The roundabout that almost wasn’t: Emails shed more light on Central Park Drive snafu
Steamboat Springs — Emails shed more light on the pinch the city of Steamboat Springs found itself in this spring when it initially failed to secure the construction easements it needed to launch the major reconstruction project on Central Park Drive.
The communications obtained via an open records request also show the City Council got an earful from some constituents over the issue that some deemed to be a “big misfire.”
The city’s inability to secure the easements by April 4 ultimately led to a two-and-a-half week delay in the project and kept a cone zone in front of businesses after Memorial Day, frustrating some business owners.
After the delay was publicized, the city caught flak from some citizens and elected officials who questioned how such a delay could have happened in the $1.69 million project, which has been in the works for years.
In the 11th hour, the delay also nearly nixed a new roundabout that city officials have said will improve traffic flow at one of the city’s busiest shopping centers.
A trip to City Market’s corporate headquarters in Denver and a long letter from the city administration threatening to take the roundabout out of the project plans got the easements secured and the project back on track.
But city officials were on edge as the delay dragged on into its second week, and they expressed frustration they had not been able to secure the construction easements despite verbal assurances from the Kroenke Group, the property owner at Central Park Plaza, that the easements would not be an issue.
The emails show city officials were working to get written approval from City Market on the easements weeks after the project was supposed to start.
The delay reached a point where City Manager Gary Suiter threatened to pull the roundabout from the improvement plans if the easements weren’t secured by April 20.
“Due to the delays in receiving easement dedication from Kroenke Group, the City now finds itself at an unfortunate crossroads,” Suiter wrote in an April 15 letter to the property owners at Central Park Plaza. “A contractor has been on standby for two weeks and the roadway is in desperate need of reconstruction from a pavement condition standpoint. While it may be contrary to a best outcome, the City is prepared to move forward with construction of the roadway with deletion of the roundabout….”
The reason behind the delay in the construction was not revealed to the public until after the start date of the project had been changed twice.
Public Works Director Chuck Anderson initially described the easement issue to the Steamboat Today as a “formality.” But emails show some members of the public and some of the city’s elected officials did not see it that way.
When they learned of the reasons behind the holdup, some council members expressed concern in emails about the project’s delay and feared the council would take “broadsides” because of the issue.
“I fully understand stuff happens,” councilman Scott Ford wrote to Suiter in mid-April. “How did we miss not getting these easements in place long before reaching this point? This is a big misfire. The traffic roundabout is unpopular enough without pushing construction into summer.”
Ford said he was getting an earful from constituents about “how silly this appears.”
Steamboat resident John Kugler wrote to the council criticizing it for approving the roundabout and spending so much on the project.
He also criticized city staff for allowing the delay in the project to take place.
“The fact that we are now seeing this project delayed repeatedly because the Kroenke Group hasn’t signed off on the temporary easements necessary for the project to go forward is absolutely amazing,” Kugler wrote. “Who is the person responsible for seeing that this got done? They’ve had over a year to get this accomplished, and at the 11th hour still don’t have it done.”
Some business owners in Central Park Plaza were also frustrated by the delay in the project as it kept the road in front of their businesses closed past the busy Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s just been a very tough time, and it completely interrupted our business,” Central Park Liquor owner Greg Nealy said while the construction was still going on in front of his business. “It’s been a very unfortunate six weeks.”
The Central Park Drive snafu led to a change in city policy.
The city is no longer putting construction projects out to bid before all of the critical construction easements have been secured.
“We have to change the way we’re doing business,” Suiter said last month. “We’ve matured, and now, we’re dealing with multi-billion corporations like Kroger out of Cincinnati and Kroenke Group out of Columbia, Missouri. These firms are big and sophisticated, and they have lots of lawyers.”
Anderson said he initially was not more forthright with the press in discussing the challenges the city was facing to secure the easements because he did not want to make comments that would have cast a negative light on the Kroenke Group.
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