While local governments and school districts remain in the running for federal economic stimulus dollars, rumors of those funds going to the planned Railroad Square Hotel and Conference center apparently are just that: rumors.
The project, for which partners Al and Carol Harper and Rick and Karen Langhart are seeking funding, was included on a Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado wish list when word of President Barack Obama's multibillion stimulus plan was announced last fall.
The partners need to raise approximately $72 million to build the downtown facility adjacent to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which the Harpers own.
Region 9 Executive Director Ed Morlan said his office, which operates under the Federal Economic Development Administration and the Department of Commerce, first included a $31 million request for Railroad Square because the project appeared to fit the criteria: It was "shovel ready," promised to create local jobs and also would provide public infrastructure improvements by contributing to the construction of a downtown parking garage and upgrading nearby intersections.
He said the request amount came from an article in The Durango Herald that estimated the cost difference between just a hotel and the addition of a conference center, which Morlan believed at the time would make the project eligible for the stimulus funds as was perceived at the time.
"They contacted us last fall after the election, and the framework was: What kind of projects could benefit from this kind of stimulus? And we had about two days to put our list together," Morlan said.
Private projects won't be included in the stimulus distribution, with the money being divided between transportation, public health, education and economic-development projects. Because the Railroad Square project is expected to have a positive impact on the local economy, Harper said he believes it should be considered, but he has no delusions.
"I didn't know they were going to (include) it, but no, I think there's no chance at all," Harper said.
Harper estimates Railroad Square will provide about 200 construction jobs to build and will add between 175 and 200 permanent jobs once it opens in 2010. He said he initially was excited at the prospect and sent letters of support for the Region 9 list to Gov. Bill Ritter and Colorado's U.S. senators and representatives.
"It's probably the biggest job creator we'll have around here, and I think this is the kind of thing they need to be doing," Harper said. "You build a road, it gives people work, but then it's done. I couldn't be happier with Region 9's support, but I'm still very optimistic we'll work out the financing end."