Our view: Dedicate space for big box retail

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Editorial Board, February 2009 through May 2009

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Paul Hughes, community representative
  • Gail Smith, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

Our view

At issue

Big box retail

Our view

City should strongly consider large-format stores in west Steamboat.

— The Steamboat Springs City Council should strongly consider requiring the developers of Steamboat 700 to dedicate space for big box retailers, including a grocery store. Failing to do so could exacerbate existing sales-tax leakage to the Internet and other communities while also hurting Steamboat's affordability for its full-time residents.

Bringing large-format retailers to Steamboat Springs remains a controversial issue, and we sympathize with concerns that such stores could impact local businesses, as well as detract from community character. But the city and its residents would be remiss to not consider the long-term benefits of large-format retail, sales tax revenues chief among them.

A 2008 Steamboat Springs Economic Development plan prepared for the city by outside consultants stated that a large-format home improvement store coupled with a large-format general merchandise store would result in a net sales tax increase of $1.1 million a year for the city. That total includes accounting for decreased sales at other area businesses.

That same study revealed that Steamboat residents make about half of their general merchandise purchases - to the tune of $17 million a year - outside city limits. Another $5.9 million in building materials and garden purchases are made outside Steamboat each year. The study estimated that Steamboat Springs could capture more than $18 million in annual leakage if big box retailers had a presence here.

Of course, even in a local economy largely dependent upon sales tax revenues, the chance to boost the city's bottom line may not be reason enough to encourage big box retailers to make a home in Steamboat. As the city continues to grapple with affordable housing policy, it's worth considering the role the availability and pricing of general merchandise have on making Steamboat Springs an affordable place to live and raise a family. Big box retailers could provide some of the basic goods residents currently rely on the Internet and out-of-area shopping destinations to deliver.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to bringing big box retail to Steamboat Springs - other than such retailers deciding Routt County and the greater Yampa Valley have the population base to sustain their business models - is doing so in a way that doesn't destroy our community character. In the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Plan study released in November 2008, 54 percent of survey respondents said large-format stores should not be allowed in Steamboat Springs. When the question was modified, however, 57 percent of respondents said large-format stores should be allowed if restricted to certain areas of the city. When asked the preferred location for large-format stores, 62 percent said the West Highway 40 corridor, and we couldn't agree more.

The proposed Steamboat 700 development, which seeks annexation into city limits, offers the best location and opportunity to plan for the possibility of big box retail. Not only does Steamboat 700 have the available land, building large-format stores there would keep them away from our downtown and mountain area shopping districts, where visitors are attracted to the unique boutique shops and restaurants that separate Steamboat from so many other cities and towns. It's also important to keep in mind that a vote in favor of dedicating space for big box retail doesn't mean a Target, Home Depot or Whole Foods would even consider expanding to Steamboat Springs. Even if they did, it could be 10 years or longer before the doors would open, when Routt County's population is expected to be pushing 30,000 and growing.

On Thursday, the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission skirted answering the question posed to it by city staff: Is large-format retail a land use that should be accommodated in west Steamboat? Instead, planning commissioners, by a unanimous 6-0 vote, recommended the city not make big box retail an annexation requirement of proposed developments such as Steamboat 700 and 360 Village.

The City Council should make Steamboat 700 submit plans with space dedicated for big box retail. That foresight might not seem practical today, but the city must plan for the future, when large-format retailers could prove important to the economic health and affordability of Steamboat Springs.

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