Our View: Avon’s barn boondoggle
It depends whom you ask in a debate that has reached a boiling point following the Avon Town Council’s controversial 4-3 decision at its Feb. 12 meeting to move the barn to the former Town Hall site at an estimated cost of at least $1.5 million. This, after Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes said at a meeting just two weeks prior that it was clear that there was no appetite among taxpayers to use public funds to move the barn and urged against putting the issue on the local ballot because it would fail.
Opponents of the barn move are furious over the council’s decision to commit to at least $1.5 million of taxpayer funds for the first phase of a repurposing project that could wind up costing $6.5 million when all is said and done.
On the flip side, supporters of the barn move say that this was Avon’s final shot to save the “last remaining link” to the community’s farming and ranching past, and that a revitalized barn will serve as a revenue generator for private events and a gathering place in a town that badly needs event space.
There are valid arguments on both sides, but not putting this issue to a community vote is a bad look for Avon’s elected officials. It has the appearance of one more expensive embarrassment for a town that has had too many expensive embarrassments over the past few years.
Let’s not forget, Avon contracted to purchase the Skier Building for $3.2 million in 2014 before furious town residents gathered enough petition signatures to force a special election, then soundly rejected the financing of the building at the polls. Avon eventually wound up buying the building for less than half the price.
This was incompetence on a grand scale, and given that track record, you’d think Avon’s council members would be wary of repeating that mistake and ignoring the wishes of the taxpayers who elected them.
There’s also the possibility that moving and refurbishing a 110-year-old wooden structure that needs a new foundation and roof could exceed estimates and turn into a giant money pit. Remember the Nottingham Park stage that wound up costing more than double the original amount?
“Is this going to mean that we’re on the hook for six, 10, 12 million bucks?” asked council member Chico Thuon, who voted against the move.
Opponents of the barn certainly hope that’s not the case.
Yes, Avon could use a community center to attract various groups and create a sense of community. Yes, the barn has historical value. But preservation doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing game, and Avon’s farming and ranching history can be spotlighted in other ways than repurposing an old barn for more than $6 million.
You also can’t convince taxpayers that they should care about something they never really cared about before or even knew existed, especially when there are other pressing needs in the community. For starters, the $1.5 million for the barn’s move will be taken from funds slotted for Nottingham Park improvements. Council members often cite the need for bathrooms in the park, and the barn move will take funds away from that effort — at least in the short term.
Avon’s Town Council should do a better job listening to what locals want. It also needs to be more transparent with the public about best-case and worst-case scenarios for securing private funding, grants or foundation funding to offset the costs of this project, as well as projected revenue that could come from the barn as an event space.
Ignoring that advice could lead to a recall effort or another forced vote, which would be costly and divisive — although not nearly as expensive as this barn project.
The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Sales Manager Holli Snyder, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Business Editor Scott Miller, and Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd.