The city of Durango is reviewing five development proposals for a centrally located piece of property near the corner of College Drive and Camino del Rio.
City Manager José Madrigal said some of the requests for proposals under review have “pretty big community implications.”
The 1½-acre lot is being leased by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as a parking lot for train operations. It is located on a prominent city block in downtown Durango, and the implications of the lot being used for anything other than parking are significant, said Jarrod Biggs, Durango’s assistant finance director.
“Where do the people park for the train? Where does that move traffic?” he said.
Biggs declined to comment on the nature of the businesses or industries being proposed for the lot, saying doing so would be inappropriate and could taint the evaluation process.
The city published a request for proposals on Sept. 28 and set Nov. 1 as the deadline for responses. In October, Biggs said many options are on the table, and the city is interested in hearing a multitude of ideas about how to put the city-owned property to use.
“We were just kind of putting it (the bid) out there to say, ‘What ideas do people have?’” he said.
Madrigal initially asked City Council if one or two councilors would join the 211 West College Drive RFP Evaluation Committee to provide a different perspective to staff members on each RFP, but councilors Olivier Bosmans and Melissa Youssef pushed back.
Bosmans said he prefers city staff members perform the evaluations objectively and return to City Council with recommendations. Youssef said she wants an equal opportunity to review the RFPs and noted that three council members, a majority of the council, had already expressed interest in being on the committee.
Councilors Barbara Noseworthy, Kim Baxter and Jessika Buell volunteered to join the evaluation committee.
In the end, all five councilors joined the committee. They and staff members will independently review the RFPs, Biggs said.
The city has until Dec. 15 to complete the review process. At that point, staff members will compile evaluations. If one RFP is clearly rated above the others, that proposal will be taken back to City Council during a public meeting. If a single RFP doesn’t stand out among the others, city staff members will likely return to City Council for further direction.
Biggs said City Council could direct staff members to conduct interviews with the entities that submitted the RFPs. Or, the council could direct staff to prepare interviews in a public setting.
“If we wanted to conduct interviews and council needed to be involved, it really kind of turns this thing on its head because that has to be a public meeting,” Biggs said.
D&SNG used to own the lot. Durango bought the lot from the railroad about 20 years ago for $2.5 million. Al Harper, railroad owner, said in October the original intention was to buy the property back, but the railroad was never able to come up with the funding and so it started leasing the property instead.
As of October, the La Plata County Assessor’s Office values the lot at $4.2 million, said Dianna Cole with the assessor’s office.
Harper said the railroad has the first right of refusal, meaning that regardless of any RFP the city wants to adopt, the railroad gets the first chance at buying the property back. And that’s likely what the railroad would do if it came down to it, he said.
But, regardless of what happens, Harper said the railroad isn’t trying to butt heads or complicate the process. The railroad needs to protect its parking space, but it’s willing to work with any parties that get involved, he said.