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The slow surprise of Ewing Mesa

Property gifted to Durango could produce a new fairgrounds
Ideas are coming forward for the 1,850-acre tract of Ewing Mesa, the entire area in the middle of the photo, after Marc Katz purchased the property and announced he intends to donate the parcel for public use.

Ewing Mesa is a bit like a Christmas present, wrapped and sitting under the tree.

Durangoans can’t open it yet, but it might be the outline of something good.

Mercury Payment Systems co-founder Marc Katz announced in April that he had purchased the 1,850-acre tract in south Durango from the Pautsky family and intended to donate the parcel for public use.

Since then, Katz, government officials and nonprofit groups have begun preliminary discussions on what the future of Ewing Mesa could look like.

People involved in the discussions were reluctant to discuss Ewing Mesa’s future, insisting plans are in a very preliminary stage. Yet they are exploring the possibilities, including the mesa’s possible use as a fairgrounds site. Katz led invited guests on a tour and presentation at Ewing Mesa last week.

A fairgrounds is among the early possibilities for the property.

“We have had a couple of preliminary conversations with Mr. Katz,” said Joanne Spina, assistant county manager for La Plata County. “He has expressed some interest in donating acreage to the county for multievents center and fairgrounds purposes.”

“Naturally, on behalf of the citizens, we’re very grateful to Mr. Katz and his family, and we’re very enthusiastic to take the next steps in the process,” Spina said.

A county task force also has been looking at ideas for a new fairgrounds. As the process advances, the county needs an assessment, and a master-planning process would follow.

“We would certainly have some robust public engagement as relates to the master-planning process,” Spina said. “Right now, it’s just a concept.”

Katz, in a brief interview, also discussed the possibility of building a new fairgrounds site atop Ewing Mesa.

“The county might put the fairgrounds there,” he said.

Still, Katz cautioned that any decisions are a long ways off.

“Just to do a fairgrounds study is like a two-year thing,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen for quite some time.”

A slideshow prepared by architect Dean Brookie contained other hints of ideas for Ewing Mesa. Slides showed the northern section of the mesa with a “festival venue” with a stage and space for camping and parking. The south area is anchored by a county multievents facility of 100-plus acres with an outdoor equestrian area and an indoor arena. In between, a sports complex would have room for baseball, soccer, tennis, cyclocross and velodrome. Nearby would be a community garden and a solar installation.

Fairgrounds users long have complained the current 32-acre facility at 2500 Main Ave. is too small and provides poor access for big trucks and trailers carrying horses and livestock.

Spina said a larger fairgrounds could attract events the current facility cannot, such as rodeo circuits and concerts.

If history had taken another turn, Ewing Mesa could have been a major housing development, or home to an 18-hole golf course with mountain views. Those uses were proposed to city officials over the years. Yet business plans for the parcel never were able to overcome obstacles such as securing water, road access and the capital needed to transform such a large piece of land.

Now, Ewing Mesa is set to be the lasting legacy of the man who arguably is Durango’s most successful businessperson. Katz founded Mercury in 2001 with his brother, Jeff. The credit-card processor was sold last year to Vantiv, a larger competitor based in Cincinnati, for $1.65 billion.

In his April announcement regarding the purchase, Katz said his “dream is to see the property used for county and city recreational facilities and for a venue that can host music festivals, theater and other events.”

Trails also figure into the plans. Ewing Mesa is adjacent to Horse Gulch, which is home to a trail system that is popular among mountain bikers and other users. Public easements already exist on Ewing Mesa on the Telegraph, Meadow, Crites’ Connect, Anasazi, Yellow Brick Road and Old Car Loop trails. The trail system also is near Three Springs, a development that when complete would have more than 2,000 homes, according to current plans.

One slide from Brookie’s presentation shows enhanced trail access to Horse Gulch from Ewing Mesa.

Mary Monroe Brown, executive director of Trails 2000, said there are possibilities for more trail development on Ewing Mesa.

“We have ideas, and probably there’s an opportunity for maybe a hiking trail and some other connectors that we see, but we have not brought those forward yet,” she said. “No one’s in any hurry.”

cslothower@durangoherald.com

Apr 3, 2018
Durango starts planning for Ewing Mesa


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