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The Pagosa Springs Town Council voted last Thursday to execute a lease agreement with the Pierce Mangurian Trust, the new owner of the downtown complex that formerly housed a City Market grocery store.
“Just to bring council up to date,” town manager David Mitchem began, “this ordinance is considering an agreement to lease the space adjacent to the old City Market building for a new visitor center.”
Mitchem went on to describe the space as slightly more than 1,500 square feet in size and explained it would cost the town one dollar per square foot per month to rent it.
“That space will still require about thirty thousand dollars worth of renovations to make it habitable,” Mitchem added.
“Just a point of clarification,” council member Tracy Bunning interjected, “the thirty thousand dollar estimate for renovation for bringing it into compliance with ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act) is being offset by a rent reduction granted by the landlord to be three hundred dollars per month for the life of the lease, so it is an out-of-pocket expense up front but it should come back over the life of the lease.”
Mitchem clarified that the reduction in rent would last until the entire cost of renovations was paid off, while the lease could last much longer than that. The lease is for a term of thirty years, but the town has the option to end it at any point with 90 days notice.
Bunning also reassured council that the new landlord had promised to complete a number of improvements to the exterior of the building within two months, as well.
Mayor Ross Aragon then opened the matter up for public comment.
Audience member Glenn Walsh, who has recently expressed opposition to the proposed community recreation center, said, “These are the types of conversations we will have for twenty-five years if we devote this much money to one project instead of investing in all of Pagosa.”
Walsh was referring to Ballot Issue A in the April 8 election, which would implement a 1 percent increase in sales tax within the town to cover an $18 million bond issue dedicated to the construction and furnishing of the rec center.
“This is our visitor center,” Walsh continued. “You can say downtown revitalization is this airy-fairy term, but no; it’s a real thing. Here we are talking about making a facility habitable or how we can somehow earn back thirty thousand dollars worth of investment.
“If you’re coming west, this is your invitation to downtown Pagosa Springs. If you’re heading out of downtown Pagosa Springs, it is one of the last chances we have to say, ‘Hey! Stick around. Spend some time here.’ This is exactly the kind of transformative stuff we should be investing in first.”
On a related note, representatives of the Chamber of Commerce were present at this week’s planning commission meeting to ask that the town change the zoning for its building at 402 San Juan St., next to The Springs Resort.
For many years, the Chamber has operated a visitor center on behalf of the town out of this location. While the town and Archuleta County have both contributed funds from lodgers’ tax revenues towards the visitor center operation, the Town Tourism Committee began cutting its share of the visitor center funding to the Chamber in 2012.
As a result, the Chamber announced last year that it would no longer be able to provide this service to the town, and the town decided to task the TTC with taking over visitor center operations.
This rift between the Chamber and the TTC widened even further when negotiations for the TTC to continue to rent the Chamber building fell through, and the town was forced to find another location for its visitor center.
The discussion at Tuesday night’s planning commission meeting centered on the parking area adjacent to the Chamber building. This area, including the grassy area between it and the San Juan River, belongs to the town, while access to it cuts across property owned by the Chamber.
In addition, the entire area, including the Chamber building itself, is zoned as open space. Dickhoff admitted he could not explain why the building inadvertently received this zoning designation in 2009, and recommended the commission approve changing the property to Mixed Use-Town Center, the same zoning used for the rest of the downtown business district.
Mary Jo Coulehan, outgoing Chamber director, explained that the Chamber has plans to rent out the facility.
In the end, the planning commission made a motion to recommend that town council grant the change in zoning designation on the condition the Chamber agrees to grant the town an easement so it can have access to its parking lot.