While long-term funding is sought for a pricey new multi-event center and fairgrounds at Durango Mesa Park, local officials are looking for ways to get smaller projects started in the next few years in an attempt to bring people on the mesa to generate community support behind the envisioned recreational mecca.
In 2015, Durango philanthropist Marc Katz purchased 1,850 acres on Ewing Mesa (now called Durango Mesa Park) – a prized flat, undeveloped area that sits above Durango with views of the San Juan Mountains, accessed from Colorado Highway 3.
Katz, co-founder of Mercury Payment Systems, which is now Worldpay, has said he would like to donate portions of the land to the city of Durango and La Plata County for the purpose of public use.
In 2017, La Plata County developed a master plan for the park, which would feature new fairgrounds, indoor and outdoor arenas, livestock barns, a show arena, a community barn and an exhibit hall, as well as administration and meeting rooms.
The proposal has been well-received by some in the community who use the current fairgrounds on north Main Avenue, which many say is too small a space to meet demands of residents.
The city of Durango, for its part, released long-term plans for an athletic and sports field complex, a designated space for a BMX course, as well as mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding trails, among other ideas on the sprawling mesa.
An outdoor venue would also be included as part of the project.
But county and city officials have acknowledged the challenge of finding funding for the park. La Plata County’s estimate for full build-out, for example, is more than $80 million. Representatives with the city of Durango did not return calls Thursday and Friday seeking comment.
While these long-term funding logistics are worked out, Katz and local officials would like to offer opportunities for the public to access Durango Mesa Park, so people can get a better sense of the place and the potential of what it could offer to the community.
Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said the county has set aside $4.5 million in 2020 for this purpose – funds awarded by Great Outdoors Colorado, which redirects lottery proceeds for recreational, conservation and open space projects.
The county hired a contractor to draft plans for a soft opening for the park, which could include a number of opportunities for horseback riding and mountain bikers on the mesa.
Graham said the facility would be opened on a more event-specific basis.
“The goal is to get something going up there,” Graham said. “It’s reasonable to think we’ll start this year, but it’s probably unreasonable to think we’ll finish this year.”
The main obstacle for Durango Mesa Park is the cost of constructing infrastructure atop the mesa, such as road improvements, parking, emergency access and installing electricity.
Of the county’s allotted $4.5 million, Graham said about $1.5 million is dedicated just for infrastructure improvements.
“That’s the big issue – you don’t get to see anything fun until you spend money on the essentials,” she said.
Cathy Metz, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said in a work session this week that the city has not set aside money toward Durango Mesa Park in 2020, nor is it clear if the city has developed a more low-impact Phase 1 like La Plata County.
But the city still has the ability to direct funds toward the project, Metz said. City councilors will hold a work session about the topic Feb. 11.
As of now, the land has not been donated to the city and the county, and it remains private. Once funding details are finalized, Katz has said he will begin the process of transferring ownership.