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Housing and funding plans delay construction of Southside Park

Employees of the city of Cortez speak with Molly Somes from Connect One Design, which led the planning of Southside Park, during an open house Oct. 11, 2018.
City audits, pandemic, costs snag plan for park and housing

Construction of a Southside Park for Cortez, conceived in a 2018 master plan, remains delayed by snags in funding, housing needs and costs.

“Things have radically changed from when that park was designed,” City Manager Drew Sanders said last week.

Construction for the park, dubbed Southside Park, was originally scheduled to start in 2019 and finish by the end of the year, but obstacles such as a city embezzlement case and subsequent audits prevented the city from applying for grants to fund construction.

The city of Cortez announced in mid-July that it completed its 2019 financial audit, meaning the city was out of the high-risk audit category.

The audits had been slowed by the investigation of a case of embezzlement discovered in 2019. Former Finance Director Katheryn Moss later pleaded guilty to embezzling $63,642 from the city between 2016 and 2019. During the investigation and until its audits were complete, the city could not apply for certain grants.

The COVID-19 pandemic also delayed construction.

The 11-acre park plan includes picnic space, exercise equipment, playground, athletic fields, skate park, obstacle course, BMX areas and splash pads, among other features.

More recent plans included attainable housing in the design.

As part of the original plan, the housing authority would buy a third of the property, for a total park cost of about $6.5 million. Because of high costs, those plans fell apart.

“We had some small grants that weren’t really going to move the needle on it,” Sanders said. “We’re trying to think, ‘How can we deal with that park and deliver on what was originally promised for the park while trying to address housing as well.’”

Despite the cost, the city hasn’t given up on incorporating affordable housing and is working to see what can be done.

“Possibly, and I want to underline that about three times,” Sanders said, “possibly putting housing on either side of it (the park).”

This would split the park into three parts: housing on either side and the park in the middle.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s possible there so we can get the right partnerships and build that up. A lot of decisions will need to be made on what we want to do, what’s right for the community,” Sanders said.

The city also has been considering attainable housing for first responders and other service providers such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers.

“For those kinds of people that are kind of the backbones of the community,” Sanders said.

The Housing Authority’s plan for Calkins Commons, which includes 42 apartment and office space, is up and running in downtown Cortez.

Sanders acknowledged that developments at Southside Park have “fallen through the cracks.” He said the city is working to figure out what needs to go into the park to make it feasible, along with partnering with developers to build the park and housing after plans are approved.

The city also is working to prepare grant applications to help offset costs and partnering with entities interested in developing Southside Park.