A day after they voted it down, the Regional Transportation District’s board of directors will reconsider a plan to sublease an empty lot at the corner of Broadway and Colfax for use by a new museum.
RTD said in a press release Wednesday that its board will review new information, including economic benefits the National Medal of Honor Museum could provide, should it choose Denver as the city to build a new facility. Arlington, Texas, is also in the running.
“We recognize that the museum locating in Denver poses a unique opportunity, which is why the Board will spend the next few days reviewing additional information before taking the matter back up for consideration,” said board chair Doug Tisdale.
Museum officials initially wanted to use the lot, which RTD has a 55-year lease on, for $1 a year. The board shot that down in August. Then, the city and county of Denver said it might cover the $123,000 a year RTD spends on the lot.
But a number of RTD board members on Tuesday said they still weren’t satisfied with that proposal. Some thought RTD should hold onto it for future needs, or at least try to make more money off of it.
“I just think it’s unfortunate when this agency thinks a break-even deal is a good deal,” said board member Vince Buzek.
The vote was tied 7-7, with one member absent.
Kate Williams, who voted against the proposal, said she’s received a number of critical emails about her comments from Tuesday’s meeting, where she questioned whether a National Medal of Honor Museum was necessary. Those were misunderstood, she said.
“Please know that I am not opposed to the Medal of Honor Museum being in Denver. My father was a U.S. Marine,” she said. “The question is not the museum. It’s a piece of property across five lanes of traffic on Lincoln Avenue adjacent to the RTD Civic Center terminal. I’d like to have more information about that piece of property.”
Williams said she’d like to know whether RTD has received other offers for the lot, or whether the agency could lease the land for a shorter period of time.
“I can’t blindly endorse the deal between RTD and the city and county that I know very little about,” she said.
Board member Claudia Folska said she’s been called unpatriotic since her vote against the proposal last night and told she’ll be the reason Denver loses the museum, if it lands in Texas instead. But she said she stands by her vote, and that it would be “fiscally reckless and irresponsible” for RTD to sublease the lot for $123,000 a year.
“What really RTD should be doing is out scouting around who should take a ground lease from us that’s going to pay market value,” Folska said. “We’re not a charity. We don’t have so much money that we can just give it away.”
Director Angie Rivera-Malpiede, who also voted against the proposal, said she’s also gotten calls from constituents — and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock — urging her to change her mind. But she said she also needs more information before she would do that.
“I’m not feeling pressure. I’ve been in my community for a very long time. I’m a native of Denver and I’ve dealt with issues in our community that have been really difficult. I understand the vision behind it and the commitment to wanting to have it here. My big issue is the communication that didn’t occur,” she said. “We need to be talking to each other before we make decisions we bring to the board.”
City and state officials, including Gov. Jared Polis, have been courting the museum.
“It would be an honor to have the Medal of Honor Museum in our capitol complex and we are working to make that a reality,” Polis said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with RTD and others to ensure that our bid is successful.”
Museum officials said RTD’s vote Tuesday did not disqualify Denver’s bid.
“We continue to evaluate Denver and Arlington as the two finalist cities and remain on track to make a final announcement next month,” Joe Daniels, CEO of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation said in a statement.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award given to members of the U.S. military, and is typically awarded by the president. About 3,500 have been awarded since it was created during the Civil War.