Lodging tax committees start meeting to recommend biggest bang for the buck | SteamboatToday.com

Lodging tax committees start meeting to recommend biggest bang for the buck

The new Yampa Street lodging tax steering committee talks about potential projects Thursday during the group's first meeting.

Trails group meets

The new trails steering committee isn’t wasting any time as it prepares to start recommending which trails the city should fund with the lodging tax.

Committee chairman Scott Marr said during the course of two meetings this week that the group spent much of its time looking at the inventory of proposed projects and coming up some criteria to evaluate and rank them at a future meeting.

“There’s a lot to look at, and we’re just starting,” Marr said. “There’s not a lot of money and a lot of stuff that needs to get done. We’re going to be dealing with limited resources.”

At least initially, the group will be under a tight timeline.

Marr said the committee will have to weigh whether it should recommend using any of the lodging tax to extend the Yampa River Core Trail south to the Legacy Ranch.

The city has an opportunity to apply for a hefty grant for the project.

“In order to get the funding, we have to have a recommendation to City Council by Feb. 5,” Marr said. “That’s something we have to really kick around next Wednesday.”

The Core Trail extension project has been discussed by the City Council, with some expressing support for the use of lodging tax dollars on it but others wanting to find a different funding source because of the big price tag.

The city’s lodging tax is expected to generate at least $5.1 million for trails projects during the next decade.

The city estimates that the entire portfolio of all the trail projects presented by the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance totals more than $20 million.

— Fourteen community members have started helping the city of Steamboat Springs decide how to get the biggest bang for its buck when it uses its lodging tax to start building a promenade on Yampa Street and new trails.

As they shuffled through a thick stack of papers and schematics of the proposed promenade Thursday in Centennial Hall, the Yampa Street steering committee waded into that task slowly by reviewing past plans to improve Yampa that date back to the 1980s.

Planning Director Tyler Gibbs clearly was excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.

"This certainly isn’t a new idea by any means," Gibbs said about improving Yampa to make it more pedestrian friendly. "But it’s gotten a lot of great new creative energy over the last 18 months."

Realizing that the entire promenade plan is "more ambitious" than the money it will receive from the lodging tax, much of the committee’s initial conversations Thursday focused on finding other funding sources for the multi-million project.

The possibilities included grants, transfer of development rights and tax increment financing that could benefit the entire downtown area, not just Yampa.

The committee’s ultimate task is to help identify the best use of lodging tax dollars to get things started.

Committee member Stuart Handloff said it will be important for the city to very quickly show results from the spending of the lodging tax.

"If all you end up with here is a plan and a piece of property, I think people are going to be disappointed," Handloff said. "People are interested in what’s going up on the ground."

Based on the ballot language approved by voters in November, the lodging tax committee is limited to choose only from the items included in a broad plan to construct a promenade on Yampa Street and add new pocket parks.

At least three members of the committee already have indicated they’d like the first expenditure to be the purchase of a vacant lot at Seventh and Yampa streets that could become a park to host events and accommodate a stage.

It also could become a place to install a new bridge to better connect Howelsen Hill and downtown.

"We look at this as priming the pump," committee member Chris Paoli said, adding that many pieces of the promenade could start falling into place in the coming years after the land purchase.

Committee members Mark Scully and Jarrett Duty also are proponents of using the tax to purchase the lot at Seventh Street.

But other committee members, such as attorney Jill Brabec, have indicated they’d like to take some more time looking into other possibilities for the lodging tax money.

Brabec said the committee should seek to get more community input on what part of the project they’d like to see funded.

After appointing Jason Lacy the chair of the committee, the group resolved to meet again at 1:30 p.m. Monday in Centennial Hall.

The meetings are open to the public.