Nine years after selling its historic depot property for hundreds of thousands of dollars below value, the City of Englewood is suing to get it back.
According to a lawsuit filed Sept. 30 in Arapahoe County district court, the city claims Denver-based property owner Tom Parson and his wife, Patti, failed to restore the more than century-old Englewood Depot and transform it into a printing press museum in a timely fashion, breaking a promise made to city officials when the sale agreement was reached in 2013.
“Defendants have failed to comply with those promises to timely complete renovation work and provide a museum, community center, and public space to benefit the city and citizens of Englewood,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit goes on to say the Parsons “made multiple material misrepresentations” to city officials during the sale, going as far as calling such claims “fraudulent.”
Tom Parson disputes the city's allegation of fraud and said he and his wife have been “doing exactly what we promised” when they purchased the building.
“Things are underway, but the city doesn’t seem happy with it,” Parson said. “We don’t know what their agenda is.”
Built in 1915 to serve freight and passenger rail traffic from a former rail line near what is now the intersection of South Santa Fe Drive and U.S. Highway 285, the depot has sat vacant since closing in the 1950s.
Controversy over the renovation project dates back to before it even began, including when a chorus of residents spoke mostly against the sale during an Aug. 19, 2013 city council meeting. Councilmembers voted 5-2 during that meeting to approve the contract between the city and the Parsons, selling the depot site for just $30,000 despite having a market value of $250,000 at the time, according to the city's newly filed lawsuit.
In a statement, the city said it agreed to “a greatly reduced purchase price” for the depot and just under half an acre of surrounding land at the corner of Galapago Street and Dartmouth Avenue “because the Parsons' proposal dovetailed with the city’s goal to restore the centrally located historic building while creating a community museum and gathering place.”
But as years passed, it appeared work on the building had stalled, leading to further frustration from residents and city officials who hoped for a swift rejuvenation of the site. According to the city’s statement on the lawsuit, officials “identified a list of 21 promised improvements that have yet to be addressed.”
These include accessibility upgrades; connecting electrical, water and sewer, and gas lines; adding a heating system and water heater; adding additional restrooms; installing fire-resistant ceiling materials and improving drainage issues.
Parson said that list of improvements was a “vision of what we would like to see” but said those specifics were not part of his deal with the city when he purchased the property.
A copy of the sale contract, provided by Parson, says: “the buyer shall promptly proceed to secure the appropriate approvals regarding applicable city codes required for development of the property. The city does not and can not guarantee such approval.”
The city alleges the building has been found in multiple violations of city code “including hosting public events in a facility that does not meet basic life-safety requirements of building and fire codes.”
Parson countered: “What we promised was that we would buy the building and that we’d have enough money and resources to do fundraising to fix it up,” adding that while he believes he is keeping up his end of the deal, it has been “difficult finding contractors that will take on projects,” especially since the pandemic.
In a July 26 letter to city councilmembers and staff, Parson — along with a board of directors for a nonprofit that now owns the depot which Parson leads — alleged false and misleading statements made by the city regarding the terms of their contract.
The letter says nowhere in either a 2012 request for proposal or the 2013 sale contract is a “specific time period or deadline for construction ever mentioned or imposed.” The only timeline stipulated in the contract is for a preservation easement from the Colorado Historical Foundation to be secured for the depot within 180 days from the date of purchase, which Parson maintains was met.
“The extent of deterioration of the building’s structure was not apparent,” the letter reads, and goes on to say, “none of this very expensive extra work was expressed in the initial purchase price.”
The letter continues to say that the city “seriously neglected the property for years,” claiming the nonprofit and Parson will need far more time and money than originally envisioned to meet the needs of the site’s renovation. While the city initially estimated costs for such work could total $475,000 before it made the sale, the letter provided by Parson said the “full cost for renovation, remodeling and historic preservation cannot yet be totaled” as the nonprofit “continues to discover problems created by the years of neglect of the depot.”
The letter also lists several “construction milestones” for the site, including replacement of a missing wall; replacement of a retaining wall “to provide better drainage for the storm sewer; roof repairs that were “done, and done again” and continuing yardwork maintenance on all sides of the property.
The city, in a statement, said "despite multiple requests from the city, the Parsons have failed to satisfactorily address the city’s concerns."
“Filing suit was certainly a last resort, but the city and its citizens deserve the community space they were promised,” said Englewood Mayor Othoniel Sierra. “We’ve worked diligently to negotiate a proposal that would be equitable to both parties. But unfortunately, those efforts failed so we were required to seek court intervention.”
Parson said his July letter, which is 36 pages long and begins with a statement welcoming “a conversation with the City of Englewood,” is proof of his and the board’s efforts to maintain communication with city officials. Parson said the letter responds to issues raised by the city in “great detail, and they seem to ignore most of what we said.”
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