URA has plans for base of ski area

Funding for operational costs of projects still must be identified

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— Changes are coming to the base of Steamboat Ski Area, but officials still are figuring out how to pay for the ongoing costs associated with those projects.

Consultants Kracum Resources and Wenk Associates are moving forward with the design of several projects, including the first phase of "wayfinding" and signage meant to help people navigate the area. Wayfinding landmarks include fences, roadways and sidewalks.

Also, the consultants are working to finalize the design for "daylighting" Burgess Creek, which means the creek's assets would be highlighted. During the summer, officials would divert the creek into a new creek bed. In the winter, the creek would be diverted underground.

Other projects up for final design include portions of a U-shaped promenade at the base of the ski hill. The promenade would serve as a pathway that would connect different areas of the base. Officials also plan to build a walkway between the Gondola Transit Center and Ski Time Square and create a new turnaround, or drop-off, at the area they call the North Portal. The portal is bordered by the Sheraton, Torian Plum and Mount Werner Lodge.

The changes are spurred by the Steamboat Springs City Council's establishment of an Urban Renewal Authority in 2005. The authority's intent is to raise money for public improvements at the base of the ski area.

The URA is financed by future property tax and sales tax growth within URA boundaries. An advisory group, the Urban Redevelopment Authority Advisory Committee, has recommended those monies be used only for the capital costs associated with the redevelopment, not with the operations and maintenance costs the projects will incur.

The committee made its recommendation based on several reasons, said Jane Blackstone, an advisory committee member.

The intent was that the URA would fund capital projects, not ongoing costs, she said. The URA will expire after 25 years, but operations and maintenance costs will continue.

Also, committee members wanted to see capital monies go as far as possible, she said.

"We need to maximize the projects that get built, make the URA funds go as far as possible to deliver projects," Blackstone said.

One idea committee members have had is the potential formation of a general improvement district. GIDs are special districts that benefit from property tax revenues.

Formation of a GID would be voted on by the property owners within the proposed district, Blackstone said.

For the question to make November's ballot, 200 property owners in the area would have to sign a petition by August, said Don Taylor, the city's director of financial services.

Some projects, such as sections of the promenade, were pegged for construction in 2007. The promenade, though, may incur hefty operations and maintenance costs because it is set to have a snowmelt system. The consultants do not have solid figures for those types of costs because the design is not complete, Joe Kracum said.

The City Council voted last week to delay any construction until a dedicated source of funding is found for the projects.

"For us to spend that much money without knowing we will have the money to run it is fiscally irresponsible," said council member Paul Strong. "We need to have some way to fund it, or it's stupid to build it."

Strong said he was ready to see a ballot question on a GID this year. He said he was disappointed to hear that the Base Area Reinvestment Coalition group of property owners has suggested waiting another year.

"There is a lot of momentum on this project; it's going forward, and people are excited about it," Strong said. "The city has been pretty proactive on it. Now, the private sector is saying we're moving too fast. That's disappointing to me."

Council President Ken Bren-

ner said he did not want to see construction on capital projects until operations and maintenance issues were ironed out. Once something is built, there will be less incentive for property owners to spend money on it, he said.

"It's a partnership between the city, representing the public funds, and the private property owners inside the district receiving the benefit," he said.

Everybody wins in the long run, Brenner said.

"We're at a real critical phase of this type of redevelopment agreement," Brenner said. "It takes a leap of faith to move forward at this point."

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