Our View: Move forward with Promenade | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Move forward with Promenade

Correction: The Steamboat Pilot & Today has learned that, prior to publication of this editorial, the city of Steamboat Springs and the Sheraton Steamboat Resort reached verbal agreement on the easement issues in question, rendering moot the opinion in this editorial. The Pilot & Today regrets the error.

The new pedestrian promenade expected to take shape at the base of Steamboat Ski Area in summer isn't just a crucial step toward modernizing the heart of our resort economy. It also is emblematic of the broader community's determination to make progress even as we struggle to emerge from a profound economic downturn.

It's for that reason we were dismayed to learn Friday about the impasse over an easement outside the Sheraton Steamboat Resort that has the potential to upset the construction timetable during this crucial season for the promenade.

The snowmelted promenade is the centerpiece of the $20 million project that is being built with public funds. It includes the daylighting of Burgess Creek and public gathering places rimming a horseshoe at the base of the ski area.

The project will stretch from Ski Time Square and the Thunderhead Lodge redevelopment site at one end, continuing past Torian Plum, the Sheraton, Gondola Square and One Steamboat Place until it reaches The Dulany condominium building. It promises to create a convenient pedestrian path across the width and breadth of the ski village for the first time in its history.

But there's a snag.

The Sheraton, which is owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, does not want to sign on to the operations and management agreement that every other private property owner rimming the promenade already has signed. Attorneys for the hotel are reluctant to yield control of an easement running between the hotel and the edge of the lowest ski slopes unless the hotel is absolved of any future liability for damage to the promenade and its snowmelt system.

They point out that heavy construction equipment that might be used someday to remodel the exterior of their property is likely to be heavier than what the trail can bear.

Yet every other property owner, including Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. with a gondola building that is overdue for remodeling, already has assumed the same risk.

The Urban Renewal Authority Advisory Committee, which reports to City Council in its role as the Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority, is rejecting a proposal by the Sheraton's legal team that a special operations and management agreement be crafted just for the hotel.

Committee co-chairman Steve Frasier said Tuesday that isn't acceptable.

"Our position is very simple," Frasier said. "Please sign on to the agreement already in place with the other property owners so that we can proceed with a seamless transition from the promenade to the Sheraton property."

He said that because the Sheraton, along with the Ski Corp., provided the original impetus for the base area improvements, committee members thought it was understood that the Sheraton was on board with the operations and management agreement. They didn't learn there were issues until late 2010.

The sentiment on the committee is that if push comes to shove, the only remaining option for the city would be to narrow the promenade in front of the Sheraton to avoid the easement and eliminate a short spur that would have led directly to a hotel entrance.

We think any compromise in the functionality of the promenade along one of its most heavily used stretches would be a regrettable solution.

Instead, we think it's time for Starwood to match the community's commitment.

Starwood has been a good operator of the Sheraton Steamboat for a number of years. It spent about $20 million to refurbish 191 guest rooms in 2008, and the hotel is a significant contributor to the health of the resort community.

Now, the city of Steamboat Springs has stretched its bonding capability in a time of budgetary hardship to invest in public improvements that will greatly benefit the Sheraton. And we remind its owners that in any other city where their remodeling projects damaged a city sidewalk or street, they would be responsible for the damages.

The cost of protecting or repairing the promenade should be built into the cost of any future project. It's only fair to their neighbors and the rest of the community.