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City Council decides to pursue affordable housing at Best Western site

The city of Durango is considering buying the Best Western Inn & Suites on U.S. Highway 160 in west Durango to convert and use as affordable or transitional housing. (Shane Benjamin/Durango Herald file)
Durango aims to convert hotel units into transitional housing

At its Tuesday night meeting, Durango City Council voted 4-1 to move forward with its plan to aid in the purchase of the Best Western Inn and Suites at 21382 U.S. Highway 160 for the purpose of creating affordable and transitional housing.

The city will pay $70,000 as an earnest payment, which buys the city 90 days to further explore whether the hotel can be redeveloped in such a way to meet affordable housing and transitional housing needs.

The 90 days also gives the city time to identify a development partner, further discuss whether it wants to be involved in such a project and see whether it can secure federal funding to complete purchase of the hotel.

The earnest payment is 1% of the building’s full $7 million price tag. If the city and its development partner determine the building does not meet requirements for the city’s plan for affordable and transitional homes, or funding for the building can’t be secured, the city will be repaid its $70,000 earnest payment.

“This contract has a 90-day due diligence period, and really we’re going to use that time to determine whether or not this is going to be a feasible site for what we’d like to do,” said Nicol Killian, assistant director of community development for the city of Durango.

Councilor Olivier Bosmans voted against moving forward with the earnest payment, saying the city’s role shouldn’t be that of a developer. Councilor Melissa Youssef also expressed concern, but ultimately opted to move forward with the exploratory process.

Other councilors jumped at the opportunity.

The city of Durango is considering buying the Best Western Inn & Suites on U.S. Highway 160 in west Durango to convert and use as affordable or transitional housing. (Shane Benjamin/Durango Herald file)

“With this large piece of property, I think we have some additional opportunities here besides this one direction that we’re headed in,” said Mayor Kim Baxter. “I want to make sure that in the conversations we have in the future that we also include other viable options.”

To pay for the project, the city reached out in June to the offices of U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to apply for congressional funding for a hotel conversion project.

“Sen. Hickenlooper and Sen. Bennet have submitted our request for $9.6 million to the appropriation committee, and we’re hoping by fall to hear some good news that we have some funding coming our way to do a hotel conversion project for affordable and transitional housing,” Killian said.

The Best Western Inn and Suites is a 62-acre piece of property along U.S. Highway 160 in west Durango, with 71 units. Of that, 5.3 acres is zoned as “commercial general,” with an additional 56.6 acres of “rural agricultural” land. There are some constraints to the rural agricultural acres because of hillsides and slopes.

City staff members have been in discussion with the consultant Project Moxie to draft the contract approved at Tuesday’s council meeting, and will continue to work with the consultant while a developer is found.

“In a perfect scenario, you find a development partner that does everything,” said Jen Lopez with Project Moxie. “A one-stop shop that takes over the option, executes the financing plan, they execute the redevelopment, they own it and manage it. That would be my goal for Durango. ... We may have to find a developer and an operator.”

Bosmans wanted answers about how the property might ultimately be used. But city staff members and Project Moxie didn’t have specific answers for the council, saying some of those details are what needs to be worked out during the due diligence period.

Moving forward, city staff members and Project Moxie said they will make themselves available to address council concerns as more is learned through the due diligence process.

“I’m really looking forward to the conversation about highest and best use,” Baxter said. “How we make it work, and what we do hear. I see only an upside to pursuing this.”


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