Vail Daily column: I can see clearly now
As you know from my previous column, I urge residents of Avon to vote “no” on the Skier Building referendum. My hope, and those of other concerned citizens, is that a “no” vote will lead the Town Council to abandon its plan to acquire the Skier Building. My previous column focused on the value of the Skier Building. It seems appropriate to now review a renovation of the existing Town Hall, drawing upon information contained in the executive session report to the Town Council from September, which is available online:
• Renovation of existing Town Hall: Quoting directly from the executive session report: “Cost estimates range from $2 million to $2.25 million for a complete renovation of the three floors (of the existing Town Hall) … including a new HVAC system. … The cost to renovate Town Hall versus finishing the Skier Building are comparable on a square foot basis.”
It is hard to square this statement with that of Virginia Egger (town manager), who has argued that the existing Town Hall would cost almost $6 million to renovate. Ms. Egger initially argued that a renovation of the Town Hall would trigger a requirement to bring the building up to current code. When it became clear that this was not necessarily true, she then changed her tact and stated that even if this requirement was not triggered, the town has a policy of adhering to International Building Code standards and must renovate to code required on new construction. In reading through all of the Town Council information from its September meeting, I can see no mention of this almost $6 million renovation figure and a need to meet new construction code.
So the reality is that the town can save over $3.5 million by renovating the existing Town Hall vs. purchasing and finishing the Skier Building. However, the savings will be even more than $3.5 million, as the estimated interest cost for the town’s $5.8 million certificates of participation program is approximately $3.5 million over the 25-year term of the COPs. So the actual savings are $7 million ($3.5 million savings on renovations and $3.5 million savings on interest payments).
In thinking about this extra $7 million that the town wishes to spend, this money could be used to fund more childcare programs at the rec center. It could be used to fund an upgrade to our police and fire departments, which seems to be a much better investment than moving a Town Hall. It is equivalent to almost two years of the Vail Valley Foundation/Youth Foundation’s operations, which touches the lives of over 3,000 children in the Vail Valley. It is equivalent to sending 175 Avon high school seniors to Colorado Mesa University for a four-year Guardian Scholar scholarship (an organization that helps residents of the valley to achieve a college education). While I am not suggesting that the town utilize this $7 million savings in these ways, these numbers illustrate the benefits of remaining in the existing Town Hall.
• New Town Hall goals: All of the Town Council members who have weighed in on the Skier Building have taken it as a fact that our Town Hall should be moved. Why? What is the benefit of moving Town Hall a few hundred yards? These same Town Council members are also arguing that the Skier Building acquisition is necessary because it supports the adopted Avon West Center District Investment Plan of August 2007.
However, from information again found in the executive session report, “The new Town Hall building would include commercial/retail, office, civic uses, affordable housing and market rate housing. It will be one of the first of its kind to offer this level of mixed-use in one building.”
In reviewing this list of new Town Hall goals, are any of these really being addressed by the acquisition/completion of the Skier Building? Clearly, the answer is no. Therefore, it seems perplexing that the town is arguing that this acquisition is so vital, when it doesn’t meet the overwhelming majority of goals set forth for the new Town Hall. So why is the town so intent on arguing that the Skier Building fits with the 2007 plan?
The only argument that I can see is that the location of the Skier Building is on Main Street. But take a look around Main Street. Firstly, it is populated by commercial properties such as the Sheraton, the Avon DMV building and the new Wyndham Hotel. Is it really that vital that Town Hall be located near these properties? Will a move of this few hundred feet to this somewhat off-center location really create enough benefits to justify spending $3.5 million more in renovation costs (and $2 million additional in interest costs) than renovating the existing Town Hall? I urge residents to walk the area surrounding the Skier Building and determine for themselves whether this location is that much more vital than the location of the existing Town Hall.
• Use of existing Town Hall: The executive session report also summarizes the 2007 Avon West Town Center District Investment Plan’s thought that the existing Town Hall site could be redeveloped as a new lodging enterprise called the Nottingham Inn. Further, “other considered uses for this prime location (could include a) convention center, public/private partnerships with surrounding lodging, expansion of the park and parking.” However, the existing Town Hall is subject to a deed restriction that it be used for municipal purposes.
Further, how can the existing Town Hall be redeveloped when the police department occupies part of it? Unless the police department is relocated (where and at what cost, and from what money), then the town will have to continue to carry the existing Town Hall and support all of the operational expenses of the property.
So the redevelopment potential of the existing Town Hall is both complicated and almost impossible in the near term. The town has stated that it intends to lease out its space prior to relocating the police department and redeveloping the property. However, if the town’s space is in such dire condition that it must be totally gutted and rebuilt (necessitating its move to the Skier Building), then how could it possibly lease its space to another tenant? Wouldn’t that same tenant find the town’s space unsuitable for occupancy as well?
Additionally, a lot has happened to Avon since 2007. Hoffmann’s revitalization (controversial as it might be in some ways) of Avon’s east side has moved the retail heart of Avon more squarely away from the Skier Building. The idea that pedestrian traffic will somehow bloom by the Skier Building is suspect at best. Additionally, most businesses and quite a few nonprofit organizations update their strategic plans every five years. Might the Town Council benefit from reviewing the District Investment Plan in light of changes that have occurred since 2007?
• Aha … now I see: Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle seem to be coming together. Why after seven years that the Skier Building has been available since the Avon West Town Center District Investment Plan was adopted is there such an urgency and desire to relocate our Town Hall? No prior Town Councils seem to have latched onto the Skier Building following the adoption of the 2007 district plan. Dave Dantas’ letter in the Vail Daily provides some insight. Perhaps the town manager, through a partnership with private developers, wants to repurpose the site of the existing Town Hall. If this is being considered, shouldn’t we understand more about what is being contemplated? Will such a plan violate the deed restriction that encumbers Town Hall? And if the town manager and Town Council don’t recognize how they’ve contracted to overpay on the Skier Building, do you feel comfortable that they can hold their own against private developers?
As taxpayers and residents of Avon, we should have been privy to all of the information outlined above. We deserve transparency and a thoughtful approach to investing our tax dollars. Instead, we have been presented with an incomplete fact sheet, a referendum ballot that contains no information and a host of arguments that are half-correct and somewhat malleable. I encourage everyone to go online (http://www.avon.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/1742) and read through the information that is publicly available on the Skier Building and the existing Town Hall. With your “no” vote on the referendum, we can hopefully stop the town’s edifice complex.
Mark Kogan, a retired Goldman Sachs partner who has handled tens of billions of dollars in commercial real estate investments in his career with the firm and for his multi-generational family real estate business, is a full-time Avon resident.