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Visitor Center move on hold

Staff Writer

The SUN would like to issue a correction to the April 3 article, “Visitor Center move on hold.”
David Mitchem was quoted in the article as having said that the Chamber would be willing to lease the current Visitor Center space for $1.50 per square foot.
Mitchem actually said $1.15 per square foot.

At the town council meeting Tuesday night, members voted to table the decision about moving the town’s Visitor Center from its current location.

Several members of the public attended the meeting to comment against the proposed movement of the center from along the river, to the commercial complex that formerly housed the downtown City Market grocery store.

Many of those who spoke during the public comment period apologized for waiting until the final moments to come forward.

The delay in action was summed up by commentator J.R. Ford when he said, “I, like Jeff (Greer, another commentator), didn’t think anybody in their right mind would pull a community asset like that off the river.”

Just two weeks ago, March 20, the council approved a proposed lease agreement with the Pierce Mangurian Trust (PMT), new owner of the former City Market complex.

The agreement with PMT would lease 1,500 square feet to the town for $1 per square foot per month.

The space would need an estimated $30,000 remodel before it could be used as a visitor center, and PMT was willing to reduce the rent by $300 per month to compensate the town for upfront costs.

The commercial complex was recommended as the new location for the Visitor Center due to ample parking availability, visibility from the highway and the opportunity for visible signage.

Public comments against the proposed move varied in presentation, but were all along the same lines: moving the Visitor Center away from the river would be a mistake.

Greer told council that moving the center from one of the most scenic and well-situated locations in town to a “run down shopping center at the edge of town with a $30,000 up-front cost,” did not make any sense.

Greer also pointed out the fact that the tax payers, who would ultimately be funding the move and remodel, were not properly asked how they felt about the move, and whether or not they thought it was necessary.

Lee Riley, another commentator at the meeting, informed the council that he performed his own informal survey of Pagosa residents.

According to Riley, “probably ninety percent” of the people he spoke with were against the move.

Cynda Green also commented, saying, “I think to move the Visitor Center to … basically a ghost commercial center, is the worst possible thing you could do for Pagosa.”

Greer urged the council to abstain from making a decision and to let the soon-to-be-elected town council and mayor, who will be in place by the next meeting, continue negotiations.

Greer concluded his recommendation by saying he felt fairly confident that the former City Market location would be available for the next month or two should the council decide to pursue the lease agreement.

Ford echoed Greer’s recommendation, telling council, “I’d encourage you to slow down just a little bit, let’s see with some new players in each of these organizations if we can allow [the Visitor Center] to stay [where it is].”

Mark Weiler also agreed and commented that, “Unless there’s some really good reason … to pursue this now, instead of waiting, I think we can wait for another couple of weeks.”

Shari Pierce commented, informing the council that she contacted two of the current directors of the Chamber of Commerce earlier that day, Tuesday, to ask them if there was still time to discuss the placement of the Visitor Center.

According to Pierce, the Chamber board members indicated that they are still willing to have a discussion with the town about keeping the Visitor Center in its current location.

David Mitchem also spoke, informing the board that, “We have received written correspondence from the Chamber of Commerce indicating that they are going a different route. They have said multiple times that the only way that they are willing to lease this property [the center’s current location] to the town, and they aren’t willing to sell the property to the town, … is [at] a $1.50 per square foot per month. And the town would have to pay for the entire building [which exceeds 1,500 square feet].”

The difference in cost between the two locations, informed Mitchem, would be approximately $1,600 a month.

Greer responded to Mitchem’s comment by saying that if the Chamber decides not to open up the topic of the move for further negotiation, that is their decision. But, the town still needs to make itself available for a discussion.

The council took the commentators’ advice to heart and tabled the matter for the future council and mayor to revisit.

Following the council’s decision, the Town Tourism Committee meeting scheduled for yesterday at 1 p.m. at the proposed Visitor Center location was canceled.

shanti.johnson@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on April 3, 2014.