Shut Up and Deal

CU's secret plan to expand has Boulder in an uproar-- and city officials eager to condemn.

Most dismaying of all, though, was the city's insistence that 220 acres of the site should remain open space. "That seemed to me to be an exceptionally out-of-line request," says Frey. "The notion that you would have to give up over two-thirds of the property simply as a condition of annexation is really extreme and unreasonable."

Frey says he told several Boulder officials that if they wanted the land as open space, they'd have to buy it; but the city didn't express any interest in a purchase until months later, when Flatiron was already deep in discussions with CU. In any event, it's unlikely Flatiron could reap much from selling the property to the city. Although officials have shelled out as much as $100,000 an acre for open space in Boulder County, the average rate is closer to $10,000--far less than CU is offering.

Councilman Havlick says the city didn't see a need for such a purchase until the university entered the picture. "Now the threat is there," he says.

Havlick points out that the annexation process wasn't Frey's first skirmish with the city over the Gateway. Years earlier Flatiron had pushed unsuccessfully for Boulder to widen Table Mesa Drive--a move that would have taken out a row of houses in one of the more affordable sections of town but would also have saved a future Gateway project millions of dollars, since any traffic impact that occurred as a result of development would, under Boulder's master plan, have to be paid for by the developer.

"The city's trying to have developers pay their fair share," Havlick says. "By going to CU, it's as if Flatiron was saying, 'Let's put the city in its place.'"

But Frey says approaching CU with the property was Flatiron's only reasonable alternative in the face of the city's intransigence. And, contrary to Herbstreit's 1995 memo on the subject, he says the $11 million price tag was not an asking price but a final number arrived at after months of negotiation.

"I don't think we ever really had an agreement on price until after the appraisal was done," he says.

Frey also defends the $16 million appraisal figure; in the prosperous mid-1980s, he adds, US West had contemplated buying the parcel for more than $20 million.

"All I would say is that we hired independent appraisers," he says. "They're well-respected people, and they came back with that amount. It doesn't surprise me that that amount upsets people. If you thought you were going to get the property for nothing and then find out you have to pay, you'd want the lowest price you can get."

Despite the fierce opposition, Frey and CU officials argue that the purchase is still a good deal for the university and for Boulder--and they're not without their supporters. Some of the most well-connected ones come courtesy of the Women of the West Museum, which joined in Frey's annexation application last year after Flatiron offered the group a free ground lease on twenty acres at the northern end of the Gateway.

The museum, a much-praised effort to develop "the nation's first and leading institution devoted to tracing and interpreting the history of women in the American West," claims an impressive roster of Boulder movers and shakers among its backers--as well as five former First Ladies named as honorary trustees. Former U.S. Senate candidate Josie Heath serves on its board of trustees; Mayor Durgin, former CU president Judith Albino, revisionist Western historian Patricia Limerick and a host of other CU professors and ex-city officials are listed on its advisory and planning committees.

The group had been searching for a suitable site for the museum in the Boulder area for three years when Flatiron made its offer--a turnpike location that WOW executive director Jane Butcher and others considered ideal. "What a plum for Boulder!" enthused an editorial in the Boulder Daily Camera. But WOW's hopes for a speedy annexation were quickly crushed.

"It's been very frustrating," concedes Butcher, a longtime organizer of CU's World Affairs Conference. "It was obvious that the city was going to throw everything possible in our way as roadblocks." Still, she adds, "I haven't heard anybody say the museum is a bad idea. All the city officials I've talked to say 'Good idea, wrong place.'"

Yet as the Gateway squabble has dragged on, WOW has attracted some controversy of its own. If the purchase is completed, CU's property may remain vacant for decades--but the museum is expected to be built and open to the public in three to five years. The group already has selected an architect, raised more than $2 million in start-up funds and is gearing up for a major capital campaign. Activist Blackmore fears that the project, which is expected to attract 217,000 visitors in its first year of operation, will bring more traffic to her already congested neighborhood and further complicate open space planning.

"It's really not an appropriate project for this area," Blackmore says.
Butcher, though, says the traffic impact will be "easy to handle" and that a third of the visitors are expected to be busloads of schoolchildren. "I think folks have confused the museum with growth," Butcher sighs. "It's not like a company that would bring in a hundred jobs."

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