|Condemnation threat hovers over Union Station like cloud
By April M. Washington
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
No one throws the word around carelessly, but it hovers over Union Station talks like a dark cloud. Condemnation. That's one of the big-stick tactics the Regional Transportation District and the city of Denver have threatened as a way of speeding up talks to acquire Union Station as a transportation hub.
The board of the Regional Transportation District backed up the threat in July when it passed a resolution directing the agency to acquire the historic train station and surrounding land by any means necessary if negotiations founder. "If within 60 days these negotiations are not going forward, the general manager will proceed with condemnation to get the land we need," RTD board member Wally Pullium said. "If we don't set some time limits, this could drag on for years." The station property is owned by a partnership composed of Trillium Corp., Union Pacific Railroad Co. and developer Pat Broe.
Both sides say they want to reach a deal by negotiation, not confrontation. "I'm confident the city and RTD will do anything to make sure the outcome isn't a negative one," said Clark Robertson, managing director of The Broe Companies, a real estate investment company. The first round of threats came in June when the city of Denver threatened to hold up zoning permits in hope that this clout could accelerate talks.
"It's an option," said Wayne Cauthen, chief of staff for Mayor Wellington Webb. "From the city's perspective, we want to reach a positive outcome through good-faith negotiations. We don't want to become a city known for condemning land." Both sides have a great deal to gain and a lot to protect. Denver has invested tens of millions into redeveloping the Central Platte Valley — major road and park improvements and construction costs in building Coors Field and the new Broncos stadium. But Denver's interests are not just monetary.
"Not only will we have a booming new development, we'll have a transportation component that will connect the east and west side of the city to downtown," Cauthen said. "All of that together will make downtown the hub of cultural activity and keep the city vibrant." But some RTD board members criticized the condemnation threat, contending that it could bog down efforts to redevelop the station property. Further, they point out, it could lead to years of litigation.
"The notion of throwing around the word condemnation as freely as we can concerns me," RTD board member Rick Garcia said. "It's clear that it's an option always available to us, but it should be used only at the end of the path." Still, Denver officials insist the heavy-handed threats, while they do muddy the waters, prompted Union Station owners to accelerate talks.
"We've never sat down as a group to seriously negotiate about the intermodal facility," said Terry Rosapep, Denver's director of transportation planning. "Now you have DUT themselves saying, 'We need to conclude the negotiations at a relatively fast pace."'
September 10, 2000