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City of Durango moves to protect Buckley Park

Councilors, school district officials agree: It should remain open space
Durango City Council and Durango School District 9-R proposed an agreement Tuesday to possibly keep Buckley Park an open space for the public.

Buckley Park, one of downtown Durango’s treasured open spaces, has been the scene of protests, political gatherings, historic anniversaries, countless community events, picnics and pure relaxation.

Its owner, Durango School District 9-R, is marketing it for sale, but school and city officials agree: Buckley Park should remain an open space – and they’re willing to put it in writing.

Most Durangoans first learned the 1½-acre, grassy field was for sale in February, which was the same time many realized the park was owned by the school district, not the city. The possible sale caused an outpouring of concern from those who didn’t want to lose one of the only green spaces downtown.

Tuesday, Durango City Council and school district officials agreed to draft a conditional agreement to protect the open space.

“We have no interest in doing what was touted eight months ago of putting a hotel on it or selling off,” said Mick Souder, vice president of 9-R’s Board of Education, during a City Council study session Tuesday. “We understand that it is a very valuable public asset, and we want to keep it that way.”

“That’s huge. What a great commitment,” said Mayor Dean Brookie.

Buckley Park holds events nearly every week, sometimes multiple times a week, including the Summer Concert Series, the San Juan Brewfest, parts of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, Men Who Grill, Apple Days, and year-round relaxation and recreation.

The field is part of a larger 4.3-acre property between 12th Street and 13th Street on the east side of Main Avenue that includes the district’s administration building. The school district leased the park to the city of Durango in 2013 on a 10-year lease for $1,000 a year.

Buckley Park and the Durango School District 9-R administration building sit on a 4.3-acre parcel east of Main Avenue between 12th and 13th streets.

Selling the land parcel could generate $12 million to $18 million for schools, according to school district estimates.

“We’re interested in ensuring that Buckley Park remains the gem of the park system that it is as far as for public events,” Souder said. “But we also have a responsibility to our stakeholders that, if we part with the property, we have some value in return.”

For the city, that could mean buying the park outright or proposing a swap, trading land parcels of equal value, said Interim City Manager Amber Blake.

The two parties agreed to draft a memorandum of agreement in which the city would have six to 12 months to come up with a transfer option while the district continues to market the administration building and the property. The officials hoped to be able to consider a draft within the next two weeks.

“The goal is to find a way for the city to obtain the property in a way that is beneficial to both the school and the city,” Blake said.

City councilors emphasized putting the plan into writing, and district officials prioritized being transparent with the community about their plans.

“Thank you for making it clear to our community that it is your desire to work with the council because there has been a lot of community concern about this,” said Councilor Melissa Youssef to the school district representatives.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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