Downtown space County-First National deal is a good one

Saturday, March 5, 2011 12:21 AM

Montezuma County’s purchase of the soon-to-be-vacant First National Bank building downtown is a good deal for the county.

It gets attractive, functional space for the county offices that need to be accessible to drop-in customers. It gets that extra space in close proximity to its current operations, in a part of town that otherwise has little room for expansion. It also gets to expand the court-related complex in the courthouse to create secure space to meet ever-growing demand.

And it gets these benefits at a very affordable price, $400,000 for 14,000-square-foot building. That’s about $28.50 a square foot, a fraction of what First National is spending on its new building in Cortez Plaza. Taxpayers are getting a great deal. At that price, even substantial remodeling is considerably less costly to the county than new construction would be.

This is a time when taxpayers have no stomach at all for spending money, but sometimes money must be spent, and those taxpayers are getting a great deal in this transaction.

There’s another, less tangible, benefit in filling what would be another empty storefront in the downtown business district. Office space has not traditionally been considered the best use of Main Street buildings. Then again, neither have nail salons and medical marijuana dispensaries. In the 21st century big-box world, all that has changed, and the best way to support the downtown business that still survive is to bring foot traffic to downtown.

The perception of nonresidents is important, too. Strangers driving through Cortez have no way of knowing that a successful bank has moved to bigger, better quarters on the edge of town. Without that knowledge, a big empty downtown building that looks like a bank suggests that a bank has closed its doors, and that suggestion is harmful to the entire community.

First National gains, of course, by unloading (albeit at a deep discount) real estate that might otherwise have been difficult to sell. Cortez has a very small market for office space, especially for large offices. Empty buildings need maintenance. They’re a tax burden. Absent the prediction of a near-term real-estate boom, it’s an asset with little associated revenue.

This is a transaction with benefits all around. It’s also one that probably can’t be duplicated in Cortez. Montezuma County won’t be in the market the next time a big commercial building empties out. Nonetheless, it’s the kind of deal that should be made when it can, and we applaud the individuals who put it together.