City Council’s top 2 Iron Horse options included a sale to BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger
Steamboat Springs — As it sat down behind closed doors last month to consider divesting itself of the Iron Horse Inn, the Steamboat Springs City Council was trying to choose between two very different visions for the property.
Should they sell the Iron Horse to a pair of buyers who say they will renovate it and maintain it as workforce housing, or should they sell it to a trio of the city’s fastest-growing outdoor gear manufacturers who want the property to become their new headquarters, complete with a park and incubator space?
One sale would aim to extend the availability of attainable housing for local workers in an increasingly tight rental market.
The other would facilitate the continued growth of three outdoor retailers that have tripled their local workforce in a few short years.
As of Tuesday, City Council is poised to go ahead with the workforce housing option and sell the hotel property for $3.05 million to a pair of buyers from Ski Town Commercial.
Meanwhile, the leaders of BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger continue their years-long quest to find a location at which its growing number of employees can work together under the same roof.
“We’re doing a lot of tire kicking, and we’ll find the property that works. It’s just a matter of time,” said Rich Hager, one of the owners of the three companies. “We liked the location of the Iron Horse. We put in our bid, and we didn’t get it. It is what it is. There will be other chances, for sure.”
Hager said his companies, which manufacture award-winning sleeping bags, tents and energy bars, still have other local real estate options to consider.
BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger’s pursuit of the Iron Horse was the second time in three years the outdoor retailers have eyed a piece of city property as an ideal place to grow.
In 2013, City Council came very close to selling its current police headquarters on Yampa Street to the outdoor companies.
But the sale was scrapped at the last minute, when plans for a new station skyrocketed in cost and suddenly fell apart.
Hager said the three outdoor industry companies together had a payroll of about 30 local employees when city officials approached them in 2012 with an economic development proposal that involved having them all move into the old police station.
Now, they have 90 local employees, and the workers remain spread among five different locations around the city.
The companies’ bid for the Iron Horse drew strong support from Luis Benitez, head of the state’s newly created Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.
Last month, Benitez traveled to a City Council meeting in Steamboat and stressed the importance of the local outdoor gear manufacturing industry to the local economy.
He said, together, companies in the outdoor industry in Steamboat Springs employ between 3,000 to 7,000 people, depending on the season, and they pay $8 million to $10 million in wages and benefits.
Together, the companies also distribute their products to nearly 100 countries around the globe, he said.
In August, Benitez stood outside the Iron Horse with BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger employees and said everyone was excited about the prospect of creating a new headquarters there.
At the council meeting, he expressed support for their bid for the Iron Horse.
“This was a space where they wanted to highlight what the outdoor industry does in Steamboat,” Benitez said Tuesday. “What excited them about the Iron Horse location is they are going to be creating something for the community as well as their companies. They weren’t just looking at it just as a corporate headquarters. There was going to be a park on one end and an incubator space for other companies.”
Benitez said if the local companies cannot find a place to grow here, they could take some of their operations, and jobs, outside Steamboat.
He fears if local growth cannot be accommodated, the companies could even move outside Colorado.
He said the phones at the companies here have recently been “ringing off the hook” with calls from other cities in the state that want a piece of their growth.
“That’s the state showing up saying ‘of course you have a place here.’ Come to Fruita. Come to Grand Junction. Come to Colorado Springs,” Benitez said.
A majority of council members have not publicly discussed their reasoning for selecting Ski Town Commercial as the buyer for the Iron Horse over seven other proposals the city received.
According to city staff, Ski Town Commercial was the highest bidder.
The first reading of the sale was approved last week without questions or discussion from council members.
Councilman Tony Connell said Tuesday he thought the two final proposals the council considered in a series of executive sessions showed the most vision.
The specifics and financial implications of the BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger proposal for the Iron Horse have not been disclosed.
At the direction of City Council, the city denied Steamboat Today’s open records request for all the Iron Horse proposals the city received.
The proposals will remain private until the sale of the hotel to Ski Town Commercial closes, likely in December.
Councilwoman Sonja Macys voted against the first reading of the sale to Ski Town Commercial.
She said she wasn’t certain it was the best use of the property, and she was concerned the sale contract does not bind the buyers to follow through with their plan for the Iron Horse.
The council will consider the second and final reading of the sale of the Iron Horse after a public hearing Oct. 27.
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