Growth of the city on decline

Speaker says Steamboat needs to look to future

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— The growth of Steamboat Springs as a resort community is declining, said one speaker at Thursday's international mountain conference.

Placing Steamboat in similar positions as Vail and Aspen, Becky Zimmermann, of Design Workshop Inc. in Denver, said Steamboat needed to figure out where it wanted to go next to start growing again.

Zimmermann described the five stages of a resort community's evolution the embryonic, take off, growth, maturity and decline phases.

"I would put Steamboat on the decline," Zimmermann said. "There needs to be a vision of Steamboat, a lot more discussion on what does Steamboat want to be. That will direct where that next curve will go for Steamboat."

Zimmermann was one of three speakers to open Day 2 of the conference Mountain Resort Planning and Development in an Era of Globalization. The conference, part of the United Nations' Year of the Mountain celebration, is being put on by the University of Colorado and is being held here until Saturday.

Both Zimmermann and Ford Frick, from BBC Denver, talked about the evolution of skiing and ski resorts from the 1950s to the 21st century.

Zimmermann, Frick and Jim Westkott, a state demographer, spoke to a roomful of planners, consultants, elected officials and academics at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

Although Aspen has seen a boom in second-home owners, Zimmermann said the ski resort community has declined in terms of visitor numbers. She also said Vail is not far behind because its sense of community is lessening as people are no longer living in town and the retail center is moving to Avon.

Frick mentioned the struggles resort communities have had in the past year with the high level of uncertainty with the national economy, skiing and demographics, war, climate change and the fickle high-end market. And he said enticing airlines to fly direct flights into ski areas would become increasingly difficult.

"Bringing in direct flights has always been key. But it is going to be a lot tougher. They are going to want us to build airports, want us to lend them capital and even then they may not be interested. We have to get out the checkbooks and figure out how to sustain airlines. And that is going to be a real challenge in the next few years."

Speaking about a successful resort community and the role of tourism planning, Zimmermann said resort communities should have one marketing plan and message. She mentioned Crested Butte as a ski resort that was not successful in its marketing plan. Among the seven different Web sites on the ski resort, Zimmermann said two very different messages are sent: one of extreme skiing and another of a warm, family-friendly atmosphere.

"As a consumer, you don't really know what Crested Butte is," she said. "Your competition is not just down at the end of the street, it is not even at the end of the valley or other destination resorts."

As Zimmermann and Frick focused on the industry side of mountain resort planning, Westkott, the state demographer, focused more on community trends.

"All the focus is on industry; the other side of this coin is the community," he said.

He discussed the roles second-home owners played in resort communities and said the problems the trend creates are subtle and sinister.

"The impact is on residential values of land that precludes residents from living in the community. The second homes take up spaces that are here," he said. "And that is the sinister and destructive part of the second home."

Westkott suggested identifying the size and impact of the second home and providing deed-restricted housing to the community work force.

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