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Durango City Council wants fire district to reconsider redeveloping at River City Hall

City and fire district seek to buy time on decision, but a public hearing looms
River City Hall, the current location of the downtown fire station, is receiving new attention as a possible location for the redevelopment of the downtown fire station for the Durango Fire Protection District. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Durango Fire Protection District has been looking for a way out of River City Hall for decades. But during a special meeting on Tuesday, Durango City Council suggested exploring redevelopment of the existing facility instead.

The city manager and city attorney have 12 months to develop a memorandum of understanding with the fire district about the costs and benefits of redesigning River City Hall with the purpose of a firehouse in mind.

The endeavor is counter to the fire district’s intent to move the downtown fire station to the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building, which the fire district purchased in December.

Councilors met in an executive session Tuesday to discuss the matter. After returning from the closed-door session, they approved a review and research project with a timeline of 12 months; the decision still needs final approval from City Council, said City Manager José Madrigal.

The decision comes just days before a public hearing in which City Council must either approve an ordinance altering the designated use of police and fire buildings or send the ordinance to a vote by residents of Durango via a special election.

Hal Doughty, Durango Fire Protection District chief, said he is “interested” and “anxious” about the examination of River City Hall’s potential rehabilitation.

He said he wants to find an option for the fire district and the community to develop a downtown fire station that will serve the needs of the area. He prefers an option that would combine the police and fire departments into one facility and said that would save the city millions of dollars.

Doughty said he is “very pleased” with current plans for the 9-R Administration Building, which the fire district purchased for about $5 million in December but hasn’t received the go-ahead from the city to relocate fire operations.

If the fire district doesn’t use its newly purchased property, the 9-R Administration Building would probably be resold.

“We obviously have an amount of money that is invested in that property and we’d be interested in recouping that,” he said. “So that could be used toward whatever the new location is if that’s the direction that we go.”

Doughty said that although the last five to six months have been “incredibly frustrating” for the fire district in its search for a new facility, and the district has had to fight for opportunities “to protect the community that we’re contracted to serve,” he thinks City Council’s decision on Tuesday was a positive one.

“And it feels like potentially an opportunity to feel what the community is saying and move forward with an opportunity that works for everyone,” he said.

After City Council’s executive session, Mayor Barbara Noseworthy said during the meeting that her biggest hope is that the MOU process will involve public participation in looking at how River City Hall can best be used to the city’s benefit.

Councilor Kim Baxter said the process is potentially a “win-win” for everyone involved – the city, fire district, school district and community at large.

Madrigal said as far as the Thursday public hearing is concerned, to his understanding, City Council must still host the meeting and decide on whether to enact the citizen-initiated ordinance or hold a special election for voters to decide.

A public hearing about the future of the downtown fire station is scheduled to take place in person at City Hall and virtually on Zoom at 6 p.m. Thursday.


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