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Howelsen stakeholders to present ideas for revenue

— It's going to be a couple of months before the Howelsen Hill Ski Area discussion continues.

The Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday night tasked a group of Howelsen Hill stakeholders to present ideas at a meeting in January about how the historic ski hill could generate additional revenue and meet the needs of its users.

Steamboat Springs Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director Chris Wilson said he would invite the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, Steamboat Springs Nordic Council, the city's Ice Rink Advisory Board and officials from the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Partnership to a public meeting to discuss solutions for the ski area.

Wilson said what that group comes up with will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which would decide whether to present those ideas to the City Council.

Issues about the 30-acre ski area were raised Oct. 4 during a presentation of the Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, which included a reduction in the ski area's operating hours. Some City Council members questioned whether Howelsen Hill was meeting its potential. They also asked if it could generate additional revenue.

Howelsen Hill Ski Area historically has required an annual operational subsidy from the city's general fund. Next year's subsidy is projected to be about $660,000, Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark said after the meeting.

The City Council on Tuesday restored 5 hours and 45 minutes from the 9 1/2 hours previously cut from the Howelsen Hill weekly operational hours, at a cost of $13,000.

Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Jack Trautman previously expressed concern that the City Council hadn't given his group enough direction about what it wanted. But he said discussions leading up to Wednesday defined the Parks and Recreation Commission's role.

"I think having these user groups go off and do the leg work and analysis for us puts us in a much better role in making recommendations to City Council and how we move forward," Trautman said.

And he added that the Parks and Recreation Commission had a timeline to work within.

During the meeting, Trautman mentioned a New York Times story from Tuesday that indicated several community ski hills across the country are struggling. The story stated that Snow King in Jackson, Wyo., with about 400 acres of skiable terrain, loses about $800,000 annually.

Trautman said Steamboat and Howelsen weren't alone. But Wilson read a quote in the story from National Ski Areas Association President Michael Berry to illustrate that solutions exist.

In other action, the Parks and Recreation Commission:

■ Had its first televised meeting in Citizens' Meeting Room at Centennial Hall. Wilson said last month that doing so would provide more transparency to the public at an annual cost of about $8,000 to $9,000. The Parks and Recreation Commission meets at 5:30 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month.

■ Unanimously approved modifying the Bear River Parcel Comprehensive Plan to add a bike park. A park proposed by the Directional Development Foundation would include a skills park, pump track and two jump lines, intermediate and beginner, park planner Blair Seymour said.

■ Unanimously approved new field use fees for 2012, which include increasing rates for turf/diamond fields from $4.50 to $6.50 for youths and $4.50 to $8 for adults. It added new daily (10 hours or more) turf/diamond fees of $55 for youths and $70 for adults.

Other new fees were for layout and preparation, including $175 for initial layout and painting of soccer/turf fields, $100 for repainting of soccer/turf fields and $60 for dragging and lining baseball and softball fields.

Wilson said he has had extensive conversations with field user groups about the fee increases so they would know what to expect.

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com