Council discusses gondola

Proposed people-mover would be 'visionary' investment


Is Steamboat Springs ready to invest in a multimillion dollar public/private gondola at the base of Steamboat Ski Area?

That's a question City Coun--cil members began to weigh Tuesday night.

"This is visionary," Council President Paul Strong said. "But sometimes we're not ready for that vision. It would take shuttle vans and cars off our roads. But is the time now? It's hard to say."

The gondola came up during a preliminary discussion about Wildhorse Meadows, a luxury residential subdivision that would create 300 to 375 residential units on 47 acres near the base of the ski area. No vote was taken about the fate of the project. The developer is Resort Ventures West.

The gondola would deliver people from a public plaza to be built just east of the ski area's remote parking lot. The gondola would end at the proposed One Steamboat Place luxury condominium project adjacent to the ski area gondola.

Wildhorse spokesman Whitney Ward told the council he was prepared to take one of two approaches to building the gondola.

The first approach would be a lower-capacity gondola that would cost about $1.5 million. It would be a private gondola available to people staying in Wildhorse Meadows.

Ward's development group obtained a private easement for the gondola when it purchased its real estate from American Skiing Company.

Ward said he also is willing to build a much more robust public gondola with the financial participation of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and the city. It would be available to skiers and snowboarders heading to the gondola that takes snow riders to Thunderhead.

"Now you have a huge ca----pacity issue," Ward said. "The cost jumps to about $4.5 million."

Public funding would come from the city's newly created urban renewal authority, which captures an increment of property tax growth for public improvements near the base of the ski area.

Ward said he has calculated that without taking One Steamboat Place (for which he also is a principal) into account, Wildhorse Meadows could generate $14 million in bondable tax increment financing.

Ward told the council that he thinks that if his project is to be included within the boundaries of the URA, it must be the recipient of some of the public improvements that are funded.

"I think there's a good public discussion to have about whether that's an appropriate use of funds," Ward said.

Councilwoman Kathy Conn--ell sounded intrigued with the effect the people mover gondola could have in the future.

"We really do have a window of opportunity that's larger than our own perspectives," Connell said. "Is this a way we can condense some of our transportation? Do we like the idea of getting more people on foot?"

Other council members ex----pressed skepticism that the more expensive gondola is the best way to move people around a growing ski base.

"I'm not convinced yet that it's suitable for major public transportation," Councilman Ken Brenner said.

Councilman Loui Antonucci said the community needs to take a broader look at circulation patterns near the base of Mount Werner. He said it's difficult to gauge how many pedestrians would cross Mount Werner Road, for example, to reach the gondola. He added that he thinks the complexity of the task might lead Ward and his partners to opt for the less expensive private gondola.

"Where do we want to funnel people?" Antonucci asked. "The answer to that question will determine whether it should be public or private."

Councilwoman Susan Dellinger said that an expansion of the existing shuttle systems might be a more efficient solution.

"We need to look at how people are moving through the area," Dellinger said. "Would a circular shuttle reach more people for less money?"

Ward promised council members he would have a better understanding of American Skiing Company's interest in the gondola when he returns to seek a development permit for Wildhorse Meadows.

Other council business:

The council voted to suspend construction on an all-weather playing field at Heritage Park to allow more time for discussion. No dirt has been moved onto the playing field project. Construction would not go forward until after a Sept. 6 meeting, when council will try to determine whether a Great Outdoors Colorado grant for the project can be extended. The council will try to address the concerns of the Heritage Park Homeowners Association and ask the Steamboat Springs School Board if it is interested in hosting an all-weather field. The motion by Councilman Ken Brenner passed 5-2, with Loui Antonucci and Nancy Kramer dissenting.

Agreed to spend $792,500 more than the budgeted $2.15 million to build the new tennis center. The vote was 6-1, with Brenner dissenting.

Gave a generally favorable response to a recommendation by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority that the requirement for affordable housing in the West of Steamboat Area Plan be reduced from 33 percent to 15 percent. No vote was taken.

Unanimously approved Betterview Business Park, a six-lot light industrial subdivision on 13th Street.

Heard Finance Director Don Taylor report that June sales tax collections were up almost 10 percent to $1.2 million. Year-to-date sales tax collections are up more than 6.5 percent.


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