Since January, as part of our FOCUS 2021 series of editorials, we’ve been addressing the lack of affordable housing and housing for unsheltered people under the banner of “Beyond Our Means,” a reference to the high cost of housing in Durango and La Plata County.
But since the new City Council was seated April 20, we’ve begun to see a renewed commitment to finding answers to the housing crisis, which threatens to undermine not just the culture of our community but also is harming its economy.
It’s been only a few weeks since we celebrated the planned revival of the Regional Housing Alliance by city and county officials and the creation of a city Housing Division within the Community Development Department as essential first steps in jump-starting solutions.
On July 30, the Herald reported the potential purchase of a hotel for conversion into some kind of affordable housing, and at next Tuesday’s City Council meeting, councilors will consider a resolution toward making that purchase a reality.
The property in question is the Best Western Durango Inn and Suites on Highway 160, encompassing two separate parcels the owner, Brunvand Hospitality LLC, wants to sell together at a list price of $7 million. A 5.3-acre parcel includes the extant 71-unit hotel and an adjacent 6,200-square-foot restaurant building. Contiguous is a 56.5-acre hillside parcel currently zoned Rural Agricultural. According to a 2013 Summit Daily article, Scott Brunvand and his wife Amy purchased the motel in 2007. Scott Brunvand has a background in hospitality management, as did his father before him.
The proposed resolution calls for making a $70,000 deposit of earnest money from the city’s general fund, contingent upon the city receiving a $9.6 million grant from the 2022 Congressional Directed Funding. Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are supporting the request, which will be considered by the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Committee this fall as part of the annual spending bill process. The grant money would cover the purchase of the property and the conversion of the motel into apartments (and reimburse the city’s earnest money.)
City staff led by Nicol Killian, assistant director of the city’s Community Development Department, put together the proposal with consultant Jenn Lopez of Project Moxie. Lopez developed the Homeless Strategic Plan adopted in early 2020 by the city and county.
The proposal recommends finding a private sector partner to develop the property to meet the city’s identified needs. If the council approves the resolution, the city would issue an RFQ (request for quote) to identify an affordable housing developer and conduct due diligence before making the purchase.
“We’re not moving forward with a specific proposal right now because we want an expert to come in and help us with that process,” Killian said. “This is just to tie up the property and figure out what the best use will be. It’s not the goal of the city to be the owner.” The city would instead serve as the conduit for the initial purchase of the property. Only governmental agencies qualify for the federal funding. A developer could become the manager of the property as well, or hire a local housing organization to manage it.
If the council approves to resolution, the project still must pass a number of hurdles, not least of which is being awarded the funding – and the seller must agree to a contract – before it could get underway. But it appears to be an excellent opportunity for the city to create affordable housing. Whether the hotel rooms-turned-apartments would serve as transitional housing for people who are currently unsheltered and low-income workers, or for more traditional, long-term workforce housing, isn’t yet clear.
Quite promising is the possibility for more affordable housing development on the acreage adjacent to the hotel. Another plus: The property is somewhat isolated and unlikely to spark the not-in-my-back-yard pushback that commonly stalls such projects. It’s also near bus lines and within walking distance of downtown.
“There is so much potential here; it’s pretty exciting,” Killian said.
We agree. Motel/hotel conversions are working throughout the country, as we’ve written before – and could be a part of the solution for Durango, too.