Former San Miguel County administrative assistant Nina Kothe and CDOT Regional Transportation Director Mike McVaugh ceremoniously cut the red ribbon at the newly constructed Lawson Hill intercept lot May 29, 2019. With plans to purchase two buildings on Society Drive in Lawson Hill, with help from a CDOT grant, SMART is setting itself up for the future. (Courtesy photo)

With plans to purchase two buildings in Lawson Hill for future maintenance and administrative facilities, San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) officials know the current tenants, specifically Telluride Gymnastics and Telluride CrossFit at 137 Society Drive, will eventually need to find a new space. The decision to purchase the two units, including 135 Society Drive, was discussed during SMART’s Thursday virtual meeting, as board members unanimously approved to accept a $1.86 million CDOT capital grant that will cover 75 percent of the $2.5 million purchase price. SMART will be responsible for the remaining $640,000, tentatively set to close Thursday, which is a more responsible fiscal decision considering taxpayers monies, officials explained.   

“Recognize that there has been some community pushback about the current occupant of the facility. While we have been very straightforward about our plans here, there has been some allegation that we’re killing a local business,” said Todd Brown, SMART chair and Telluride council member. “I want to make sure that the board completes our discussion of that before we go ahead with this resolution.”

The CDOT grant is unique in that it includes terms that will allow the current tenants to stay there through the term of their lease, SMART Executive Director David Averill explained, which isn’t typical, but something that SMART specifically asked for. 

“CDOT agreed to allow the current uses, in other words the current tenants, to stay in place for up to three years without any modification to our agreement,” he said. “I’ll be honest, CDOT was pretty keen on seeing us get into the space a little quicker than we may have been ready to. Given that we have good tenants there right now, a successful local business, I had to lobby CDOT to let us do this. This is something that I’ve never seen before in a CDOT grant, but I was happy that we got that explicitly identified in the grant contract language.”

The Lawson Hill location is in the center of SMART’s service area, though other areas were considered before the decision was made to go forward with the Society Drive purchase. SMART’s administrative advisory committee, “expressed their support on this project as a key acquisition that will help secure a sustainable future for SMART,” Averill said. 

CDOT may want to use the new spot for its Bustang service as well. If SMART decides to sell the property, CDOT would most likely be interested in buying it. 

“It’s unprecedented support,” Averill said. “They see this as a strategic location not just for us, but for the Bustang. My sense is that if we did decide to back out of this property at some point they would want to buy it for their use. I think they see the value in this location and the benefit to SMART.” 

Still, SMART officials understood and sympathized with how the business owners and costumers are feeling, as Telluride Gymnastics owner Teresa Brachle explained during the public comment section of the meeting. 

“We’re super bummed, but we also know what’s going on,” she said. “We do feel like this is a really ideal spot for us to be operating. We’re just at a loss of feeling like there are other options for us to go. It’s just a really great spot and a great community, and we love what we’ve been doing and feel like we’re a really great asset to the community.” 

Tom Watkinson, SMART board member and Telluride council member, said this is an opportunity for the gymnastics program to find a better spot. San Miguel County Commissioner Lance Waring, a fellow SMART board member who practices CrossFit and has a daughter in the gymnastics program, agreed. Watkinson and Waring offered to help Brachle in any way they can.  

“I completely sympathize and empathize with both entities out there. My family has been involved with both. I think that this is an opportunity, especially for the gymnastics situation, to find a much more appropriate space. It’s not ideal down there,” Watkinson said. “ … We have some time to figure this out. This isn’t a rush. We’re not pushing anyone out. We’re not looking to displace and leave anyone hanging. We’re trying to figure out the best options for all of the entities involved.”

Waring, calling himself “one of the oldest members of the CrossFit community,” explained his thought process before the action item was voted on. 

“If the building had been purchased by anybody but SMART, by a private investor, in the interim, we wouldn’t be able to have this conversation, so I’m sorry that we’re at the point that we have to make this really hard decision. It is heartbreaking for me personally as a member of your community and the father of a gymnast who is also deeply grateful for all the time that she gets to spend in that gym,” he said. “Coming up to this vote, I know I may be cutting my own CrossFit throat, and I don’t like the feel of that. I don’t like the text that I got from (Andrew Brachle, Telluride Gymnastics co-owner and Telluride CrossFit coach) a moment ago that said, ‘Are you really going to go through with this, huh? Is this the best thing for us?’ And, Andrew, all I can say is I’m not sure what ‘us’ we’re talking about, but as a member of both the regional community and also as a very supportive member of the CrossFit community I have to make a vote for the larger community today. I just want you all to know that this is not personal. It’s not a question of us versus them.”

Teresa Brachle held no hard feelings. 

“Thanks, Lance. We love you and understand that this is a challenging situation,” she replied.  

Though the tone of the comments could be called somber, Dan Caton said this may turn out to be a win-win for everyone involved. 

“I would point out that that building has not been maintained very well, and it’s our commitment to maintain it even better, so I think over the next two to three years they’re actually going to have a facility that’s in a little better shape,” the Mountain Village council member and SMART treasurer said. “I think rather than playing a funeral dirge here, thanks to the offers of Lance and Tommy, this could turn out to be a positive thing for those groups.”