change his mind when the city returns to council next month with a more in-depth presentation of the plan and an alternative one to construct a public safety campus adjacent to Stock Bridge.
"I’m going to finish pulling together all of the loose ends," Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark said after the meeting in response to the council’s criticism of the proposal. "I think that I’m hearing the Iron Horse is still a possibility. I heard some waffling, so I think it’s still alive."
Hinsvark and other city officials are looking to jump-start a revitalization effort on Yampa Street by moving the police and fire stations out of the downtown location.
Officials also are working to give the police department more room to operate in and eliminate public safety hazards created when emergency vehicles enter the pedestrian-heavy Yampa Street.
Hinsvark said Tuesday night that the city thinks the Iron Horse is the best site to relocate the police station.
"This is a decision that has been a long time coming," she told the council, adding that the city now has spent a year looking for ways to relocate the fire and police departments out of downtown. "We’ve done our due diligence on this project."
The plan to sign off on the sale and move the police station to the Iron Horse had strong support from council President Bart Kounovsky and members Cari Hermacinski and Scott Myller.
Kounovsky called the plan financially prudent.
"We’ve saved and saved and saved, and now we’re going to do something with those savings," Kounovsky said. "I think it’s a conservative way to approach this rather than going out to raise some sort of debt."
Hinsvark estimated it would cost about $7 million to replace the aging motel with the police station, and the move would prevent the city from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace the roof on one of the buildings and regrade the “sinking” parking lot.
The city would pay for the relocation of the police station with unallocated reserve funds and the proceeds from the sale of the public safety building on Yampa Street, a building that Big Agnes has offered to purchase for $2.1 million.
The local outdoor retailer plans to establish its corporate headquarters in the building with Honey Stinger and BAP.
The Iron Horse proposal is a shift 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.
But the city could end up going west after all.
Hinsvark said the combined fire and police headquarters near Stock Bridge would cost $10 million with a two-man firehouse or $10.75 million for an eight-man fire house.
The city still hasn’t decided what type of firefighting presence it would need in the new building.
Hinsvark said the Stock Bridge proposal also would be funded from reserves.
In other action, the City Council:
• Heard the findings of a $15,000 study the city commissioned to look at Yampa Street and how it can be revitalized. James DeFrancia, the chairman of the panel of Urban Land Institute planners who met with stakeholders in July to discuss how Yampa can be revitalized, told the council now is the time to invest in the roadway’s transformation.
"We think it’s time to get started," he said.
He said the city can invest in low-cost projects such as improved sidewalks and lighting in the near term and tackle other recommendations, such as the creation of more river access points, as long-term projects.
Other recommendations from the Urban Land Institute included the use of paid parking downtown, shared lanes for bikes and cars and the creation of public-private partnerships to help fund the revitalization efforts.
A group of downtown stakeholders has formed to help pursue and fund the improvements.
Mainstreet Steamboat Springs is seeking funding from the city’s 1 percent lodging tax to revitalize the Yampa Street.
• Voted unanimously to award a new three-year contract to Jim Swiggart to continue to operate the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.
Swiggart’s contract with the city was set to expire at the end of the month.
Among other things, the new contract will not require the concessionaire to pay a concession fee to the city that has averaged $25,000 annually. Instead, the concessionaire will be responsible for all gas and utility costs, which Swiggart estimates to be about $57,500 a year. Swiggart previously was responsible for paying 15 percent of the Tennis Center’s annual gas and utility bills.
"The new agreement will net the city, on average, $13,000 more than the previous contract," city officials wrote in their proposal to City Council.
Swiggart said the city will net significantly more than $13,000 a year from the new contract because the annual utilities bill to be paid by him will amount to more than double the $25,000 concessionaire fee he used to be required to pay.
• Voted, 4-3, to offer 81 tenants of the West Acres Mobile Home Park $82,000 to end the tenants’ lawsuit against the city for the loss of a greenbelt the city condemned to build a Gloria Gossard Parkway.
Assistant City Attorney Dan Foote said the settlement would "avoid the small chance of a large adverse verdict" that potentially could cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars if the case went to an appeals court.
Cari Hermacinski, who opposed the settlement along with council members Scott Myller and Walter Magill, said the settlement was a "pretty expensive insurance policy” in the wake of a court decision that favored the city.
District Court Judge Shelley Hill recently ruled that the homeowners could not seek legal fees from the city and that their homes are personal property not real estate, so they are not eligible for damages under condemnation law.
Prior to that ruling, the homeowners were seeking $400,000 from the city. The city countered with a $40,000 settlement offer.
Hermacinski questioned why the city’s new settlement was higher than it was before the homeowners received an unfavorable court ruling.
In supporting the settlement, council member Kenny Reisman said it was time for the city to "close the book" on the case.
• Heard a presentation from the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association about the success of its 2012 summer marketing campaign and how it plans to build on that success during its 2013 campaign.
Marketing Director Kara Givnish told the council that despite the challenges of marketing Steamboat during a devastating wildfire season in Colorado, the 2012 campaign was successful and helped increase lodging and sales tax collections during the summer months.
She said the Chamber, which received $600,000 in city funds for the campaign, also greatly increased its number of Facebook and Twitter followers and found success hosting several journalists in Steamboat during familiarization trips.
To aid in the 2013 campaign, she said the Chamber is preparing to launch a new website.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com