The proposed STEAM Park was before the City Council on Tuesday. The acronym stands for science, theatre, education, art and music, and it represents an elegant and imaginative vision for Durango’s future. At this stage, however, it is just that – a vision – and it should be considered as such.
The conclusions of a study presented to the council on Tuesday were summed up in a new release that said: “Results indicate that the project is feasible on the riverfront property alongside the Powerhouse Science Center.”
From the project’s supporters’ point of view, that has a hopeful ring to it. The problem is that neither the study nor the STEAM Park backers have addressed several fundamental questions with that optimistic analysis: The STEAM Park does not own that property. What happens to the fire station? And, perhaps most central, what does “feasible” mean in this context?
Webster’s has two applicable meanings for feasible. It can mean “capable of being carried out; practicable; possible” or “within reason; likely or probable.” The dictionary says that second usage is “objected to by some,” so stick to the first.
There is a big difference between “possible” and “practicable.” Possible covers everything from eggs for breakfast to landings on Mars. Practicable is a real-world distinction – and the real question at hand. And there is little in what was presented to the council Tuesday to ease anyone’s concerns about how practicable the STEAM Park project may actually be.
For starters, the idea that the STEAM Park project is practicable presumes several facts not now in evidence: that the property now home to the downtown fire station and the city’s River City Hall will be given over to the STEAM Park, that the wretched pedestrian access across Camino del Rio will somehow get fixed and that something like $30 million in private donations will appear.
That last is perhaps the most likely, but the fire station is the most critical. River City Hall is office space and could probably be anywhere in town. The presence of an accessible, downtown fire station, however, is a question of public safety.
The need for the fire station could be served from another location, but it has to be downtown and not just anywhere. Quick response is the essence of emergency service, and wherever the fire station is situated must afford speedy access to all of downtown Durango.
No such alternative space has been identified, let alone explained in terms of cost or ownership. And until such a location is figured out, talk of the STEAM Park taking over the land now occupied by the fire station is not only premature, but wholly unrealistic.
The problem with Camino del Rio is not much better. Without the firefighters’ ability to stop traffic, vehicular access to River City Hall is bad enough. Getting there by bicycle or on foot is simply dangerous. And the Colorado Department of Transportation’s experiments with bizarre signals have done little to help. No realistic plan for that area can go forward without addressing that access.
That said, the STEAM Park plan is valuable as a talking point, as an ideal and part of a framework for considering future plans. Without solving the issues of the fire station and Camino del Rio, the riverside site may not work out. The STEAM concept, however, could – and should – be incorporated into thinking about other parcels and other plans around town.
And if that comes to pass, the effort and expense put into the STEAM Plan will have been worth it.