The Pavilion at Pagosa Springs has withdrawn a request to lease a portion of county-owned land for $1 per year to house a performance venue, but the greater issues caused by the request remains — government transparency and public process.
A Jan. 25 meeting for the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners to consider a 10-year lease for the property drew a standing room-only crowd that spilled into the hallway, with many of those in attendance concerned about consideration of the lease and lack of public knowledge about the potential deal.
At the January meeting, Commissioner Michael Whiting made a successful motion to postpone the decision until Feb. 8 in order for the BoCC to hear public comment on the item.
Tuesday’s subsequent meeting on the topic drew a similar crowd, but for an updated proposed lease agreement.
The proposed agreement on the table going into the meeting would have leased the county’s property on Hot Springs Boulevard for five years at $1 per year, with the option for the Pavilion to purchase the land at any time during the lease or at its termination. The lease would have been contigent upon the group selling or donating at least 1,000 tickets per year (versus a requirement of one event per year in the previous version of the lease) and, if the group were to meet the ticket quota, the lease would have been available for renegotiation in its fourth year.
In introducing the lease, County Administrator Greg Schulte informed the BoCC and audience that a representative of the Pavilion group wanted to make an opening statement.
Pavilion Chair Janis Moomaw read the statement from the group, first thanking Commissioners Clifford Lucero and John Ranson for their “support and willingness to make The Pavilion at Pagosa Springs happen because of the economic and cultural benefits to our community.
“With that said, The Pavilion at Pagosa Springs requests you pull the lease you have before you today for vote. The Pavilion made the decision not to pursue the lease because of the following reasons,” Moomaw said.
Those reasons listed by Moomaw included negative publicity, a lack of full support of the commission, the community being torn apart due to misinformation and “not being able to function to raise money due to unreasonable restrictions by other businesses and non-profits in town.”
Moomaw clarified the difficulty in fund-raising Wednesday by saying that the lease on the table prior to Tuesday’s meeting held a requirement that the Pavilion had to ensure anyone looking to rent out the facility had looked at a minimum two other venues first, possibly driving away interested parties.
“The Pavilion will continue to follow our vision, but we will take a different path,” Moomaw said, informing those present that the group had been offered two pieces of private property — one downtown and another in the Pagosa Lakes area.
“By putting the venue on private property, we have the freedom to grow into a successful site for the benefit of local businesses and all our residents,” Moomaw continued.
Moomaw said in a Wednesday interview that the Pavilion board made the decision to withdraw the lease request Tuesday morning and, after making one phone call, received the two offers of private property mentioned at the meeting.
Moomaw wrapped up the statement Tuesday by noting that volunteers involved with the group have a “proven track record of giving back to the community” and will continue to do so.
Upon arriving home after the meeting, Moomaw said she had received offers for two to four additional pieces of property.
“I was on the phone most of last night,” Moomaw said Wednesday.
The Pavilion group will spend the next week reviewing the offers and choosing a site.
Moomaw said Wednesday it’s been proven through support that the community wants a venue of this type and added she is pleased with the outcome of the situation.
With the lease off the table, the only public comment heard dealt with the larger issues of public process and government transparency.
“The county commissioners have failed to give us information ... in a meaningful or timely manner,” said audience member Jim Huffman in addressing the public process concerning the lease, questioning the lack of public information even after the Jan. 25 meeting.
Muriel Eason followed Huffman with a similar, brief statement, saying, “Government is not really something you do to citizens,” adding her hope that the process will be more open in the future.
Cynda Green asked what would become of the tent donated by Bootjack Ranch owner Kelcy Warren, to which County Attorney Todd Starr clarified that the tent did not belong to Archuleta County.
Moomaw confirmed Wednesday morning that the tent was, in fact, donated to the Pavilion group and that the group has a letter confirming the donation.
The commissioners then addressed the situation one-by-one, beginning with Whiting, who began by thanking the “hundreds of people” who contacted the BoCC, noting that the feedback was mixed as far as support of the lease.
“There was a lot of people who didn’t have sufficient information,” Whiting said, adding, “I, myself, felt that way over this two-week period.”
Whiting continued that it would be inappropriate for the project to have full support of the commission because it is not the job of the BoCC to support private enterprise, but to weigh options against the interests of the county.
“Mistakes were made. Mistakes were made, but it’s our job to get better at decision making,” Whiting said, also pleading for respect among the community members while digging for facts.
Whiting ended his speech by voicing his desire for a county voice in the community — a project Ranson later said Whiting was working on with county administrative employees.
Ranson followed Whiting in addressing the crowd, also thanking the members of the public who contacted him and noting that communication is a two-way street and the need is present to listen better and disseminate information.
“The county needs to learn how to communicate better, and we will,” Ranson said.
Ranson then encouraged the public to attend meetings, noting that, often, the only member of the public present was a reporter from The SUN (as a clarification, the proposed lease was never discussed in a regular meeting of the BoCC and was only vaguely discussed when the tent was donated — at one work session attended by a reporter from The SUN).
Ranson then thanked Janis and Bob Moomaw for their work with the Pavilion group, saying, “I am sorry this community has demonized you guys. Thank you for what you’ve done for the community.”
Ranson wished the Pavilion group luck in whatever location was chosen, but voiced his hope that the group would choose a downtown location.
Ranson further addressed accusations that he caters to the wealthy of the community by saying he understands the need for private capital in the community.
“I want people here to be able to make a living; most of my friends are not the wealthy. As long as I’m sitting here, I‘m going to do everything in my power to build a strong economic base,” Ranson said.
Ranson concluded his statement with a wish for the community to work together and “move forward in a positive way.”
Lucero began his statement with an apology, stating, “I want to apologize if we weren’t transparent enough.”
Lucero said comment he received, too, was split in favor of and against the lease and he appreciated the public comment.
He continued, saying he’d tried to set up a meeting between the stakeholders in the project, which he felt had been successful.
Lucero also voiced the opinion that the community needed to work together, as well as that the county needed to examine what it had done wrong in the process of dealing with the lease.
Lucero said in a Wednesday interview that the BoCC met in a work session Wednesday morning and decided that each member of the board would opine on two things the BoCC did wrong, which the commission will then look at, discussing how to move forward with that information.
“Everything worked out for the best, I think,” Lucero said Wednesday.
Only time will tell if county residents are pleased with any changes made by the BoCC, but more information about the Pavilion site is expected to be released next week.