Our view: Stop horsing around | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Stop horsing around

At issue

Government transparency in the Iron Horse sale

Our view

We understand  the urgency Steamboat Springs City Council feels in closing the Iron Horse sale before a new council is seated, but we think the process is better served by giving taxpayers access to all eight proposals received for the workforce housing property

We find a lot to like, at least on the surface, about the city of Steamboat’s pending sale of the Iron Horse Inn for $3.05 million to local investors, and in the best of circumstances, we’d be commending council on its work this week. But there’s a problem. We and the rest of the public know very little about the eight proposals for the Iron Horse received by the city, and in particular, we know nothing about the seven proposals that have been rejected.

Our view

We understand  the urgency Steamboat Springs City Council feels in closing the Iron Horse sale before a new council is seated, but we think the process is better served by giving taxpayers access to all eight proposals received for the workforce housing property

When this council reconvenes Oct. 27 for the second and final reading of an ordinance that could result in a signed sale contract, members of the public will be invited to comment. But they’ll be at a disadvantage since they won’t know what options City Council took a pass on.

Based on the advice of City Attorney Tony Lettunich, a majority of council members agreed this week that divulging even minimal details about the other proposals “might substantially harm the public’s interest by potentially hurting the pending real estate transaction.”

It sounds like council is trying to protect us from ourselves. If that doesn’t make you wary, it should.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Steamboat Pilot & Today sought to have the other proposals released so the public could evaluate them. The newspaper’s request was denied.

We understand this council is intent on cleaning up the city’s messy tenure as owner of the Iron Horse before it steps down and a new council is seated. But it’s the eight years of controversy surrounding the property that makes it all the more important the public be allowed to scrutinize all options and potentially share the confidence their elected public officials have in their final choice.

Like most people who purchased real estate here in 2007, the city overpaid when it purchased the again hotel property on a spectacular location along the Yampa River for $5.2 million.

The city — really the taxpayers — was never going to be made whole on the original 2007 purchase by a new deal. We’d lean toward taking the $3.05 million offered by Ski Town Commercial, but we’d feel a lot better if we knew more about the offers we are passing on.

In 2015, the Iron Horse is serving as the kind of workforce housing project the community originally hoped it would be. Ideally situated on the Yampa River Core Trail within easy walking distance of downtown, and on a bus stop that offers a quick trip to the largest groceries in the community, in many ways, it’s ideal. But we all are unaware after the first reading of the ordinance whether or not the sale contract binds the new owners to their stated intent of continuing to provide workforce housing units at the Iron Horse for the foreseeable future.

In fact, the rest of the council members asked no questions of council president Bart Kounovsky and councilman Kenny Reismann about the terms of the real estate contract. Nor did the council ask about a $400,000 escrow account the city has committed to for future public improvements on the site.

Upon first reading of the sale ordinance Oct. 13, Lettunich said, “In the private sector, you would not want to have everybody know what the various offers were. You would want to move forward with your real estate transaction and get it closed.”

Well, this transaction is not taking place in the private sector. It’s the sale of a public asset, and members of the public, who are the real owners of the property should be provided sufficient information to understand and make meaningful comment on the deal.

We have high hopes for the Iron Horse sale, but those hopes aren’t based on  knowledge. Council members are asking the public to trust them when they have done little to actually earn that trust.

The opinion of Steamboat Pilot & Today is expressed only in the space above.

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