Hayden Town Council delays decision on century-old building with ties to local pioneer

A decision on the fate of the building at 135 S. Walnut St. in downtown Hayden was delayed last week. A decision about whether to tear it down or restore the old building could come in April.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

In a divided vote, Hayden Town Council delayed making a decision on the future of a century-old building during a special meeting last week, where the decaying structure spurred a passionate conversation about the town’s future.

The building is at least 105 years old, though Town Manager Mathew Mendisco said there are photographs indicating it may be older, potentially dating back to 1890. Part of the structure was once home to the law offices of Routt County pioneer Ferrington “Ferry” Carpenter.

The building at 135 S. Walnut St. is in a part of town that some longtime residents say looks much like it did in the photographs from 100 years ago. It was once the home of Yampa Valley Bank, and the section Carpenter used as an office was at one time a bowling alley.

The meeting on Thursday, Feb. 10, was scheduled to weigh how to move forward with the building, which is owned by the town.

Mendisco outlined two potential plans, with each turning the property into a new business incubator space he sees as a resource for the entire Yampa Valley. Each plan would cost about $2 million and add some housing.

One plan would preserve the building, renovating it in a way that maintains its historical look. This would result in a roughly 3,000-square-foot space with the incubator and one apartment that would be used to house town or school district staff. The other plan would scrap the structure, replacing it with a 5,000-square-foot building that would have three apartments, as well as the incubator space.

“This accelerator will have a very specific focus, centered around minority- and women-led businesses,” Mendisco said.

About 40 people, half in person and half online, joined in the discussion, with some arguing the building is so important to the town’s heritage that it must be preserved.

“I’ve been told that if we tear down the building, it would be inappropriate to retell that history,” Mendisco said, referencing Carpenter’s connection to the building and saying he had talked with Carpenter’s family about the project.

Others would rather not look at it at all, favoring a plan that would tear the building down. Some residents went so far as to say they didn’t believe the town should own and develop real estate at all, and Hayden should unload the property as is.

Council did not limit time for public comments, and the meeting lasted nearly three hours, as it at times drew on larger themes about the future of Hayden and whether a desire to grow would squash the history many admire.

“When heritage, history and character is destroyed, it is very hard, if at all possible, to recreate,” said Dallas Robinson, a Hayden resident. “That said, I’ve also grown up in that building, and I know what kind of pile it really is.”

After more discussion, council member Trevor Gann said he felt like he had heard the passionate opinions on each side, but he wanted to learn more background on the project. Residents at the meeting said there have been multiple attempts to repurpose the building over the years, but the former owner wouldn’t sell, something Gann said he didn’t know before the meeting.

Gann moved that council put off a final decision to allow for more time to learn about the building and the town’s options with it. This motion was approved 5-2. with council members Ed Corriveau and Bob Reese against.

Council scheduled another meeting for April 7, at which time a decision needs to be made. In the meantime, work will start to abate asbestos, lead and other hazards from the building — a step that needs to be taken either way.

Mendisco said he has identified various avenues for funding through the Department of Local Affairs and other state and federal agencies, but the town hasn’t secured grant funding yet.

“By April, council will have to make a decision — restoration, demolition or sale,” Mendisco said. “Hopefully, we can pull the trigger and get mitigation done in between that time period.”

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