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By Ed Fincher
Larry Fisher, speaking on behalf of the finance subcommittee for the Pagosa Springs Town Tourism Committee, came to the Community Development Corporation’s Monday meeting to present a request for the services of CDC director Rich Lindblad.
When board member Mark Weiler asked Fisher to clarify what the objective of the request was, Fisher replied, “The finance subcommittee is for Reservoir Hill. We feel that Rich would have good input on the direction that we go, as far as how we finance it.”
“Don’t you want Ed?” Weiler asked, referring to Ed Morlan of the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, who happened to be present in the audience. Fisher explained that the TTC has, in fact, contacted Morlan and would continue to solicit his input, but since Morlan lives in Durango and Lindblad lives in Pagosa, the subcommittee members thought it would be better to work primarily with Lindblad.
Board member Morgan Murri asked Fisher how often the finance subcommittee met (every Thursday from 4-5 p.m., but they could be flexible), then asked Lindblad if he would have time to do it. When Lindblad assented, Weiler made a motion to appoint him to the TTC finance committee. Murri seconded the motion, but before CDC chairperson Muriel Eason could call for a vote, Weiler asked for more discussion and input from the audience.
“I just think that your perspective,” Murri said to Lindblad, “on looking at the plan, and looking at it from the community perspective, would be invaluable.”
Audience member Ken Vickerstaff argued, “You’re at a very focal point with this Reservoir Hill initiative and I would just caution, while Rich’s input is invaluable, that it not appear to be an endorsement, one way or the other. This finance committee is tasked with bringing that endorsement to the community, and the community is very polarized.”
The room quickly became divided along these lines: Those who thought Lindblad would be able to talk some sense to the TTC and town council and steer them towards a more reasonable alternative versus those who believed the entire issue was too controversial and could damage the CDC.
County Commissioner Michael Whiting added, “Having an informed and neutral set of eyes on the Reservoir Hill project would be great.”
Audience member Jerry Smith echoed Vickerstaff, “It’s unnecessary, and maybe unwise, for the CDC to get in the middle of something that is somewhat controversial. I think there would be as many of your membership against it as there are for it, and I don’t see the gain.”
When asked directly what the objective of the committee is, Fisher responded, “We’re tasked with finding a way to finance the Reservoir Hill project as it has been presented.”
“Then I retract my statement,” Whiting interjected.
“We heard some feedback in our last meeting that maybe it would be best to focus our efforts on things that are not necessarily controversial,” Eason said, “so I think if we get into this arena we definitely need to frame what our participation would mean.”
“This is a controversial issue,” board member Udgar Parsons said, “but the positive thing about Rich coming in is that he brings a neutral, non-biased, intelligent assessment to the table, but if it could be interpreted that we are all gung-ho and supporting the project as proposed, which is controversial, at this point in time we have said we are not taking a position on it for or against.”
“The request to have Rich on our committee,” Fisher clarified, “wasn’t to ask for the CDC’s approval of the project.”
“I don’t know a lot about the financing options,” Eason said, “or if there’s a fallback position or anything, but suppose we get into the numbers and the options and some things seem realist while some things really don’t and it doesn’t sound like there is any willingness to change the plan or … you know, is it all or nothing?”
“That’s why we’re doing this now,” Fisher assured, “to see what is realistic or what isn’t.”
“If any business comes to the CDC and asks for business help,” Weiler added, “it’s our job to give them our best information. If we don’t share our best resources with the community that’s here, don’t we lose in the end?
“There are a lot of questions here. First of all, is it financeable? I’ve heard a lot of what I call blue sky and sunshine, but I haven’t seen any real data that would get me to crack open my checkbook.
“But at the end of the day, we’ve been in a controversial thing with Wal-Mart and a Community Benefits Agreement, and we never took any position on whether Wal-Mart is good or bad for the community. We’ve walked the tight rope of this already, so if any entity were to come to us and say, ‘Help us review financial options for a viable business in Pagosa,’ shouldn’t we help them?”
“You don’t have to be appointed as a member of that committee,” Vickerstaff pointed out. “You can give the advice without wearing the mantle.”
“I think the idea of being an advisor to the finance committee would work well for all of us,” Lindblad said. “Not having a seat on their board probably makes sense.”
Weiler admitted the logic of this and amended his motion so that Lindblad would offer advice to the TTC but not sit on the committee or have a vote on what actions it takes. Murri again seconded Weiler’s motion, and the rest of the CDC board voted unanimously in favor of letting Lindblad act as an advisor to the TTC as they seek funding for Reservoir Hill.