Surely there will be critics of the new Urban Renewal Plan proposed by a group of business leaders to improve the area near the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. But we would challenge those critics with a simple question -- what's the alternative?
The "Base Area Reinvestment Coalition" includes six business leaders -- David Baldinger Jr. of Steamboat Village Brokers, Chris Corna of Slopeside Restaurant, Chris Diamond of Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., Chuck Porter of the Sheraton and Ski Time Square group, Bill Stuart of Market on the Mountain and Whitney Ward, owner of the Snowflower II development site.
All would benefit directly from improvements to the infrastructure at the mountain area. But the indirect and perhaps greater beneficiary would be the community as a whole, whose economic success remains tied to the success of the ski mountain.
The Base Area Reinvestment Coalition's plan -- which is expected to be presented to the Steamboat Springs City Council in the coming weeks -- is to create an Urban Renewal Area that includes businesses within walking distance of the base area. The renewal area would issue bonds for capital improvements and tax revenues from new development or redevelopment within the area would be dedicated to paying back those bonds.
Essentially, some portion of property tax increases resulting from increases in valuation within the base area would be reinvested in the base area to enhance and rebuild public infrastructure such as lighting, sidewalks, transit facilities and streetscapes. The renewal area would have a lifespan of 25 years.
Advocates of the plan say the proposal is a way to fix the ski area base without burdening the public with a new tax.
Opponents likely will argue the plan is a tax in disguise, since tax dollars that could be used for other projects and services will be dedicated instead for mountain-area improvements. Some might argue that the businesses in the area stand to benefit the most from the improvements and thus simply should write the checks for those improvements.
But the fractured ownership of the businesses in the area makes it difficult to develop a unified plan among the private owners. That's why it is important for government to take a lead role. Besides, maintaining and improving the infrastructure in the mountain area is largely a city government responsibility. Why not use tax funds from mountain area development to meet that responsibility?
In recent years, the bases in Vail, Winter Park and other competing ski areas have undergone millions of dollars in improvements while the base in Steamboat has fallen behind. As the gap between the skiing experience and the facilities Steamboat offers widens, the community continues to lose visitors. That's a trend no business -- at the mountain or downtown -- can afford to continue. Fixing the base area is an important step in reversing that trend.
The specifics of the Base Area Reinvestment Coalition's plan have yet to be ironed out. Questions have to be resolved about the boundaries of the area, the duration of the plan, the impact on taxing entities such as the county and school district, the creation of the committee that would oversee the funds and the priorities for spending those funds. But on the surface, the Urban Renewal Plan seems to offer a reasonable solution to a worsening problem. The City Council should give it serious consideration.