We believe there is community support for a new recreation center in Steamboat Springs, but not for the $18 million center currently on the table.
The Steamboat Springs City Council should pass on this proposal and instead put together a plan the community can embrace. If that can't be done in time for the November election, then the council should hold off until 2007.
Last week, the council approved the first reading of a ballot proposal for an $18 million recreation center on the 37-acre Curci-Turner property off Hilltop Parkway. A second reading of the initiative must be approved before the end of the month in order for it to go on the ballot this fall.
The council asked for a survey of residents about the center proposal before the second reading. We think the survey will confirm that the community wants more than what the current plan offers.
The city has been working on a new recreation center since 1999, when consultant Ballard King and Associates was hired to conduct a study of such a center in Steamboat Springs. In 2004, the city convened the recreation center steering committee and last summer funded the second phase of a recreation center feasibility study. Last December, Ballard King delivered a proposal for a three-phase, $26.7 million center.
But what's currently on the table is scaled down significantly from what Ballard King proposed. The plan includes a gym, elevated track, multi-purpose rooms for teen and youth programs and an aquatics center with a lap pool and an area for children 6 and younger.
Gone are the recreational aquatics - a lazy river and water slide, for example - in Ballard King's plan. There is no exercise equipment. The climbing wall, indoor athletic field, indoor playground facilities and racquetball courts envisioned in the third phase of Ballard King's proposal aren't included either.
The reason the plan is so thin on amenities is that the council repeatedly has instructed recreation center advocates to work with Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association to develop a plan that would not undermine the association's facility downtown. Recreation center advocates, eager to get something on the ballot, agreed to a compromise that goes too far in accommodating Health and Rec.
The current recreation center plan will require at least 375 families to each buy a $500 annual membership to offset operating costs. We don't think families, who already would have to pay a property tax for the construction and operation of the center, would be willing to buy such memberships given the limited amenities the facility would offer. Yes, parents and teens would use such a facility on a situational basis, but the plan's lone unique attraction - indoor lap swimming - isn't enough to justify $500 a year for most families.
This isn't the community recreation center that proponents wanted; it's the political compromise they thought was necessary. It's a plan that voters, once they have a chance to study it closely, are likely to reject.
The city's survey needs to clearly identify the community's recreation priorities and find out how much residents are willing to spend - both in taxes and membership fees - to get the community center they want. We think such a survey will show that the current proposal is a mistake and that the city can and should do better.