11/26/12

Kit Carson Redux


Here we go again.

Back in September, the Urban Renewal Board took up, yet once again, the Tabares building.

Urban Renewal purchased the Tabares building for $22,000 back in 2007. The funding came out of the taxes accruing through the Tax Increment District. There was a fair amount of discussion at the time the decision was made to make the purchase. Here is an excerpt from the minutes of the Board's meeting of 09.13.2007:

Ron Davis discussed his application to purchase the Tabares Building for a  Highway 50 museum. His proposal is that a non-profit entity, such as Urban Renewal, be the owner of the building. Much discussion was held concerning the condition and safety of the building and the fact that the owner is not willing to allow anyone to inspect the building. The consensus of the Board members was that this building qualifies as blight and Urban Renewal could purchase the building and if it is not possible to  rehab, it could be demolished.

Sandra Leonard made a motion, seconded by Rebecca Goodwin, that Urban Renewal purchase the Tabares Building at 8 &  10 East 1st Street for the purchase price of $22,000 with the acknowledgement  that it is considered blight. Motion carried with a vote of 6 Yes and 1  No.


If memory serves me correctly, the 'No' vote was from Board member Mack Burtis. You will note that the board of that time, including members Rebecca Goodwin and Sandy Leonard, acknowledged that the building in its state five years ago was considered 'blight.'

It seemed a pretty good idea at the time, although there were no plans presented as to how the Highway 50 Museum would come to fruition. But, if the rehab costs for the building were too high, the idea was that it could be torn down and turned into a parking lot. It makes sense, don't you think?

But nothing ever came of the Highway 50 Museum - or any other cost-effective use for the building - and it's still there, deteriorating by the day.

The building was finally put on the hit list along with the Kit Carson back at the Public Hearing on Demolition Projects on 05.21.2012 .

But now, we are pulling another Kit Carson. We have a 'historical' building that is collapsing upon itself, as noted by Mayor Rizzuto in the minutes of the September 2012 Urban Renewal meeting. Suddenly, we have another push to spent huge piles of tax dollars to rehabilitate an old building, for some nebulous purpose as yet undefined (well, I suppose a 'nebulous' purpose is by definition, 'undefined.') Suddenly, we have an architect coming in - whose idea was that, anyway - to give advice on how the building may be fitted into an economic development plan (the problem with that being that there isn't one) and in the meanwhile collecting about $7,500 in Urban Renewal tax-generated funds plus whatever he can get from a 'grant' of other tax-generated revenues. A 'grant' is when the government takes money out of your pocket, in the form of income taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, some kind of taxes, and /or fees (we have a lot of those in Colorado, the Land of the Fee) and gives that free money to someone else. Grant writing has become an art form. People make their living engaging in creative writing so as to shake out 'grant' money.  I've even done a bit of that myself.

In this endeavor, the architect has enlisted the aid of Charise Boomsma, 'President' of Preservation Studio. Preservation Studio, according to Mantra, has a staff of one (we assume that would be the 'president') with annual revenues of $75,000. Yes. $75,000. So a 'study' paying them $15,000 or so is a pretty substantial amount, wouldn't  you agree?  Well, to me, $15,000 is a pretty substantial amount no matter what its source or purpose. What could you do with $15,000? What do you think of the government taking $15,000 from you and your neighbors, and giving it to this architect and the president of Preservation Studio? BTW ... don't confuse Boomsma's outfit with these guys, who are on the other side of the Mississippi.

Why, asked Board member Mack Burtis, is an architect giving advice on economic development? And why, I must ask, is the board willing to give an architect $15,000 to do a economic development 'study' of uses for the building?

During the September 2012 meeting, Board member Mack Burtis got a bit testy, as he is occasionally wont to do. He was, in our opinion here at Blogger Central, right on the money, as were those who joined him in the 'no' vote regarding spending piles and piles of money on this disaster-in-waiting.

You gotta take a look at the minutes of that September 2012 meeting. You can find the minutes here, but here is an excerpt of the discussion over the Tabares building. It's a long one, but if you have any concerns at all about how our tax dollars are being spent by our elected officials, you really should read it.

Tim Stroh: I am an architect and my specialty is in working with old buildings mainly in southern and southeast Colorado and for fourteen years around the state. Also with me is Charise Boomsma, President of the Preservation Studio. She writes grants, does grant administration, grant management, project management, and project development. She and I have collaborated on many successful projects. She can interject on things I might miss because we work together on these things a lot. The reason I am here is I was invited to come down a couple of meetings ago to talk about the Plaza Building. At that meeting you had the Historical Fund and USDA and you listened to all kinds of different resources that Urban Renewal has at its disposal. I listened at that meeting and they gave you options and I wondered have all the options been explored and why I feel you don’t need to tear it down. I thought about it while I was on vacation and when I came back I contacted Lyn, Rebecca and Rick and told them I would like to give you a proposal for a feasibility study. I would basically provide you with goals and expectations to assess whether it is worth removing or rehabbing the building to be a positive economic impact for this community. The feasibility study will assess all the information on the building so you can say “We have looked at the building and looked at all our options and this is our decision.”  I’ve worked with a lot of buildings all over the state in worse condition and most of my clients don’t have half the resources you have for all of this and they make these buildings work. With a feasibility study you can really look at it with your goals and expectations to see if it works for you or not or if something else works. That is the goal of the feasibility study. The cost of the study is $14,300. This is our cost to do this project. We aren’t making a big profit on this. We feel like we have got some skin in this because we think it is pretty important to your community. We have talked to the State Historical Fund and they don’t have any funds for a feasibility study but they are committed to have future grants.I talked to Lee Merkel and he said there is a 50/50 grant available for this feasibility study. We checked into other grants but they would probably take a year or more to get that money and I don’t think that is not an option for the time line you have. We have researched a number of other options to find a way to offset some of the costs to you. There is some commitment on your part but we will look for other agencies to buy in.

Charise Boomsma: DOLA funds are available right away.

Those DOLA funds are some of that free munny.

Tim Stroh: What we are trying to do is to take in the big picture and gather all the relevant information available. We think it might be useful to talk to the people that have expressed interest. Three or four already expressed interest in this building for retail or kitchen space. We will actually meet with potential tenants and see how much they are willing to pay. Willthey really be willing to pay market rate for a space?  In the feasibility study we want to see if this building can work financially and be sustainable in the long term. As far as the assessment we would like to meet with a core group of people from Urban Renewal and the community to work with us to establish the goals and expectations of the feasibility study. What do you want this building to do?  If it is going to work what does it have to do to perform. We need to come up with a concept on how it could be used. We would provide the leadership with you giving us the guidelines to see if it would be workable and to find out what funding is available as far as loans and grants or a mixture of several different options and to bring it all together as quickly as possible to make it successful. That also includes project timelines and budgets working with contractors to establish real budgets. Really working on this project to make it sustainable financially over the long term.

Mack Burtis: I am not attacking your qualifications as an architect but what would this building be used for?  Normally you wouldn’t go to an architect to research that kind of question. What background do you have where you have done a project with this kind of starting point?

Tim Stroh: Every single project we have to deal with this issue at some level. As an architect it is our responsibility to work with owners to determine what the highest and best use is for the building. The feasibility study is to research the type of tenants, the people that have expressed interest and flush them out within the feasibility study.

Mack Burtis: Who are the people expressing interest?

Tim Stroh: I believe there is housing and the college.

Charise Boomsma: Some local produce/farm people have expressed a need for a commercial kitchen and processing spaces. There is some interest from some local tourism groups because you are on the Hwy 50 corridor like the birds people, and the SECHOR group.

What exactly does 'some interest' mean? How did Boomsma come by this information? Who are 'some local produce/farm people'? Stroh 'believes' there is 'housing', whoever that is, and 'the college', 'expressing interest.' So is this thing supposed to be a soup kitchen, an apartment set, a tourism office, a kaffee klatch for bird watchers, or a museum?

Rebecca Goodwin: A couple of years ago the County had an idea for a commercial kitchen to teach families how to provide healthy meals for their families as part of the Human Services Department.

What? So Goodwin wants to spent a million bucks of our tax money to build a commercial kitchen to teach people how to cook? Seriously?

Tim Stroh: The feasibility study is really to define who those people are and bring those people to the table. People who need more business space and are willing to pay for space on Hwy 50. What I hear in this meeting this is about those buildings and what resources are available to see if it would work or not.

So we here at Blogger Central have to agree with Mack Burtis. The structural assessment, which has already been done, examined the 'soundness' of the building. This 'feasibility study' is not for an extension of that. It is to examine the use of the building. For tourism and economic development purposes. Why is Mr. Stroh, an architect, doing this, for $15,000, and where is the tourism committee and our economic development people, who are already paid to do this kind of thing? 

Rebecca Goodwin:
  With what Tim does will give us an opportunity to look at the problem we have in the community with these buildings in downtown La Junta to look at a bigger picture of what to do and what to do in the future. At the hearing on the demolition project everybody that spoke up said they don’t want to keep losing these buildings. To do this process we would be in $7,500. We need to look at revitalizing commercial buildings, we need new businesses, and we need economic development and jobs. How do you pull all that together?   There is potential here for a project with the Plaza Building. Tim has a stellar reputation around the state. We have something here where we could look at these buildings and see what can be done with these buildings and how to approach this whole picture. Looking at other options for the Plaza Building vs $300,000 to tear it down. With this he will really study the building. Also as a community we have to look at other buildings. We have to do something for economic development, jobs, and answer the concerns I heard at that hearing from the citizens of La Junta and from La Junta Elks. That is why I am looking at it not just for the Plaza Building but the bigger picture. This is an exceptional opportunity for very little money. These opportunities don’t come along very often. From my standpoint I don’t want us to lose more historic buildings. We have a lot of them. As a community we have to find another way of looking at these problems and all our community to go in the same direction.


It seems to me that these concerns should be asked not by Urban Renewal, but by city council, and not of an out-of-town architect, but of economic development and tourism. What is Urban Renewal's charter and purpose? Is it now tourism and economic development? We do know from Mayor Rizzuto's comments at the last city council meeting that it is most emphatically not sign emplacement and design.

Sandra Leonard: Can you provide references on the areas you have done, exactly what you have done like what are you doing here?

Tim Stroh: Every project is different and in different formats as to the overall project scope of work. You have an outline for this project. This feasibility study will be a custom report for you. The references we have are recent people we have worked with various levels of services.

Sandra Leonard:  I think we have come to the crossroads for the Urban Renewal Board and the community on what to do with the Plaza Building or whatever building comes next. As the Urban Renewal Board we have to decide what our philosophy is. We have lots of buildings like this and our community doesn’t have a plan. To me this is the first step in a plan. I think as Board members we need to look at ourselves individually and our philosophies for what we want in La Junta. And whatever we do we are setting precedence for a long time. If we don’t do this now we will be right back here again with another building three to five years down the line with the same issue. Step out to find out the information and then get a hold of people that know what they are talking about and then decide as a Board what our philosophy is.

Ah, but there is a plan for the Tabares building. Tear it down and swap lots with the GM dealer. Board member Leonard should read the minutes of her own board meetings.

Rebecca Goodwin: If you look at the overall process of what they are proposing with the project is how we need to look at all these buildings and all these issues in our community. We better start looking at the bigger picture at what we can do and how to analyze and come up with a plan. This is at least a process to show what other options we have for these buildings and to look at similar issues. We have a chance to do something with experts from outside that do this for a living to come and look at our community. We have a problem with these buildings and we don’t know what to do so we tear it down. That is basically the choices we are going to be facing.

Rick Klein: I have talked to Lee and got an extension to October 1st on our project. I can ask him if we can  get an extension to November 30 or do we have to lose the funding and reapply? Tim Stroh: I didn’t have that specific conversation with him. My experience is if you have something in the works I have never seen a problem with getting an extension.

Bill Jackson:
When I talked to Lee he gave us to October 1st to get the environmental assessment done. Can the feasibility study be done by mid-September?


Tim Stroh: No.

Bill Jackson:
We need 30 days to get our part done.


Tim Stroh: I can write a report in a week. But getting the information takes a long time to meet with all these different groups.

Bill Jackson: What is your best estimate?

Tim Stroh: November 30th if we started on August 1st
.
Rick Klein: We can go for another extension to February 1st to give us time.

Tim Stroh
: We are going to get it done as quickly as possible but not so quick we sacrifice the information in the report.


Jeff Reeder: How long has Urban Renewal owned this building?

(Mr. Reeder never receives a direct answer to this question. He is ignored. Later, Mack Burtis mentions Urban Renewal having owned the building for about three years, in comments unrelated to Mr. Reeder's question. He is incorrect, as the building was acquired in 2007.)


Rebecca Goodwin: The first step was the structural assessment and it took 14 to 15 months to get the grant from the State Historical Fund because they were going through staff changes but we finally got the grant. If we were going to do anything with the building it is going to cost something to do it. That building is feasible and we have these people that can help us with it.

Sandra Leonard: It would help economic development to put up a Hwy 50 museum. We heard before that was to be a viable option. That is why we did the structural assessment.

 Rebecca Goodwin: In hindsight the next time we go through this process we need to do it a little differently.

Sandra Leonard: In hindsight if we had done this at the Kit Carson at the very beginning things might be different now but we didn’t. Let’s learn from our mistakes.

Rebecca Goodwin: And develop new skills for the future of La Junta. That is what I heard from the public hearing.

Tim Stroh:  I don’t have history about a Hwy 50 museum but what I heard is you have a sizeable amount of money for demolition. People struggle to find this kind of money to help with those old buildings. It could be doubled or tripled. A private owner would never get that kind of money.

And there is a reason for that. A private owner is going to be dependent on the likelihood of someone seeing a profit in investing in the project. Government grants - that free money from the government - requires no such underpinning of fiscal responsibility. Grant money can be blown off; all that is needed is some 'creative writing' on the grant application. If it disappears down the toilet ... well, it was free munny, from the gummint, you see.


Rebecca Goodwin: State Historical Fund asks for 25% from a public entity. It is 50% from private and a minimum 65-70% if you want to be competitive. That is the advantage to Urban Renewal.

We can only wonder why that is.


Tim Stroh: You could research options available to this group with this feasibility study.

Roger Roath: Have you seen the building?

Tim Stroh: No.

Huh. Imagine that. It's right around the corner and down the street a couple of blocks from Jodi's Grill, which is where Urban Renewal has taken to having their meetings.


Rebecca Goodwin: But you have looked at the structural assessment.

Tim Stroh: I spent two hours with Jesse Silversteen of Brownsfield talking more about the La Junta building than the Pueblo buildings. We discussed the asbestos issue and he feels there might be an alternative to mitigate the asbestos rather than tear it down. He was very interested in that. They are happy to get into the feasibility study. There is a great amount of interest in this building. He seemed excited about it.

You will notice that Mr. Stroh did not answer Goodwin's grasp at straws. Did he examine the structural assessment, or not? And why is the board accepting Mr. Stroh's subjective view of Silversteen's excitement, rather than objective statement of fact? Is it perhaps because this isn't 'real' money? And why is Goodwin steering Stroh's answers?

Chairman Horner: I look at the Plaza Building a bit different than the Kit and 801 Edison. We really had very little options because of their conditions. Plaza Building has issues and yet because of its location and condition I think we should look at all options. It will cost us a little bit of money but not major money to see what our options are. If it is not feasible then we make that choice for demolition and move on.

Rebecca Goodwin: If we go through this process we as a community can learn how we should analyze these buildings and those kinds of projects and how to look at future projects. It does give us the tools how to look at other things for this community. We don’t have a really clear plan for downtown. This could give us an approach in developing a plan. Then we will know what other options are out there. How do you develop a Master Plan for the community knowing what options are out there instead of getting a grant to tear it down?  Let’s see what the other options are.

Chairman Horner: If somebody would make a motion to decide what direction we want to go.

MOTION: Rebecca Goodwin made a motion that Urban Renewal accept the proposal from Tim Stroh to do a feasibility study on the Plaza Building with an application to DOLA for 50% of the total cost and Urban Renewal put up 50% or about $7,500 to go through this process and look at how and if there is a way not just for the Plaza Building but potentially other buildings. Nancy Bennett seconded the motion.

Don Rizzuto: I am voting No. I think we have had this building for three years and the back is falling out. I don’t think the college or anybody could pay the kind of rent necessary to support a million dollar project. The building is in a bad location. Would you pay the price? I don’t see it. I don’t want to put another penny into it.

Good move on the part of Mayor Rizzuto. And a good question, also not answered. Who indeed would pay the price? If this is such a swell business deal, where if nothing else, is the consortium of local captains of industry and commerce willing to back it? Why the need to rely on 'free money' from the government? But on the other hand, the Kit Carson owners needed five million. That figure is from the Babb's now defunct website about the Kit Carson project. Surely a mere million, especially if it's being taken out of someone else's pockets by the government and handed out as grants, is no big deal?


Mack Burtis: I will also vote No. Rebecca says we need an overall plan for downtown La Junta. An economic plan is not an architect problem. With all due respect I will not hire you for an economic development project of what La Junta needs.

Burtis asks some good questions in this exchange, and never really gets a satisfactory answer. One of the most important of these is ... why is an architect calling the shots in an economic development matter. He was never answered. The question was tap-danced, but never answered.


VOTE:  Yes – Nancy Bennett, Lynn Horner, Sandra Leonard, Roger Roath, Rebecca Goodwin
No – Karen Kelley, Jeff Reeder, Mack Burtis, Don Rizzuto. Motion carried.

Chairman Horner: We may find out in about five months we are at the same spot but with this report at least we have given it a shot to see what the options are to make something happen.

Mack Burtis: I am requesting that the Executive Director have the Economic Development Director become personally involved in this issue. It is an economic development problem. He has been silent since his plan that led us to owning the building.

Another good point by Burtis. Brother Mack was on a roll at this meeting.


Rebecca Goodwin: I also suggest that the Director from the Small Business Office, Bryan Bryant  and the County Economic Development Director be included. They may have other options to work with the City on this.

Mack Burtis: We should expect the Economic Development director to make those kinds of contacts.

Burtis makes yet another good point. This is, bottom line (dare I use that term with this group?) an economic development project.

The local paper has an editorial on the meeting, here. I think it's supposed to be a news article, but it isn't. Not with comments like: "The board voted along predictable lines, five to four in favor of the feasibility study." Perhaps the author of the article should do a little research on the acquisition vote(s) regarding the property, and see how that fits with predictability. And why does the writer feel the vote was all that predictable?

Here is more background info:

Archived Urban Renewal meeting minutes, CY2012