Council warms up to ice rink improvements

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— Pushed by the recent boom in demand for its ice rink, City Council agreed in principal Tuesday night to begin improvements on the rink this year and swallow a potential 20-year debt.

The ice rink will get a new ice-making system and ice mat, in addition to locker rooms to replace a changing area in the current building.

George Bennett of the Ice Rink Advisory Committee said the current ice-making system was meant to be a temporary one and would have needed to be replaced anyway. During hockey games, the floor of the ice rink often melts into a soupy slush as the game progresses, Bennett said.

Use of the ice rink increased by 74 percent between the 1997-1998 season and the 1999-2000 season, based on preliminary numbers. Now over 1,000 people use the rink each year. The rink offers such programs as coed adult hockey, figure skating and youth hockey, as well as learn-to-skate programs.

City staff had proposed funding the completion of the ice rink by trying to get the residents of Steamboat Springs to approve a property tax mill levy, which would have had to go to the voters in a general election.

But with the additional promise of $700,000 in private donations and in-kind contributions, the Ice Rink Advisory Committee's proposal won out. Receiving the $700,000, the ice rink group claimed, was contingent on the city's going ahead with the proposal and construction beginning as soon as possible.

The city will need to get about $3 million to make the improvements, though the full amount of the debt payments may reach approximately $7 million based on preliminary construction and engineering estimates, Bennett said. The brunt of the payments would begin after the city paid off a large part of its other debts, such as the debt the city is still paying on its airport terminal. That airport debt will go down substantially after 2004.

The financing tool, called a Certificate of Participation, will work somewhat like a mortgage or a lease purchase agreement, which the city used to finance the construction of the ice rink. It does not need to be approved through an election.

Council was impressed by the ice rink group's figures on how many people use the rink each year and for how many different reasons.

"As a kid from Minnesota, I came out here to ski and everybody's playing hockey," said City Council President Kevin Bennett. "Let's go and finish a project that began 12 years ago."

Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell added that the opportunity to combine public and private funding, with $700,000 in donations, was too good to pass up.

At least one council member, however, felt the city should consult its residents before taking on a large chunk of debt.

"Many people from the community have said we should have elections to decide these things," said Councilman Paul Strong.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@steamboatpilot.com.

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