Read Part One
Tourism is a major industry in Colorado. In 2010 more than 28.9 million people visited the state on overnight trips, contributing significant sums to state and local coffers. The majority (86 percent) of visitors come to Colorado on trips for pleasure, seeing friends and family, or engaging in other leisure activities...
— The Economic Power of Heritage & Place, written on behalf of the Colorado Historical Foundation
Imagine, if you will, a quaint little rural Colorado town called Stinkwater Springs, with big dreams of becoming a popular tourist destination.
The Town government notices that, statistically speaking, a huge number of tourists book their vacations at various beaches around the world — Copacabana, Waikiki, Cancun, South Beach — so Stinkwater forms a new government board named the "Beach Preservation Board." Several well-meaning volunteers sign up to serve on the board, and set to work in earnest, trying their best to protect the 50-foot wide stretch of sand located at the bend in the San Juan River, right below the Pedestrian Bridge at Centennial Park. The board comes up with dozens of new regulations regarding the use of the "Centennial Park Beach", including strict new rules about nudity, control of pets, surfing, and speed boats. Eventually, the government regulations finally get around to addressing the safety issues posed by swimming in a frozen river during the winter.
That's roughly the equivalent of what has happened in Pagosa Springs with the Historic Preservation Board. The HPB, from its inception, seemed rather innocuous and harmless in its attempts to preserve the "historic heritage" of Pagosa Springs. One of the HPB's first regulations involved the board specifying a palette of "Victorian Paint Colors" that would be allowed within the Downtown Historic District, in spite of the fact that less than 25 percent of the buildings were "Victorian" in appearance.
But things got rather messy in September 2006, when a potential developer applied for a permit to demolish the struggling Pinewood Inn Motel, with plans to build a new and more modern motel. The HPB claimed that two of the buildings within the Pinewood Inn complex had "historic significance" and that the developer ought to be prohibited from demolishing those two buildings. Such a stipulation would make the deal untenable, according to Pagosa realtor Harold Kelley, who was representing the potential buyers. The Town Council considered a compromise solution, whereby the Town would allow Mr. Kelley's client to demolish all the Pinewood buildings after two years — if the Town had failed to come up with sufficient incentives to coax downtown owners of historic properties to preserve their buildings. In the end, the failure by the Town Council to find an acceptable compromise killed the project.
You can read that 2006 Daily Post article by clicking here.
The old Pinewood Inn is still operating at the east side of downtown, but under new ownership. The HPB is still holding monthly meetings aimed at protecting Pagosa's historic character.
According to the 2012 Colorado Historical Foundation publication, The Economic Power of Heritage & Place, a sizable percentage of Colorado tourists engage in what they call "heritage tourism."
As far as I can tell, the term is used rather loosely. Heritage tourism is defined by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as "travel to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present." I guess such a vague definition would make nearly every Colorado tourist a "heritage tourist" — considering the general intention of Colorado tourists to visit places that are neither fake nor existing in the future.
According to recent data from Longwoods International’s Colorado Travel Year Visitor Study, approximately half the overnight leisure trips to Colorado in 2008 (11.8 million trips) involved heritage tourism activities, with visitors forking out about $244 million on cultural and historic activities — including $54 million spent on "historic activities".
But we might wonder if $54 million is really so substantial a number, considering that the Colorado Tourism Office — the state agency that promotes tourism — spent $20 million in 2008 on tourism marketing?
The total expenditure by Colorado visitors in 2008 was $11 billion, according to Longwood's 2008 study. That means that of every $100 spent on tourism that year, less than 50 cents was spent on "historic activities."
Of course, that 50 cents spent on "historic activities" were probably spent primarily in towns that have an authentic historic district — something that does not exist on Pagosa's Lewis Street.
Developer Dave Stuard wants to purchase an old house on Lewis Street and demolish it to construct a parking lot necessary for a planned restaurant. At last Tuesday's Town Council meeting, the Historic Preservation Board urged the Council to require Mr. Stuard to "document the history of the Devore Home... with mapping, plans and photographic records...", and "provide an interpretive space to highlight the history of the site, preferably in the planting area along the sidewalk where the building once stood...", and "archive oral and written history to be produced and made available to the public at the Public Library and San Juan Historical Society Museum..." and to make "adaptive re-use of historically significant materials from the demolished building..."
Only the last requirement, "adaptive re-use of significant materials" has any legal justification in the Town's Land Use and Development Code, so we might understand that Mr. Stuard was initially willing to contribute only $1500 towards the proposed HPB requirements. The LUDC makes no mention of "interpretive signs" or "archiving oral or written histories" or "mapping, plans and photographic records." The powers statutorily allotted to the HPB are basically limited to defining whether a building is historically significant. The HPB publicly acknowledged that the Devore Home was not historically significant. That could have been the end of the discussion, if everyone had read the Town's LUDC.
You can review the "Historic Preservation" section of the LUDC by clicking here (5 pages).
HPB member Chrissy Karas shared her understanding of the apparent impasse near the end of last week's Council meeting. She spoke about "preserving the story of the house."
"So what we wanted to do was an interpretive sign using part of the materials from the [Devore] house, as part of the story. But we felt that... $1500? What kind of a sign is that going to give us? We had Ms. Jennie Green here just a few minutes ago, telling us that the [Town's new gateway] sign will cost $7,000.
"We only had an hour to talk about this [before the Council meeting.] So we just threw out $25,000 as an estimate. We think the interpretive sign alone will cost about $5,000.
"We're willing to work with the applicant. We'd hate to see the building next door [at 468 Lewis] remain vacant, as it has for five or six years now.
"And Lewis Street; how much money have we put into [the Lewis Street reconstruction]? We put in... what, $1.5 million? $2 million? Do we want to put a $1500 sign on a $2 million street, next to a $1 million building? That's not going to cut it.
"So we'd like more time to discuss this with the applicant, and work with him. And that's what we're trying to do."
Following Ms. Karas' speech, the Council heard a motion by Council member Don Volger, approving the demolition of the Devore Home, and requiring all four of the additional conditions specified by the HPB, even though three of those conditions have — as far as I can see — no legal basis in the LUDC.
"And I would encourage both the HPB and the applicant to work together, to see that this project goes forward as expeditiously as possible," Mr. Volger added.
The Council approved the motion unanimously.
Back in Part One, I mentioned a joke made by my friend Glenn Walsh last week, during a friendly meeting at Pagosa Baking Company.
"Luckily, Pagosa Springs is undestroyable."
I had chuckled at the comment, interpreting Glenn's meaning as: "Pagosa has never amounted to anything — culturally, aesthetically or economically — so how could it be destroyed"?
But I got an email from Glenn the other day, explaining his comment more fully. Maybe it wasn't a joke, after all?
I think you are misremembering the context of my "undestroyable" comment. It wasn't a criticism but a compliment to the obstinate toughness of the town. Had nothing to do with any silly obsession with maintaining an ugly, remuddled building with some dry rotted logs, splayed notches and chalk dust chinking somewhere within.
Pagosa was a ranching and lumbering town and was built by practical people with the confidence that when a facade or staircase or roof or sign needed to be rebuilt they could do it themselves in a few days with no direction from a downtown design charrette, master plan or enforced Victorian color palette. No railroad money, no mining money, no oil and gas money...
Just a couple of thousand tough, conservative folks working three part-time and seasonal jobs and raising five kids in a 600-square-foot bungalow.
Many local families still do. That's what I meant by the "undestroyable" quality of Pagosa...
Well, there you have it. An undestroyable town... where "history" is a $5,000 sign in a restaurant parking lot.