Our View: Testing URA boundaries


Use public dollars strategically to leverage private investment. That was the message from urban renewal expert Brad Segal last week.

Segal, speaking at the convention of the Colorado Municipal League, urged city officials to form partnerships when they set out to reinvigorate historic downtown districts. Clearly, that message applies to Steamboat's fledgling Main Street Project. But Segal's advice also fits the tentative plan to stimulate redevelopment at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.

A coalition of mountain business leaders -- the Base Area Reinvestment Coalition -- has proposed an urban renewal authority that would raise funds to refurbish public facilities near the aging base of the ski resort.

The URA proposes to capture a fraction of property tax revenues resulting from future development and redevelopment land at the base to fund public improvements. BARC spokesman David Baldinger Jr. says the URA would generate $5 million to $10 million during its 25-year lifetime without imposing a new tax on property owners.

Steamboat Springs City Council will be asked to approve BARC's plan later in the summer, and we think it is worthy of serious consideration. However, we think the proposed boundaries for the URA should be carefully studied. We wonder whether the boundaries should be enlarged to include Whitney Ward's Wildhorse Meadows.

If the purpose of the URA is to capture revenue stream from new development at the resort village, the greatest potential lies in two projects Ward is involved in. As the boundaries of the URA are currently drawn, Dundee Realty's new luxury condominiums at Snowflower II would be included, but the larger development at Wildhorse Meadows would not.

Baldinger said keeping the URA simple and focused on the area closest to the ski base holds the most promise for fixing the obvious problems there. He said the state statute enabling URAs is meant to address "blight" in existing public infrastructure. He contends that because Wildhorse Meadows remains undeveloped, it can't be blighted.

We see the logic but want to be certain the boundaries of the URA are set in such a way that the most good is accomplished for the future of the resort base.

Ward has said he thinks it would be "logical" to include Wildhorse Meadows in the URA. He is proposing to develop a cabriolet gondola from his development and the ski area's existing Meadows parking lot to Snowflower II. The cabriolet would improve convenience for visitors and greatly reduce the need for shuttle vans from the parking lot to the ski lifts. And it would define a meaningful connection between the Wildhorse development and the old base village.

Ward wants to know whether the community and the city would regard the cabriolet gondola as a form of public transportation deserving of URA funds. Baldinger thinks the boundaries as drawn could lend support to the cabriolet. However, he's worried that expanding the boundaries would cause urgent problems in Gondola Square and Ski Time Square to be shunted aside.

What are the most desirable boundaries for the URA? Is the future of Wildhorse Meadows and the adjacent ski area parking lot a separate issue from the immediate base of the ski area? Or, are they all part of an integrated whole? If city government is attracted to BARC's proposal, those are questions it should explore fully.


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