The photograph that ran on the front page of the Steamboat Pilot & Today on May 6 was one of symbolic importance for residents who have waited years for changes to the commercial district at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
The photo shows the claw of an orange backhoe ripping a gaping hole in the guard shack at the entrance to Ski Time Square. The small building, never occupied, has stood for two decades as a reminder of the community's struggle to make sense of a resort base that was allowed to develop haphazardly and without a master plan.
The booth was built at a time when local officials recognized that the flow of vehicles in and out of Ski Time Square, with its woeful lack of parking, was unworkable. However, there was never a budget for staffing the control booth nor a clear notion of how it might fix the problem. The confusing double traffic lane that passed the booth only served to confuse visitors further. It was an exercise in futility - almost a monument to our inability to deal with the problem.
As it happens, the booth was being torn down to make way for carefully planned improvements to the public infrastructure at the base of the ski area. How significant is it that construction already is under way on sensible pedestrian and vehicular routes for our long-suffering guests?
The public sector is actually ahead of the private sector when it comes to redeveloping the base of the ski area. Within weeks of announcements this spring that private companies would invest many millions of dollars in modernizing the base of the resort, the city, in concert with the Base Area Urban Redevelopment Area Advisory Committee, or URAAC, already had begun construction on a new traffic roundabout. We think that's noteworthy.
How did it happen? As it turns out, the private sector had a good deal to do with it. Resort leaders provided the initial momentum, and members of the private sector continue to serve on URAAC.
Looking back about two years, city government was wise to call a timeout on processing applications for new development projects at the base of the mountain. Without the moratorium that initially caused so much consternation, we might not be where we are today.
City Council and URAAC have invested almost two years in planning how our new base area will function.
The resort and business leaders who urged the city in 2004 to create an urban renewal authority promised that private developers would invest in the redevelopment of our aging ski base if the public sector showed the willingness and wherewithal to keep pace.
City government leaders, who imposed the moratorium on new projects, have joined with URAAC to create a plan for orderly development into the future.
It's a good lesson to keep in mind as we deal with unprecedented change in our community - not just at the mountain, but in our downtown core and in new neighborhoods to the west.
Collaboration between the public and private sector can pay off.
The moratorium was lifted 18 months ago, and problems remain to be solved. But the little guard shack at the foot of Ski Time Square is gone, and Steamboat's base area is poised to enter the 21st century.