Mountain area readying for Grand impacts

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Merchants at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area are working to adjust to a new era the arrival of the Steamboat Grand Hotel.

Members of the Mountain Business Association met at the Tugboat last week to talk about a test plan to manage the influx of pedestrians the hotel will bring to Mount Werner Circle, Ski Time Square and Gondola Square this winter. They are looking for ways to make the mountain village pedestrian-friendly while ensuring the flow of private automobiles and condominiums shuttle vans isn't unduly hindered.

"We're trying to recommend a short-term solution with the help of our consultants," Chris Corna told the group. "We think we've come up with the best solution, and we hope you do too."

Corna, owner of the Slopeside Grill, chairs a seven-member committee that has been studying since April the traffic and pedestrian flow at the base of the ski area. They are working with Leyland Group, a consulting firm retained by the MBA to study the possibility of forming an improvement district to help fund infrastructure projects at the ski base.

The Steamboat Grand, which is owned by American Skiing Co., parent of the Steamboat Ski Area, will offer up to 412 guest accommodations, depending upon how it's configured at any given time. There are 232 condominium units in the hotel, but "lock-off bedrooms" with their own hallway entrances boost the total number of available rooms above 400. Consultant Bill Leyland told the MBA members the new hotel, set to open around Labor Day, is changing the dynamic at the ski base.

"The Steamboat Grand can be a tremendous opportunity, but it also has its challenges," Leyland said. "It has to assimilate itself into your commercial core. It has to provide the linkages. To this date, it's been the commercial core trying to accommodate the hotel. We think that dynamic is a little bit backwards. Let's think about what will happen in five years, 10 years."

Despite Leyland's urging that the group look further into the future, the meeting focused on a strategy to get through the first winter of life with the Steamboat Grand.

Corna urged those attending the gathering to keep open minds and understand that the proposal is only for a temporary test program that would be constantly reevaluated. He introduced a five-point plan to manage vehicles and pedestrians on Mount Werner Circle between intersections with Burgess Creek Road and Apres Ski Way. The plan includes slightly raised crosswalks at the entrances to Ski Time Square and Gondola Square. The raised crosswalks are intended to increase the visibility of the pedestrian crossings, but their edges would be tapered to permit smooth vehicle crossings.

"We've been assured by a traffic engineer that an at-grade (pedestrian crossing) can be effective and safe," Corna said.

The pedestrian access to Ski Time Square would be routed through an existing parking structure at the entrance to the commercial area.

"If we do this right, with the right signage and lighting, this could be a great asset into Ski Time Square," Corna said.

Other points in the plan designate traffic lanes for the entrance to the Steamboat Grand and Ski Time Square.

Ski Area Managing Director Chris Diamond has served on the committee of seven, and said the ski area plans to reconfigure the entrance to its parking structure immediately across from the Steamboat Grand in order to accommodate the new plan. By moving the parking ramp entrance to the southwest corner of the building, and eliminating a driveway with a guardhouse, there will be more room for both pedestrians and shuttle buses existing the adjacent transit center, Diamond said.

Another key point in the plan will dictate the driving patterns of both private cars and condo shuttles northbound toward Ski Time Square from Apres Ski Way. Under the plan, the right lane would be reserved for the buses and shuttles, and the left lane would be reserved for general traffic.

City Councilwoman Kathy Connell, who also runs a property management company, said she's concerned about an item in the plan that would prohibit condo shuttle vans from making a left turn out of the transit center and require them to continue around Mount Werner Circle in order to return to lodging properties south of the ski area. With the need to pause at the two crosswalks, that could slow the vans down and create a competitive disadvantage for those properties, Connell said.

"This could have a significant impact on outlying properties," Connell said.

MBA member George Noyer, a retailer, suggested that slowing a condo van by several minutes didn't represent a significant impact compared to the goals for the mountain base.

"I feel if we have reversal of direction (left turns out of the transit center), we're sacrificing pedestrianization of the area," Noyer said.

Committee member Bob Dapper urged those in attendance to keep in mind that this winter's test plan is only an initial step toward a final solution.

"Keep in mind, we were only trying to get to first base," Dapper said. "If we can't get to first base as a group, we'll get nowhere."

Diamond suggested that the next step is for the MBA to plan to take its proposal to City Council in the next 30 days. The gathering tentatively agreed to form a new committee to take the test to the next step toward implementation.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail: tomross@amigo.net

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