We can paint colorful murals on construction barriers and enlist artists to decorate hard hats, but no matter how you spin it, Steamboat Springs' downtown commercial district will face some adversity for the next couple of years. The dust and commotion of half a dozen major building projects will dominate Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street this summer and beyond. But there is encouraging news on the horizon.
We're enthusiastic about the efforts to put in place a downtown business improvement district that could raise $120,000 annually to ensure downtown is a lively place to visit despite all the construction. The revenue would be used to create special events, market downtown as a destination and beautify the streetscape. Some funds will be used to "manage" the downtown parking situation.
If you have any doubt about the need for this undertaking, consider that sales tax revenues collected in downtown businesses in February were off a fraction of a point while revenues from the commercial districts in the U.S. Highway 40 corridor and at the base of the ski area were up 13 percent.
"Main Street Steamboat was started on the premise that downtown isn't broken but it could break if we don't do something," Tracy Barnett said this week. Barnett is program director for Main Street, which oversees the Business Improvement District Steering Committee. The committee, pushed by downtown businessmen Tom Ptach and Bill Moser, is gathering the petition signatures needed to ask commercial property owners and business owners within the district if they will agree to increase their property taxes to fund the improvement district.
And Barnett had some encouraging news Tuesday. Pending certification by the city clerk, the committee has gathered more than the number of signatures it needs to go to a mail ballot election this fall. She estimates there are about 200 voters in the district - each property owner will be granted a vote and each business owner will be granted a vote.
The $120,000 would be raised by imposing a 4-mill tax on commercial properties from the Yampa River north to the alley between Oak and Pine streets. The district's east-west boundaries are from Second Street to 13th Street.
We feel strongly that our historic downtown is vital to the future of Steamboat Springs, and failing to keep pace with some of the public improvements under way at the base of the ski area would be a regrettable mistake.
We're already seeing how the public infrastructure improvements in Ski Time Square are playing an important role in redevelopment of the ski area base.
In that light, we're encouraged to see Main Street Steamboat tackling a project that stands to yield the most tangible benefits of anything that group has yet undertaken. Furthermore, we support the efforts of business owners in the downtown district to take greater control of their collective destinies.