Plans for a new multi-event center and fairgrounds at Durango Mesa Park came into sharper focus this year; now, government officials are turning their attention to funding mechanisms for the envisioned recreational mecca.
La Plata County has identified $3 million in seed money that could be used to match other grants and implement some parts of the project next year. But officials caution the project will be done in phases and require a lot of money that has not yet been identified.
In 2015, Durango philanthropist Marc Katz purchased 1,850 acres on Ewing Mesa (now called Durango Mesa Park) – a prized flat, undeveloped area that sits above Durango with views of the San Juan Mountains, accessed from Colorado Highway 3.
Katz, co-founder of Mercury Payment Systems, which is now Worldpay, has said he would like to donate portions of the land to the city of Durango and La Plata County for the purpose of public use.
Within the past year, both the city and La Plata County have fine-tuned what kinds of development they would like to see built at Durango Mesa Park.
La Plata County developed a “master plan” that features a new fairgrounds, indoor and outdoor arenas, livestock barns, a show arena, a community barn, an exhibit hall as well as administration and meeting rooms.
The city, for its part, released long-term plans for an athletic and sports field complex, a designated space for a BMX course, as well as mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding trails, among other ideas.
With the lofty planning and wish list of projects complete, the city and county now turn their attention to funding.
La Plata County hopes to kick start that process in 2019. La Plata County commissioners set aside an estimated $3 million from the conservation trust fund to go toward the project, said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for the county.
Money in the conservation trust fund comes from Great Outdoors Colorado lottery proceeds that can be used only on approved projects that are recreational, conservation and open space in nature.
“This is exactly what these funds were intended for,” said La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt. “We see this as the spark to get things started ... and demonstrates the county is very serious about moving forward.”
Graham said, “The hope is that the city will do the same, and then those combined funds can be leveraged with additional GOCO grants to get some initial investment in the project.”
Amber Blake, assistant city manager, said the city of Durango doesn’t have any funds allotted for the Durango Mesa Park project, mostly because of larger budgetary woes plaguing the city.
“We don’t have money in our general fund reserves to do that,” Blake said.
Both the city of Durango and La Plata County are scheduled to adopt their proposed budgets in December.
La Plata County’s forward-thinking approach as it relates to funding Durango Mesa Park signals momentum to moving forward with the project, said Moira Compton, Katz’s assistant.
“He would like to see where the city and county can come forward with funds to get us to a Phase 1 of a plan,” she said.
As of now, the land has not been donated to the city and the county, and remains private, Compton said. Once funding details are finalized, Katz can begin the process of transferring ownership, she said.
Last week, the Colorado Cycling League state championship races were held at Durango Mesa Park.
“That’s exactly what Mark envisions for this mesa,” Compton said. “To become an economic driver for our entire community, and for all sorts of events that contribute to different groups that live in and enjoy this community.”
For La Plata County’s side of the project, a cost estimate showed the new multi-event center and fairgrounds could end up costing more than $80 million. It is unclear if the city of Durango has a similar estimate for its proposed plan.
Both the city and the county have said the project would need to be completed in stages.
“The numbers look pretty big, but if we think outside the box, we can figure out how to do it,” La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake said in a previous interview.