Durango City Council officially approved a building swap between the city and Durango Fire Protection District.
City Manager José Madrigal said a formal resolution to move money from the city’s general fund balance into the general fund to close on the deal will be presented to City Council for a vote at the next regular City Council meeting.
The trade involves River City Hall at 1235 Camino del Rio, owned by the city and rented to the fire department, and the former Durango School District 9-R administration building at 201 East 12th St.
In addition to transferring ownership of River City Hall, the city would pay $3.6 million to DFPD after an assessment by Bob Allen, of the appraisal group Allen & Associates, to determine fair market values of the properties.
The fire department purchased the former school administration building in December for $6.9 million. The Colorado Department of Transportation appraised the River City Hall property at $3.6 million.
Design plans for a new downtown fire station at the River City Hall property -- which houses the current downtown fire station -- were unveiled to the public on July 26, and construction could start as soon as December, according to DFPD Deputy Fire Chief Randy Black.
City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the contract, which was initially set to be approved without discussion on the city’s consent agenda. Councilor Olivier Bosmans, who opposed the contract, requested it to be removed from the consent agenda for a vote.
He repeated the concerns he shared at the July 18 City Council meeting. He said the city hasn’t been transparent enough about negotiations with the fire department, and it should reconsider other locations, such as a train parking lot leased by the city to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
“I continue to believe that we should at least consider the train parking lot and better engage with our community,” he said.
Bosmans said constituents have compared DFPD’s River City Hall project to the city's sewer treatment plant, the Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility. He said the sewer plant lacked a long-term vision, adding the city is now stuck with a wastewater plant at Santa Rita Park alongside the Animas River.
“The River City Hall is an equally important property along the river and it seems it will be an opportunity lost to integrate the great river Animas into our downtown area,” he said.
The former school administration building is a great opportunity for the city, which intends to turn it into a civic center and police department in the coming years, it’s not just an building acquisition with a $3.5 million payment, he said.
“It will likely be a $50 million taxpayer investment that requires more analysis and scrutiny, including evaluating other existing properties for a new police department,” he said.
And, he said the city hasn’t engaged the community enough about turning River City Hall over to DFPD, but it has had conversations behind closed doors in executive sessions.
Other councilors showed support for the contract.
Councilor Jessika Buell said the fire department looked at dozens of other properties before deciding to rebuild its downtown fire station with improved facilities.
Councilor Gilda Yazzie said Durango residents have been waiting decades for a new fire station.
“I do feel this is to the benefit of the whole community that we move forward with this project,” she said.
Mayor Melissa Youssef said the contract with DFPD is a momentous moment for the city and will have lasting impacts for the fire department.
“We’ve been working on this for so long, since before my time on council,” she said.
Numerous locations have been previously considered, including the D&SNG parking lot. Youssef said a fire station wouldn’t work there because of road medians installed on College Drive near the lot.