Advocacy Articles

November 24, 2014 - 11:50am PST

Picking Up STEAM in Durango, CO

Organizers of the proposed Science, Theatre, Education, Art and Music Park have asked the city to consider including a phrase in a sales tax ballot measure that would specifically target arts and culture projects to benefit from future revenue. Some city officials, however, don’t support that. 

In April, the city will ask voters to reauthorize a half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for Durango Parks and Recreation projects, maintenance and operations. The sales tax increase was first approved in 1999. It helps fund the Durango Community Recreation Center and the ongoing construction of the Animas River Trail. 

STEAM Park organizers want the ballot measure to state that some revenue will be used for arts and culture.

“Including some culture would help round out the community,” Cathi Cox a member of the STEAM Park Board told the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on Wednesday.

The STEAM Park is proposed to be built next to the Powerhouse Science Center on Camino del Rio. It would include a theater, amphitheater, classrooms, office and retail space.

The idea to earmark money for arts and cultural projects came up again on Thursday in a joint session with Durango City Council. A few advisory board members supported the proposal. But many voiced concern that it would open the door to far too many potential beneficiaries. Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz and the attorney who helps write ballot questions share the concern. 

One option would be to name the STEAM Park as a specific beneficiary of the funds. However, a feasibility study for the park will not be completed until after the ballot language has to be approved in February. So, city officials would not be able to give voters a clear picture of the STEAM Park requirements. 

“There’s a lot of parts and pieces that would have to come in to make it a real project,” Metz said. 

In particular, the Durango Fire Department station and River City Hall would have to be relocated before the park could be built. 

Terry Bacon, president of the STEAM park board, said he’s optimistic about receiving public funds. 

“We don’t feel anything has been decided yet,” he said. 

Even if the STEAM Park can’t be included as a beneficiary of a reauthorized half-cent sales tax, he said the project deserves some govnerment support. 

“But what form that takes I don’t know,” he said. 

The STEAM Park board also is exploring funding from the state, corporations, foundations and private donors. 

Public funding would likely help subsidize the park’s operations, which Bacon said is common among similar projects. 

The city has supported the park already by helping to fund the feasibility study. 

“We all recognized the STEAM Park vision and initiative is really a positive thing for the city of Durango,” Metz said.

-- Durango Herald