Steamboat Springs A divided Steamboat Springs City Council directed City Attorney Tony Lettunich on Tuesday to draft an ordinance extending the city's contract with Triple Crown Sports without including the use of Emerald Park.
Council President Loui Antonucci made a motion that Lettunich craft an ordinance that would allow the use of Emerald Park as a last resort only after other alternatives are explored. That motion failed, 4-3, but Lettunich said that while the "bare-bones extension" will not permit the use of Emerald Park, the sports tourism company's use of it is a possibility that still is on the table.
"That will be an open question," Lettunich said during a break of Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
Council will have about a month to flesh out the question. The ordinance is scheduled for a first reading April 15. A second reading with possible adoption of the ordinance would take place April 29, at the earliest. Council members Antonucci, Cari Hermacinski and Scott Myller voted in favor of the failed motion, with council members Meg Bentley, Steve Ivancie, Jon Quinn and Walter Magill voting against it.
Triple Crown has requested the use of Emerald Park from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. four days a week for a three-week period in 2009 and 2010. Emerald Park, adjacent to Yampa River Botanic Park, has been reserved for local use since it was built a decade ago. The proposal forces City Council to weigh the city's past promises and the concerns of some residents against the prospect of losing the most significant driver of Steamboat's summer economy.
Residents of the park's lone vehicular access, Pamela Lane, say they were promised by a former City Council that Triple Crown would never be allowed to use the park. No record of such a promise could be found in the materials provided to City Council prior to Tuesday's meeting, but Pamela Lane resident and former councilman Jim Engelken assured that they were made.
"I was one of the council members who made these promises, and I can assure you that they were made," Engelken told the council. "You are the only ones who can determine whether these promises should be upheld. : This is an issue of the integrity of council."
A 1996 city ordinance designating approved uses for the park says it is for "youth activities exclusively." Dick Randolph said that while Triple Crown's tournaments are for kids, they shouldn't qualify.
"Triple Crown is not a youth program," Randolph said. "It's a business. A business is something else."
Triple Crown supporters urged City Council not to jeopardize the city's summer economy at a time of national economic uncertainty. A study released in May 2007 by Denver-based consultants Corona Research found that Triple Crown brings about 32,000 visitors and $1.19 million in tax revenues to Northwest Colorado each summer.
"Now is not the time to gamble or take risks with this city's economics," Kevin Kaminski said.
Public comment was emotional on both sides, with points for and against Triple Crown drawing applause from different segments of the audience. For a City Council that has seen unanimous votes and short meetings as the norm in its first months, the difficulty of Tuesday's meeting was evident in the faces, voices and body language of council members.
Ivancie took the hardest line against Triple Crown. He said he is unwilling to consider any extension of Triple Crown's contract because he would prefer to renegotiate the whole thing.
"We keep coming up with Band-Aids," Ivancie said. "We keep looking a few years down the road. This council member is frankly tired of it. : I would prefer to see us renegotiate the contract rather than keep kicking the can down the road."
Ivancie and Bentley were the only two members who unequivocally said they would not support Triple Crown's use of Emerald Park.
"It sets the scene for citizens not to trust their government," Bentley said.
Myller, Hermacinski and Anotnucci, however, said Triple Crown is so vital to Steamboat's financial health that a reconsideration of a past council's commitment is warranted.
"I totally support Triple Crown," Myller said. "I think it's a great part of our economy. I personally love how it brings middle America to Steamboat. : This is a really tough issue. I'm so torn for the residents of Pamela Lane. But I think 12 days a year for two years - I think it's worth the price. I'd be willing to sign them up for '09 and '10.
Matt Van Alsburg, Triple Crown's World Series director, could not say whether the use of Emerald Park was an absolute deal-breaker for Triple Crown continuing in Steamboat after this summer, but he did say the company would be willing to entertain alternate proposals.