Historic Salida, Inc. works towards saving the Unique

The following summary was provided by Save the Unique Theater and
Historic Salida, Inc.  It is being published to help communicate the activities being undertaken to save the theater building, the potential costs and options.  We believe the Unique could be value asset to our community both historically and ascetically. If the Unique is important to you, get involved.   You can learn more about Historic Salida Inc. by visiting their website. -ss

Save the Unique! June 15, 2010 Update


Public comment was held at the opening of the meeting.

Jim Miller spoke on behalf of Save the Unique Theater. His major points were that saving the Unique will require private/public partnerships. There are apparently private developers actively interested. Grant funds will be available after purchase. The entire building can be saved, although it might be not be economically feasible to save the rear portion. Don’t penalize the entire community because of one person’s inability to conduct business.

Katy Grether spoke on behalf of Historic Salida, Inc. She reiterated the mission and purpose of HSI, and explained that HSI’s role in this case is to facilitate ways and means to stabilize and adaptively reuse at least part of it. She said people are cautiously optimistic. Grants will be available to save the building. This is a threat to a major resource. She hopes the City Council will step up.

Cena B. Troutman, Regent of the Chipeta  Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, who has lived in Salida all her life, says DAR is interested in historic preservation, and interested in keeping the Unique. We were all off-guard when we lost the depot. Let’s don’t be off-guard now.

Elizabeth Ritchie spoke from her experience as theater manager for the Steam Plant. She has a deep love for historic structures. She talked to many people about how 40 citizens raised $40,000 to save the Steam Plant, and it became a beautiful facility. There was vision and commitment, even though they had no idea what use they were saving it for. The same thing needs to happen with the Unique.

Cheryl Brown-Kovacic spoke as chair of the Chaffee County Heritage Area Advisory Board, which manages the county heritage area as well as the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway. The Unique is on the byway, and could be one of its highlights. It has a special role in the community besides its architecture – due to long-time local experience that has fostered nostalgia for the building. The alternative of not saving the theater, which is demolition, would leave an eyesore. Businesses are being fixed up, the new maintenance code is working, and demolishing the Unique would go against all the effort to upgrade the downtown. There is a time factor involved which will make it difficult to obtain grant funds. Cheryl urges development of a coalition including the City – public, private, non-profits.

Jack Chivvis said when he came to Salida 30 years ago nobody cared about historic preservation. The depot and the building where Pueblo Bank is were torn down. Those are tougher buildings than people thought they were. He didn’t think that at this time, when historic preservation has been recognized as important to Salida, that we would be losing a building. If it went down it would be like a punch in the gut. Jack encouraged the city to work with the owner and the community to save the Unique.

Bryce Turnbull has a business across from the Unique. People stop at his business to ask what is happening with it. It is the heart of downtown, and once it is torn down it can never be re-created.

City Attorney and City Administrator presentations

The Unique Timeline Update was near the end of the agenda, and presented by the City Attorney and City Administrator. There was no discussion with citizens during this presentation and there was very little discussion among them and Council.

Gist of the presentations: The Unique Theater building is unsafe. This is a procedural, not a political, action.  It is hoped the owner will remediate or demolish it, so it won’t go into the City’s hands. The owner apparently prefers to demolish it. A demolition permit has not yet been obtained. Asbestos abatement will also be needed prior to demolition.

If demolition doesn’t happen, then after August 30 the City must take action to remediate or demolish on behalf of the owner. There is a significant risk after that date due to snow load, which the roof probably cannot support.

After remediation or demolition there would still be encumbrances on the property. There is a first mortgage for $140,000. It is unclear what would be the timeline for foreclosure on the mechanic’s lien on the property, which is approximately $42,000.  There are also unpaid taxes. The City would be in at least third position.

When the building was originally condemned several years ago, the City infused cash to try to stabilize it. Beams were installed, and the front third was re-roofed. No inspections were done on this structural work . Approvals were given to rehab the façade and do maintenance work. The HPC also approved tearing down the back portion of the building.

More recently, the owner was cited under the property maintenance code. Letters were sent in 2009 and 2010. Staff worked with the owner to get the façade work done. The condemnation and the maintenance code violations are two separate issues. Most important, neither issue has been addressed.

The record of events related to the Unique is on the City website. Go to Document Library à Minutes, Agendas & Packets à City Council Packet 2010-06-15. The link is http://cityofsalida.com/_site/wp-content/uploads/CityCouncilPacket20100615.pdf . The portion pertaining to the Unique Theater begins on page 84.

The attorney stressed that the most recent set of events is an administrative process. City Council has no control over it, because they are not the Building Official, County Health, or Engineers. The order was based on an inspection that determined that the building is unsafe per the International Building Code. The Chaffee County Building Inspector issued the notice and order. The order is that the deficiencies must be remediated or the building demolished by August 30, 2010.

If action isn’t taken by the owner, the City must take action. Estimates for after August 30 include:

Rough estimates for demolition, from Diesslin (with a number of caveats):

* $ 162,000 – Complete demolition including landfill costs and backfilling site, but not including hazardous material remediation, major structural problems in adjacent buildings, and engineering for shoring and stabilizing or permits, etc. (A ballpark amount for demolishing the front portion of the building is $76,700.)

* $10,000 – Structural engineer to determine how to take down the building, and to evaluate the front half.

* $40,000 – Asbestos remediation, other environmental issues.

This totals between $81,000 and $210,000.

On top of that, the first mortgage and mechanics and tax liens total around $230,000.  An estimate for resolving the property maintenance issues on the façade was around $100,000 [which seems high to some of us familiar with historic preservation, but then we don’t know what the violations are], and legal fees of $20,000 or more. This comes to around $660,000 for a vacant lot. Sorting out the estimates so the front portion is left, the interior would need to be rehabbed for maybe $100,000  before it is leasable, with costs to that point of around $550,000.

Those funds have not been budgeted by the City. This would be 5% of the current budget to demolish the building and end up with a vacant lot. Even more expenses will have to be taken out of the budget to cover the cost. And this will begin to occur in approximately 65 days.

Informal discussions after the meeting

Several STUT (“Save the Unique Theater”) participants noticed that the alternative of remediation was not presented, only demolition of all or part of the building. Apparently the stabilization-mothball alternative had not been considered.

There was frustration that there was not an opportunity for open discussion with the City Council. This type of exchange would be possible at a Council work session, at which no decisions are made but discussions can be held.

An alternative scenario is needed that would provide for stabilizing the entire building and addressing the maintenance code issues, to see how it would measure up against the existing demolition estimates. If the building is no longer dangerous it can survive indefinitely until a viable development scenario can be identified. Jim Miller and a small ad hoc group will flesh out this type of scenario to present to the City Council at a work session in the near future.

The Citizen is happy to provide a forum for comments and discussion. Please be civil, truthful, and relevant. Please suggest removal of comments that violate these standards. Real names are appreciated.