Firehouse future uncertain
July 14, 2005
Aspen area residents may soon get a new firehouse – if they want to pay for one.But the debate continues about what might be built and where it should be.If the vision of Fire Chief Darryl Grob wins out, it will be on roughly 65,000 square feet of land northeast of town with room for later expansion, and likely paid for by a voter-approved bond election.Talks are in the advanced stages about building a new fire substation at the North 40 neighborhood next to the Aspen Airport Business Center.In the meantime, Aspen’s city bureaucracy and the fire district have been engaged for more than a year in a delicate dance of negotiations over potentially relocating Fire Station No. 1 to a Main Street property.The district’s 6,000-square-foot headquarters has been at 420 E. Hopkins Ave. in the heart of town for more than half a century, and for more than 20 years there has been talk of moving it. Talks about relocating have revolved mostly around access problems that have worsened as the city’s traffic gridlock has worsened over the past few years.It appears that, for now, the fire district has decided the so-called Zupancis property, 26,500 square feet of land located on Main next to the Courthouse Plaza building, is not something it wants to pursue.”It’s difficult to make a definitive statement,” Grob said about the conflicting planning.But, he said, the last time the city and the district talked about moving the downtown firehouse to the Zupancis property, the city wanted the district to pay roughly $3.5 million for the land. That is what the city paid for the property some two years ago, with fees and other costs added in. The city leases the current fire station site to the district at a cost of $1 a year, a deal Grob said was set up in the 1950s when the city was desperate to give the fire department a permanent home in the commercial core.”What is the motivation for us to fork over three and a half million for a facility we may not need?” Grob said. “All of our attention right now is focused on making the North 40 parcel happen.”City officials, however, said they are waiting for word from the fire district about whether the city should hold onto the Zupancis property or sell it. The property was purchased in 2002 using housing funds, and officials want to pay the money back before the bills start rolling in for the planned Burlingame housing project.Grob declined to reveal the price tag being asked by North 40 developer John McBride. But as the deal now stands, Grob said, “from a financial standpoint there are significant savings.” He recalled that the estimated cost of building a new fire station at the Main Street site, including purchase price and the cost of building a three-story building with parking in the basement and firefighter housing on top, was about $11 million.”That’s a bunch of money,” he said.Plus, he said, the North 40 deal offers the potential for expansion of up to 10,000 square feet of equipment bays, training facilities, offices, community meeting and multi-purpose rooms, dorm rooms for male and female firefighters and possibly more.Later phases, he said, could include expanded training facilities or housing for firefighters.