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Durango City Council pumps brakes on development proposals for downtown lot

Top two ideas include entertainment complex and condominiums
Durango City Council is considering development proposals for a city-owned lot near the corner of College Drive and Camino del Rio. The property is being leased by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for parking, but the railroad owns another part of the lot that is also being used for parking. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Two proposals for developing a centrally located piece of property in downtown Durango were made public for the first time this week. But City Council quickly shut down a review process for the proposals after it was learned one of the developers had significantly changed the proposal from the one that was originally selected as a finalist from five submissions.

The interim city attorney advised City Council against moving forward with evaluating the revised plan, because doing so could be perceived as unfair to the other applicants.

The city invited developers to submit proposals for how a city-owned piece of property near the corner of College Drive and Camino del Rio could be developed. The 1½-acre lot is being leased by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as a parking lot. The railroad also owns a large chunk of the parking lot.

The site is a prime piece of downtown real estate, valued at $4.2 million by the La Plata County Assessor’s Office. Tim Walsworth, executive director of the city’s Business Improvement District, spoke on behalf of one of the proposals and called the site a “gateway” to the city.

The city of Durango is soliciting bids for ideas about how to develop a piece of city-owned property at the corner of West College Drive and Camino del Rio – property the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is currently leasing for guest parking. (Durango Herald)

Despite high public interest in possibilities for the parking lot, the city has kept quiet about the proposals until Tuesday when presentations revealed competing plans for an entertainment center and condominiums. But the presentations were cut short when it was revealed the proposal for condominiums, which included a parking garage, was altered to no longer include the parking garage. .

Developer Reynolds Ash & Associates, working on behalf of the D&SNG, said the parking garage was cut from the plan after a parking study released in December said Durango doesn’t need a parking garage.

The city’s proposal evaluation committee was set to evaluate Reynolds Ash & Associates’ original proposal, not a revised one. Bill Tuthill, interim city attorney, said to evaluate the revised proposal without giving other developers the same opportunity to could invite scrutiny that the city process is unfair.

“My biggest concern is that you had (five) proposers and one of them is now in with something that doesn’t look like something you evaluated,” he said.

City Manager José Madrigal said it is in the best interest of the city to postpone evaluations and determine the best way to move forward.

What is known about the proposed entertainment center
A rendering produced in 2018 shows the scale of a proposed conference center, in white, on the parking lot now used by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. (Courtesy city of Durango, file)

Bud Franks first pitched the idea of a downtown arts and events center in 2018. In July 2018, The Durango Herald reported the plan included a 450-seat theater, a total of 3,000 square feet of meeting rooms and classrooms, a 6,000-square-foot lobby that could be converted to hold special events or for dining, a catering kitchen and a 450-space parking garage.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted plans, he said on Tuesday. Pre-COVID, estimates projected the entertainment complex would generate $21 million to $31 million annually in economic activity.

Walsworth, BID’s executive director, said the proposed entertainment complex would include a theater and conference space that stand to strengthen local businesses, support sustainable tourism and address the needs of an “underserved and growing performing arts community.” The project would also be a catalyst for future developments on Camino del Rio.

And, establishing an entertainment complex on the site of the D&SNG lot, would help the growing creative arts community and bolster restaurant and retail businesses, he said. It could also lead to higher-paying jobs in the service industry, he said.

He said Bud Franks and his wife, Fran, have experience with similar facilities through projects in Crested Butte; Tacoma, Washington; Missouri City, Texas; and other cities big and small.

“They have a lot of knowledge of specialized needs and how to develop these complicated projects, and it’s truly invaluable to the success to it,” he said.

The proposed entertainment center also includes a parking garage, which would accommodate parking space that would be lost if the parking lot was developed, he said.

On the condominiums proposal, Reynolds said the revised design was kept intact except for the back wing of the condos, which was lifted up one story to accommodate two levels of parking to satisfy the railroad’s lost parking space in addition to ground-level parking.

John Harper, D&SNG railroad chief operating officer, said the original proposal envisioned a “grand design of a four-story parking garage and all this fantastic condo and commercial space” as well as some special event space.


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