In 1999, city voters authorized a half-cent sales tax increase to fund the Durango Community Recreation Center and the Animas River Trail. The city will ask the voters to reauthorize that tax in its municipal election in April.
That makes sense. What is not a good idea is to muddy the question by adding the idea of spending on unrelated things.
The “99 money” would continue to service rec center debt and fund completion of the River Trail, including the Smart 160 trail to connect Twin Buttes and Three Springs. It is not a blank check for natural surface or mountain bike trails.
Backers of the proposed Science, Theatre, Education, Art and Music Park have suggested the city of Durango include language in the ballot measure to the effect that some of the revenue will go to arts and culture. But they cannot answer many of the questions such phrasing would inevitably bring up.
In its conception and intent, the STEAM Park is brilliant. It would be west of Camino del Rio next to the Powerhouse Science Center and include a theater, amphitheater and classrooms, as well as office and retail space.
It also embodies further recognition that Durango highly values the Animas River and its environs. And, as its name says, it would emphasize cultural, educational and artistic elements that are too easily otherwise missed. It could become a treasured part of Durango.
But at this stage, it is a concept, not a project. There are too many unanswered questions.
For starters, what about access? Drivers have a tough enough time getting to the west side of Camino del Rio. For pedestrians, it is worse.
Anything as ambitious as the vision for the STEAM Park should have its own dedicated access for pedestrians and better access for vehicles. Where would that be and what might it look like? Who would pay for it?
Then too, there is the question of the fire station and River City Hall. The STEAM plan envisions using that land.
The fire station is a building meant to be used temporarily – 31 years ago – and needs to be replaced. In recognition of that, the city included $3 million in its contract with the Durango Fire Protection District, which the district can bond against to build a new station.
But there is no money for land. The station will need to be relocated to another spot in town, where the bulk of the district’s calls occur, and preferably downtown, where there is the greatest threat of deadly fire. Who will pay for the land?
The fire district is studying where that station needs to be, and the STEAM backers have commissioned a feasibility study for their ideas. But neither will be finished by the time the city needs to finalize ballot language for the April vote.
If the April vote fails, the city would probably try again. It can do that in April of odd-numbered years or any November. At that point, the STEAM effort could be better understood and might be welcomed to the ballot.
For now though, there is too much up in the air. Voters do not like undefined propositions.
But extending the half-cent sales tax is a straight-forward question. Voters already enjoy what that tax has accomplished so far. And with that, they can readily imagine what they will get going forward.
The STEAM Park is a beautiful and exciting vision. At some point, it should get public funding. But there is too much work to do first.
Let’s keep it simple, and vote on extending the half-cent for parks and rec.