Opposition to sale of public safety campus becoming more organized | SteamboatToday.com

Opposition to sale of public safety campus becoming more organized

Scott Franz

— Some business owners in Steamboat Springs aren’t fans of the city’s plan to sell its emergency services building, and they’re making their opinion known.

Before last week, public opposition to the sale of the city’s police headquarters and downtown fire station to BAP, Honey Stinger and Big Agnes mostly was limited to blog posts, emails and a few public comments at recent Steamboat Springs City Council meetings.

Opposition to the plan has become a bit more organized.

City Council members soon will receive a letter signed by more than 30 people who oppose the sale and who want the city to take more time to vet its plan to construct a new public safety facility using reserve funds.

Several critics who signed the letter were quick to praise the potential buyers as "fine local companies," but said the deal was the wrong price at the wrong time.

"This is one of the biggest decisions council will make in years as it relates to the spending of taxpayer money," local technology and business consultant Roger Good said. "Decisions like this with public money should not be taken lightly."

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Good drafted the letter last week with local economic analyst Scott Ford. Ford is currently a community representative on the Steamboat Today’s Editorial Board.

In the letter, Good and Ford wrote that the sale would "create an artificial sense of urgency that is unnecessary and does not allow time for due diligence and public process." They also questioned the practice of providing local companies sizable subsidies to keep them local.

"The sale of a public asset to a private business at below market value in the hopes that it will assist in retaining the business in the community is a deeply flawed strategy," Ford and Good wrote.

The city is proposing to sell the emergency services building for $2.1 million, a price tag that is $900,000 below the building’s appraised value.

Native Excavating owner Ed MacArthur was one of the first business owners to sign the letter along with former F.M. Light & Sons owner Ty Lockhart, business consultant Steve Hofman, Zirkel Trading and Soda Creek Pizza owner Steve Hitchcock and Steve Dawes, who serves as president of the Local Marketing District board that oversees Steamboat's airline program.

"I’m not a great big fan of government incentivizing businesses to stay in one location or another," MacArthur said Thursday. "I don’t know what the city is getting out of this or what the public is getting out of this. I don’t see the benefit of this transaction at all."

Hitchcock said the timing for the sale isn’t right, and he questioned its economic impact downtown.

"They’re a great local company, but to call this a wise move is a mistake," Hitchcock said, referring to BAP, Honey Stinger and Big Agnes. "It’s not economic development, it’s just a bad move. I’m a fan of the redevelopment of Yampa Street, but this isn’t it."

The Steamboat Springs City Council on Dec. 18 is scheduled to consider the first reading of the sale contract for the property at 840 Yampa St. If approved on first reading, the contract would likely appear for a final reading in January.

Recent interviews with five of the City Council’s seven members revealed various opinions on the deal.

Supporters of the sale, including council President Bart Kounovsky and Scott Myller, see the transaction as positive economic development, a path to a more efficient police headquarters and a welcome move to aid a revitalization effort on Yampa Street.

Council member Sonja Macys said she was still evaluating the pluses and minuses of the deal, while council members Walter Magill and Cari Hermacinski expressed serious concerns about it.

Hermacinski, who voted against starting sales negotiations of the building, said Friday she forwarded the letter of opposition to about 100 people.

“I understand that it can often be difficult to take a position, but I need help turning this around,” she wrote in her email soliciting people to sign the letter.

In addition to considering the first reading of a sales contract for the building, the council on Dec. 18 also will hear the latest proposals for the relocation of the emergency services that operate out of the building on Yampa Street.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com