Remember that feeling of power and excitement that came from playing Monopoly as a kid – buying, trading and developing properties, moving the tiny colored plastic hotels and houses around, imagining oneself a real estate tycoon? The board game had everything a small town like Durango features, including a railroad and utilities.
Since FIS Worldpay announced in early November that it would empty its 81,380-square-foot building and send the company’s 250 local employees home to work on a permanent basis, many community leaders are enjoying a Monopoly-like, bounce-in-your-chair anticipation over the future of the riverside structure.
The contemporary building, with an LEED silver designation for its environmentally progressive design, is the largest of its kind in the region and outfitted with top-notch technology, a small medical clinic, even a fitness center complete with lockers and a café. It’s impressive and seems just perfect for ... well, for lots of things.
Some of the ideas we’ve heard bandied about range from converting the space into condos to persuading Centura Health to develop a specialty treatment center to creating a civic complex that would house almost all city departments.
On Wednesday, we heard from local leaders that there’s a real chance the latter idea might take root, and the city of Durango and its residents could come out the winner in this “game.”
Michael French, executive director of La Plata Economic Development Alliance, has been talking with FIS Worldpay about the building’s future. French, Councilor Kim Baxter and City Manager José Madrigal toured the building this week with an eye for turning it into a civic complex.
Baxter is a cautiously optimistic proponent of turning the building into a civic campus. The city owns numerous buildings that a facilities assessment showed need major repairs or complete renovations. If most or all city offices were relocated to the former Worldpay building, the city’s older properties could be sold and either razed and replaced or redeveloped into combination residential/retail buildings that would be vitalize the downtown area, Baxter suggests. Whatever space city offices didn’t occupy in the Worldpay building could be leased to businesses, nonprofits or other government agencies, with a focus on new businesses.
French said Worldpay officials have indicated they are interested in working with the city and definitely want to sell rather than lease the structure themselves. The Durango building is an anomaly for FIS; most of its properties around the country occupy leased facilities. The company will begin by assessing the building’s current value.
Some FIS employees are still working in the building and need to be moved to shared working spaces, French said. The company’s data center must also be deconstructed. The whole process could take many months, particularly because FIS is doing the same thing throughout the country – sending about 50,000 employees to work from home.
An FIS spokesperson could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Many variables must be clarified, such as whether and how tax incentives or bonds could be used to make such a project feasible. But it is exciting to play mental Monopoly with the future of the Worldpay building – as long as one ignores the game’s goal of driving opponents into bankruptcy, that is.
Creativity abounds in Durango. Every quirky impact of COVID-19 can be seen as an opportunity for new possibilities, even radical shifts in the status quo. Beginning with the Worldpay building, we might even make this place – our town – into a beacon for other small cities struggling to redefine themselves for the post-pandemic world.