After a five-hour meeting, El Paso county commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday to pay $25 million for several buildings and a parking garage on the former Intel campus on Garden of the Gods Road.
Fiscal conservative Amy Lathen said she’d had several sleepless nights while considering the deal's pros and cons.
Ultimately, Lathen and the other commissioners concluded that the purchase was the most cost-effective deal for taxpayers and for decades would provide a convenient location for residents who use county services.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Lathen said before voting.
Under a complex 25-year lease purchase agreement approved by commissioners, the county could wind up spending anywhere from $75 million to $109 million in principal and interest payments for the former Intel facilities, at 1555-1675 Garden of the Gods Road.
The county hopes to pay back the money more quickly by selling off of some of its vacated buildings when the market turns around. “We’re anticipating if everything falls in place that we’re going to end up spending a total of about $80 million over the next 25 years,” said County Administrator Jeff Greene.
More than a dozen elected officials, as well as neighborhood representatives and business leaders, praised the county for its decision. But El Paso Public Trustee Tom Mowle and outgoing state Rep. Mike Merrifield, both Democrats, got a chilly reception from the all-Republican board when they suggested the matter be postponed so more public input could be obtained.
“Voters are very cynical these days,” warned Merrifield, who is seeking the District 5 commission seat being vacated by Jim Bensberg.
Merrifield said his constituents had a lot of questions about the deal, including whether it was the right time to make such an investment and whether the Garden of the Gods location was the right place to locate numerous county functions. “This issue has not been vetted,” he said.
Commissioners Lathen and Sallie Clark bristled at Merrifield’s comments, pointing out that there had been ample discussion. “I don’t see how a delay would make a difference,” Clark said.
While it’s true that county officials have been talking about their aging buildings for about six months, the actual purchase of the former Intel buildings and the transfer of many of the county’s functions from downtown to the new location caught a lot of people by surprise.
Wayne Williams, a term-limited commissioner who is the Republican candidate for Clerk & Recorder, said there would be ample opportunity in the coming weeks for the public to provide input. “Which offices will go where is still open for discussion,” he said. “Some of those discussions may take place over the next few months or the next few years.”
Under the plan unveiled last week, the county plans to move its various social services departments to the new location, including the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and the Pikes Peak Workforce Center. Also slated to move are the treasurer, assessor and clerk’s offices.
Treasurer Sandra Damron, Assessor Mark Lowderman and Clerk & Recorder Bob Balink endorsed the move during the hearing.
Lowderman also produced information on sales of commercial buildings from 2007 to present that supports claims that the county is getting a great deal.
That data show the median price for commercial space is $124 per square foot. In comparison, the county will be paying only $76 per square foot for the three-story office building and a water-treatment facility that will be converted to a storage building.
Lowderman pointed out that the $76 figure does not include the parking garage, which is a “very desirable amenity.”
DETAILS OF THE DEAL
• $49.5 million in tax-exempt lease purchase agreements
• $25 million to purchase buildings
• $11 million to finish second floor and remodel buildings at other locations
• Multistory parking garage with 1,060 spaces
• Three-story office building, with 296,000 rentable square feet
• Water-treatment warehouse, 25,000 square feet
• Office furniture
• Wiring for Internet and telephones
• Department of Health and Environment
• Department of Human Services
• Pikes Peak Work Force Center
• Clerk & Recorder