Steamboat Springs There's a saying that in Aspen, the billionaires have driven the millionaires "down valley," a reference to the belief that the fellow resort town has become a haven for only the super-wealthy.
The saying sounds like it must be an exaggeration, but Terry Minger says it's not.
"It's kind of scary," he said, "but it's true."
Avoiding that kind of future for Steamboat Springs will be the focus of a discussion Monday. Minger and Harry Frampton will lead the discussion, "The Present and Future Impacts of Resort Development on the Yampa Valley." Minger was the first city manager of Vail from 1968 to 1979. He is the current president and CEO of the Center for Resource Management. Frampton is a managing partner of East West Partners. The two were greatly involved with the development of other resorts such as Vail, Beaver Creek and Whistler Blackcomb.
The discussion is the third installment in the "Dynamics of Growth in Resort Communities" series presented by a variety of local organizations.
Scott Ford, co-founder of the Mountain Learning Network, said he is looking forward to the presentation.
"You've got two individuals who have done quite a bit of development in resort communities," Ford said. "Since they don't have any products in this fight, they'll be able to give a good perspective."
Although he was greatly involved with the creation of Vail, Minger said he is not offended by the fear many people in Steamboat have of becoming like that town. He said there are fair criticisms of how Vail has grown and what it has become.
He said both Aspen and Vail failed to address community housing and transportation soon enough.
Tracy Barnett, director of Main Street Steamboat Springs, said it will be valuable to learn from how communities such as Vail grew.
"We don't have to reinvent the wheel here," Barnett said. "We're heading right down the path that they've gone."
Carl Steidtmann, Steamboat resident and chief economist for New York-based accounting firm Deloitte, said Steamboat's reluctance to become a glitzy resort town is "reverse snobbery." He said the challenges facing Steamboat as it grows and tries to maintain its character at the same time are "the usual suspects:" affordable housing, labor force and land conservation.
These values are often at odds, Steidtmann said. For example, conserving land reduces supply and drives land and real estate prices up, which works against attempts to provide affordable housing.
"There's no easy solution to any of this," Steidtmann said.
Minger said that as Steamboat grows, it will be crucial for the town to articulate its desires.
"Where communities get stuck is it's easy to say what we don't want to be, but what do we want to be?" Minger said.
Minger said most of the angst and worry in Steamboat is unjustified and believes that mistakes, while possible, won't carry the day.
"I think it's a great community and you're at an interesting moment in time," Minger said. "I think you're going to be fine."
Ford said he is cautiously optimistic about Steamboat's future and said that if nothing else, it's better to have a growing economy than a declining one.
"I sense we will always be a town before a resort," Ford said. "Some of this does not affect us the same way. I don't see this as negative, just different."
"I think it's developing in a way that the resort won't be the only business in town," Steidtmann said. "It has a chance to be very different."
Minger said it is important for Steamboat to realize that Aspen and Vail are successful on several levels. The challenge is for Steamboat to adapt those towns' successes in a way that localizes it and makes it Steamboat's.
"This hand-wringing (in Steamboat) is a healthy sign," Minger said.
The absence of such zeal in Vail worries Minger. He said the town has suffered due to the high proportion of the population who aren't stakeholders in the town because they don't stay long, or don't vote because they are only temporary residents.
"You erode your democracy a little bit," Minger said. "I worry about Vail."
In the end, Minger said Steamboat is most likely to trip itself up if it follows one of two extremes. Letting growth run rampant would be bad, but so would ignoring the "resortification of the West" and deciding not to allow any growth at all.
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