Council, locals share opinions on Skier Building purchase
AVON — Locals and the town council shared opinions with each other on Tuesday regarding the town’s commitment to purchase the structure commonly known as the Skier Building.
The idea was rejected by Avon voters in 2015 after the council voted in favor of purchasing the building — now called the Mountain Vista Office Building — for $3.2 million. With the price recently negotiated down to $1.5 million, town staff made the decision to buy it with cash already approved in this year’s budget. The decision appears to have the support of the majority of the council, based on statements made at a work session Tuesday.
“In addition to being the most cost-effective solution to a dated and depreciated building, the opportunities for community space both on the mall and the park sites are exciting,” Mayor Jennie Fancher said in a prepared statement.
“I have been a proponent from the beginning,” said Town Council member Sarah Smith Hymes. “I think this is absolutely the most exciting opportunity that the town has had in a long time.”
NOT everyone APPROVES
When the $1.5 million was approved in this year’s budget, town staff said it wasn’t necessarily intended for the purchase of the Skier Building. It’s a quote Fancher had at the ready on Tuesday.
“(Residents) asked point blank; ‘Is that to purchase the Skier Building?’ We were told no,” resident Angelo Loria said.
“No one said no,” Fancher replied. “The actual answer was there is no money being approved to buy the Skier Building, there is a line item that could be used for relocation or renovation of the existing town hall.”
In October, council member Matt Gennett said he suspected that money would be used to purchase the Skier Building. And he wasn’t happy about it. Gennett said he would like to see the $1.5 million Town Hall relocation or renovation money spent on trails and activating the town’s new stage, a $3.7 million effort which, now that it’s here, will require hundreds of thousands more in programming and operation, Gennett said.
“That’s where we should be investing,” he said.
Gennett didn’t offer an opinion on Tuesday, but council member Scott Prince came out against the plan, for reasons other than those Gennett has expressed.
“Specifically, I objected to the purchase price,” Prince said. “I am fully committed to getting the town a better town hall. We can afford it with no new taxes. That’s critical, but … I thought we could get it for less.”
It was an opinion shared by others at the meeting.
“Sounds like a screaming deal, but nobody has ever put an offer in for that building besides the town of Avon,” resident Robert Matarese said.
Former Goldman Sachs partner and Avon resident Mark Kogan disagreed.
“At some point, you either understand value or you don’t,” Kogan said. “And if you wait for other people to bid, you’re probably going to either be in a bidding war or you’re going to lose something.”
Kogan, who served on a committee created in 2015 to examine the town’s options for a new or renovated town hall, said he could help negotiate the cost of a remodel on the building down from the $3 million it was suggested the project would cost.
“I believe through prudent planning — and I’m more than willing to help the town — we could probably get this building finished for somewhere between $140 to $170 a (square) foot,” Kogan said. “If it were $3 million, I wouldn’t be particularly excited.”
Avon Planning Commissioner Tab Bonidy asked how the final product was going to differ from the idea originally rejected by voters.
A major difference from that original plan is the lending mechanism by which the remodel would be funded. The idea rejected by voters had the town using annually-renewed certificate of participation bonds to pay for both the building and the remodel. The new plan has the building paid for in a cash purchase, with tax increment financing bonds planned for the remodel. As is the case with certificates of participation, tax increment financing bonds are not subject to voter approval. A vote of the people was not required for the purchase of the building, either, according to the agreement, Town Attorney Eric Heil told residents on Tuesday.
“I don’t think you’re really listening to the will of the voters,” Matarese said. “I really think it should be tabled, and it should again go to a public vote.”
Town Council member Jake Wolf said he wanted to see the issue go to a vote, as well.
“I promise you, I did,” he said. “But that’s not in this deal.”