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When will the public learn of development proposals for D&SNG parking lot?

Property at College Drive and Camino del Rio is considered prime real estate in downtown Durango
Two of five development proposals regarding a piece of property on the corner of College Drive and Camino del Rio will be discussed publicly in February. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The city of Durango plans to make information publicly available in February about two development proposals for a city-owned piece of property on the corner of College Drive and Camino del Rio, considered prime real estate in downtown Durango.

City Council is scheduled to conduct public interviews in February with two applicants who scored highest on their proposals, said Jarrod Biggs, assistant finance director.

The property, at 211 West College Drive, is being used by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as a parking lot. Despite public interest and a good response rate in the development proposals, the proposals have been kept private.

The city of Durango practices a purchasing policy of confidentiality to ensure a fair evaluation for each applicant, Biggs said. On occasion, city staff asks an advisory board member or a councilor to join the evaluation committee to have a broader perspective on proposals.

Staff asked City Council if one or two councilors wanted to join the committee for proposals regarding the railroad parking lot.

After some deliberation, all five councilors joined the committee to independently review five proposals submitted for the property valued at $4.2 million.

The city of Durango solicited 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 participation from city councilors, the RFP’s evaluation process for the railroad parking lot is still treated as confidential.

In order to maintain confidentiality and avoid evaluations in a public setting overseen by councilors, councilors were required to review the proposals separately from each other, he said in November.

“The long and short of our procurement process is to ensure that we are giving vendors a fair shake in their proposals,” he said.

He said city staff keeps proposals confidential to avoid influence by the public that might interfere with staff’s ability to conduct neutral evaluations.

But that shouldn’t stop residents from sending their concerns, thoughts and suggestions to City Council as the evaluation process continues, he said.

“I know council is always soliciting input,” he said. “... Staff, we’re always happy to take the information and listen and share that with council. And we’d be happy to do that as well.”

He said although it’s abnormal to include public participation during a procurement process, the city could pursue that avenue if applicants were appropriately notified it was part of the process.

Public participation “could be done through survey, public meeting or some other method, but the vendor would need to know that it was taking place as part (of the evaluation) to allow for clarity in the procurement process,” he said.

After the February interviews, which could occur as soon as Feb. 7, the committee will consider the proposals and potentially decide to award an applicant, Biggs said. At that point, the city could enter contract negotiations, after which all the considered proposals would be made publicly available.

Tom Sluis, city spokesman, said the proposals can then be obtained by filing an open records request with the city clerk’s office.

But that isn’t the only way the proposal evaluation process can play out. Councilor Kim Baxter said the process doesn’t always result in a “winner.”

“Sometimes, what it results in is a refinement of the conversation about what we want and what we want to do,” she said.

Proposals might not align with the city’s vision for the property, or the city’s vision might change. From there, the city might initiate a new RFP or ask current applicants to revise their proposals, she said.

If the city does choose to accept a purchase of the property from an applicant, D&SNG has a first right of refusal on the property, meaning once the city approves a proposal, the railroad can cut to the front and purchase the parking lot at the city’s accepted price, railroad owner Al Harper noted in a previous interview.

The city is primarily interested in pursuing a public-private partnership for the property, meaning a change of ownership would not occur. But the option of selling the property was never taken off the table.

Biggs said any proposal that involves the purchase of the railroad’s parking lot is required to provide explicit detail about what the purchase and development of the property would entail.

cburney@durangoherald.com

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