A new beginning

Despite Emerald City closing, youth and teen programs will continue in other places

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— On Saturday, Emerald City closed its doors.

How long it remains shut or if it will ever open again is a decision the City Council will make this fall as it goes through budget hearings.

In the interim, the youth and teen center will be divided as the youth programs move into a modular attached to Howelsen Ice Arena and teen programs move into satellite programming.

As Emerald City was running out of funding in August, the city decided to move the youth programs from the corner of 11th and Yampa to a modular building, which youth and teen workers have now dubbed the Igloo. The Underground, a substance-free nightclub for people 21 and under, and The Dock, for sixth- through eighth-graders, will continue to exist but move to different locations.

Emerald City housed a large multipurpose room, offices, front check-in area and lounge room.

Recreation Supervisor Susan Petersen sees the move as a positive, but temporary, change allowing youth and teen programs to be separated and a chance for creative programming.

"I think the Igloo is very well received. I'm pretty excited about the programming spaces. Leaving Emerald City offered us an opportunity to provide programs in unique spaces," Petersen said.

But it is a move that upsets Councilman Loui Antonucci, who campaigned on the promise of saving Emerald City.

"I am not too happy with the way things went," Antonucci said. "There seemed to be so much interest in the community and I thought there would be a lot of offers to partner with the city."

It has been a tumultuous year for Emerald City.

Last fall, the council first decided not to fund Emerald City in its 2002 budget because of a nearly 300 percent increase in the cost of the lease. Community groups objected to closing the center and asked that funds be raised outside the city to keep the facility open.

The landlords, Stephen and Michelle Caragol, agreed to cut the rent in half to $3,500 per month, and the city has since received $36,000. The Caragols also agreed to extend the lease on a month-by-month basis, and the donations allowed Emerald City to stay open until the end of August.

In June, an ad hoc group recommended to the council to buy the Emerald City building, which has an asking price of $1.2 million, with a potential offer of $900,000.

Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wilson said the city finance department is working on ways to finance the building, and the council will decide this fall during the budget hearings if the city should purchase the building.

As the paint was drying on the walls of the modular, the Caragols said they were willing to let the city rent the Emerald City building for free while the council went through budget hearings.

Michelle Caragol said they found out about the move late this week and made the offer on Friday.

"We were just in there (Friday) and I really thought some of the kids were disappointed with the fact the programs are closing," Caragol said. "We really hate to see the program leave. That is why we are giving two months of (free) rent; maybe they can try to put something together between now and then."

But it is an offer that came too late as more than $5,000 has already gone into transforming the modular building.

The modular had been used at the ice rink since the early 1990s and housed the skate rental shop, offices and locker rooms. In the past month, walls have been painted, carpeting has been laid and the four locker rooms have been converted into a homework room, an arts and crafts room, a game room and TV room.

The modular will be used for youth after-school programs and summer camps. The Dock and The Underground still exist, Petersen said, but they will be taken to different locations that could range from the Art Depot to the underground parking garage at the Sheraton.

"The building doesn't make the program, the kids make the program," Petersen said.

But she also stressed this is a temporary solution and said the permanent solution would be the city purchasing Emerald City or building a youth and teen center downtown.

Those are options the council will look at come budget time. But under tight budget constraints and a long list of much-needed capital improvements, the council will be faced with tough choices.

"When you look at the budget, it is very difficult to make numbers meet without cutting something else," Antonucci said. "Wherever you turn there is a need for funding infrastructure or programs. Somewhere along the line, you pick and choose the most important."

Even as a proponent of Emerald City, Antonucci points to the 2002 Community Survey, where residents identified preserving open space and protecting environmental resources as top priorities.

Just 4 percent said a youth and teen center was one of their top two priorities for the future. In comparison, protecting environmental resources received the highest mark with 26 percent, ranking it in the top two. Growth management followed with 24 percent.

"Basically, what those people told us, all these things are more important than Emerald City," Antonucci said.

To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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