An exclusive club?
Pagosa mayor Ross Aragon welcomes the community to the CVC’s initial public presentation last November. Aragon and David Brown are co-chairmen of the CVC.
Leanne Goebel: The CVC plan mentions the importance of diversity, as does the community survey, yet some have suggested that the CVC is not a diverse group. Many feel that the Vision Committee is an exclusive club of wealthy community members. How do you respond to that?
“Trust me it isn’t that,” Aragon said. “Other than my friend [Brown], I would say that everyone is working class people. That could be the perception, but it’s not that way. Everyone is working and everyone is trying to make a living.”
“You can’t have everyone in the community on the council,” Brown said. “We have subcommittees that have kind of evolved. I guess my personal answer to this is yes, I did get the funding going, but since I started, several other groups and people have significantly contributed to this. I mean, Mark Weiler’s recent donation is an example [$40,000 for an economic study]. Had we not started, then we wouldn’t have been able to grow. I have been richly blessed by God with financial success. I started with zero and I feel an obligation and a responsibility to give back to the community. I think that Ross can attest to this and its been demonstrated time and time and time again.
“To me, this is how we help do something significant for the Town and we have convinced other people to do the same thing. So if you want to call that an exclusive club then call it an exclusive club, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about a group of people who care, who have contributed thousands of hours of their time and yes, lots of money, but I think that it’s the spirit in which this has been done and it’s unfair to say this is a club and a group of people that are pursuing their own self interests. That’s not what’s happening here and it’s evidenced by the result of this plan that is now being given to the community. We’ve basically produced it and are giving it back. Now, if it were our club, why would we give it back? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Dave and I have become good friends through this,” Aragon added. “I didn’t know David. I never knew who he was. My daughter had worked at Bootjack [Ranch].”
“The first time we met was at the first meeting,” Brown said.
“We said, finally we meet,” Aragon said. “But [over the years] what I’ve seen David do is I’ve seen him make contributions, big time contributions, to this community, all anonymously. To me that impressed the heck out of me. The other thing that impresses me about Mr. Brown is that he could have his kids go to boarding schools, private schools, wherever, and they are going to our local schools. I mean he cares. I wouldn’t be sitting here if his kids were going to boarding schools or private schools, they are right in the mix of the community. That tells me he is community oriented. But his generosity says a lot about him and his wife.”
Brown went on to say, he felt in his heart and in his spirit that what he and CVC are doing is the right thing and that he is at peace with his decisions.
Disclosure of Property Ownership
But I had to ask him about the controversy over the four-to-five acres of downtown properties he has purchased over the past few months. Properties directly involved in the future vision plan. And the request by J.R. Ford at the November meeting that all members of the CVC and the consultants provide full disclosure and map the properties they own. Wasn’t it a bit like insider trading?
Aragon responded by telling the story of a man who came into his office one day, crying because he thought that David Brown had bought the Catholic Church and was going to tear it down. It was a wild rumor that spread through town. Brown did not buy the Catholic Church.
“Anytime that David made a purchase, he contacted me to ask my advice and he contacted other people and said this could be perceived as a little sensitive, and of course we knew that some of these projects had been on the market for a long time. And a lot of these properties, David didn’t contact them, the owner contacted David and asked if he wanted to buy their property,” Aragon defended. “I knew if David bought the property he was going to build something we would want to show off to people so that they would make this a destination point. It would be done right. It would be done classy. And that’s what we need. I’ve seen enough fly-by-nighters that I don’t want to see any more of those. So it’s actually an asset for the town that people like David can come and buy and do things right.”
“These properties have been available for a long, long time, so anybody could buy these properties, so it’s totally not true that this is insider information, ” Brown said. “The properties that I’ve acquired and other people have acquired are obvious properties anybody could have picked them up. It doesn’t take much to know that the Sears store is a corner location and that it’s the entry to the town. To suggest that what happened is that we waited for the plan and then we bought the properties is just not a correct statement. It’s simply not true.”
Aragon went on to explain that years ago he attempted to broker a deal with Pat Parelli to buy the Sears store from William Seielstad. Today, Brown owns that building and several others in “ground zero.”
“Someone called me the other day and said I’m interested in investing in downtown and I don’t want to compete with you, and asked if I was interested in a property,” Brown said. “I told him I think the more people that buy property downtown the better it is, because that shows that people are invested. I encouraged this person. I said I’m not going to compete with you. I said, go for it. I didn’t even know that this building was for sale. So, I don’t know how you get around that mentality.”
“What are they afraid of?” Brown wondered aloud. “That’s the question I ask. What are they afraid of? If I own ten properties or I own twenty properties? Somebody’s going to buy these properties. There are properties all over this town for sale and anybody can go down and buy them just as well as I can or somebody else can. “
“David didn’t go and say I want this—its mine and be a land grabber. He didn’t go and do that,” Aragon said.
“I have people calling me once or twice week saying do you want to buy my place?” Brown added. “I’m not trying to buy the whole town.”
I asked them both what their future vision was for Pagosa Springs? Where did they see the community in ten years?
“My personal vision is that it’s going to be a thriving community year-round. That’s the goal,” Aragon said.
“I think I feel that way to,” Brown said. “And to add to that I see here in five years more parks, better recreational facilities for our kids, improved river systems, trails. I see the whole school situation changing dramatically, because these facilities that we have are in dire need of repair. I personally know this, that some of them are not legally up to state standards. Some are worse than others. I see better control of traffic. We’re never going to get rid of it but I think we can help it and make it safer. I see shops open at nighttime. I see people living downtown. I think it’s huge.”
Brown went on to say: “We can choose to ignore what’s happening here, but people are discovering this place, people are moving from all over the country to get out of the cities and into more rural environments. We can let them just take it over and let it happen haphazardly, as it has in the past, or we can create something unique here and preserve our legacies. I want my boys to grow up here
and I want them to graduate from school here and I want them to continue on with what Carol [Brown’s wife] and I are starting. That’s my own vision and I think it’s exciting.”
Then Brown added: “There’s been a lot of suggestion that we’re not concerned about affordable housing and that’s just not true, we are trying to plan areas where that can go, we want to encourage that. We would like to see businesses come in here to create more jobs, but you have to take control of it and create an opportunity in order to get them to come it doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen.”
How do we move forward?
What would be the one thing that you would ask for to help really propel this thing forward? I asked.
“I can tell you right off the top of my head,” Aragon said. “The one thing that’s got a little bit of a strangle hold is working with the bureaucracy of CDOT, that is probably what I see as the number one issue.”
State funding for highways is nonexistent. For many years there has been a theoretical plan to widen Highway 160 to four lanes across Southwest Colorado. Aragon stressed the need for those four lanes going up Putt Hill, but he doubted he would see it happen in his lifetime.
Then he went on to say: “We’re going to have to be persistent and optimistic about that and right now I’m working with Mark Larson. I met with him yesterday. I’m trying to do the things it’s going to require to get some funding, but I know it’s going to be hard.”
“I think we need to create a task force to represent the community and we have to go and fight for what we want,” Brown said.
As for what Brown wants to help move things forward. He said, “I think we have to start with the God given resources we have in this community: The rivers, the environment, the mountains, the trees, the forest, the hot springs. Most communities don’t have anything half this good. So my hot button is yes, the traffic, we’ve got to get that going. But getting moving on the park system, getting moving on the river restoration, getting moving on the trail system and helping the schools think through what they really need long term—that’s critical—because what the school decides is also going to have a big impact on the downtown. And we’ve got to get a handle on these [educational] facilities. I’ve got two boys in these schools and I’m very concerned about it.”
How can the average citizen get involved?
Since most of us aren’t members of the CVC, how can we participate in this process? I asked.
“Right now, at Town Hall, we have the renderings. People can go down and take a look at them. If they write down their questions and submit them, we can start analyzing them. That would be the first place to start,” Aragon said.
The conceptual plan is also available for download from the CVC website at http://www.communityvisioncouncil.org. And individuals can email questions and comments to Angela Atkinson, Executive Director of CVC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“After the meeting, a young group of students came up to me and said how can we help?” Brown said. “And we got to kicking around some ideas. Well, one way students can help is when we get this trail thing figured out, let’s have them help us build the trails. You know? So that everyone in the community is participating and feels good about being involved. If they don’t have money they can contribute some time. I personally would like to see, a much broader financial contribution from the community. If somebody can give us $25 that means they’re vested and they have an interest and $25 adds up.”
In the end, Brown summarized. “If we create more jobs here—and jobs are created by tourism and by people coming here and spending money—its’ a ripple effect, then we can keep the people here. I’m blessed, but most people don’t have an opportunity to make a living here. So they have to leave. Instead of saying oh, poor us, we can’t do it, let’s say, okay, we have a lot to offer here and let’s make it happen. It’s an attitude. Half full or half empty? We have to make that choice every day.”