There should be little debate -- Steamboat Springs' indoor tennis facility is a significant community asset. The question for the city of Steamboat is just how valuable an asset it is in comparison to the investment the city will have to make to replace it.
We believe the center's value is comparable to the Howelsen Ice Arena and the city should consider the mixture of public and private funding recently used to make ice arena improvements as a model for funding a new tennis facility.
At a City Council meeting earlier this month, tennis advocates brought plastic pieces that have fallen off the bubble and made their case for the bubble's replacement. Most impressively, the Steamboat Springs Tennis Association presented the city with a $10,000 check that will be used to pay for engineering and architectural fees to look at potential replacements.
When the bubble was built in 1991 for roughly $300,000, it was billed as a state-of-the-art facility. But Steamboat's climate -- heavy snowfall, blistering sun and wide-ranging temperatures -- has wreaked havoc on the facility. There is some question as to whether the bubble will survive next winter.
That has prompted heightened urgency to replace the facility, with construction beginning as early as next spring. The preferred option is a metal building with fabric walls that can be raised as necessary to allow for cooling. The facility would include six courts, two more than the four currently in the bubble. The metal building would cost more to build than another bubble, but the metal building would last longer and be less expensive to operate.
Those who don't play tennis may not grasp the significance of the tennis center. The indoor facility averages 28,000 day users per year, an average of more than 75 per day. The Steamboat Tennis Association has 500 members, and more than 10 percent of Steamboat's population will use the facility this year.
The facility's four courts are booked 92 percent of the time on weekdays and greater than 70 percent on weekends. Usage at the Steamboat Tennis Center ranks among the top 2 percent of public facilities nationwide.
Through tournaments and its junior program, the facility attracts an estimated 4,800 visitors annually, generating an economic impact of more than $1 million per year.
That said, the city should not shoulder the financial burden of a new facility alone. About $3.1 million in improvements recently were completed at Howelsen Ice Arena, including a new ice plant and an improved entryway. The city funded a majority of the improvements with certificates of participation. But $500,000 -- one-sixth of the project -- came through private donations spear-headed by the Ice Rink Advisory Committee.
The tennis community should have similar fund-raising goals. Also, as City Councilwoman Kathy Connell noted at last week's meeting, partnerships with entities such as Ski Corp. and developer Whitney Ward should be explored. And it seems such a facility would be ideal for corporate and individual sponsorships.
Like the ice arena, Haymaker Golf Course, Howelsen Hill, the core trail and city parks, the indoor tennis facility is a public asset that enhances the quality of life and helps make Steamboat Springs special. The tennis bubble can and should be replaced with a permanent structure paid for with public and private dollars.