Becky Townsend checks out the selection of books at Epilogue Book Co. in downtown Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon. As downtown businesses struggle through shoulder season and construction, City Council candidates are offering a variety of ideas to stimulate the local economy.

Photo by John F. Russell

Becky Townsend checks out the selection of books at Epilogue Book Co. in downtown Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon. As downtown businesses struggle through shoulder season and construction, City Council candidates are offering a variety of ideas to stimulate the local economy.

City Council candidates discuss local economy

Government hopefuls offer a variety of ideas to help stimulate area businesses

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Election 2009

Visit www.steamboatpilot.com/election2009 for complete coverage of this year's races and issues.

— As local businesses struggle through shoulder season and downtown construction, Steamboat Springs City Council candidates are offering an array of ideas to boost the city's economy.

Candidates mentioned more marketing dollars, improving local quality of life through affordable housing and open space programs, reviving the demolished Ski Time Square and talking with local business owners about their needs. Candidates offered differing opinions on the expiring industrial enterprise zone program, which exempts licensed West Steamboat businesses from paying city sales and use taxes on the purchase or sale of parts, equipment, machinery and tools.

Incumbent City Councilman Walter Magill, running unopposed for the District 3 seat, noted that any discussion of local economic stimulus comes at a time of extremely limited city spending. City sales tax revenues are expected to drop 18 percent this year and an additional 10 percent in 2010, forcing cuts to nearly every city department.

"It's difficult for the city because of our budget, because we can't put a lot of money out there and we can't put out a lot of tax breaks, because then we're hurting ourselves," Magill said.

Ideas abound nonetheless.

District 2

District 2 candidate Kenny Reisman focused his business ideas largely on bringing more visitors from the Denver area to the Yampa Valley. Engaging the cycling community could increase Steamboat's draw as a mountain biking destination, he said. Reisman cited the possibility of a Lance Armstrong Foundation LIVESTRONG event in Steamboat next year as an example of driving the economy through promoting recreation.

And there is a vital need for temporary retail options or attractions in Ski Time Square, Reisman said, where small businesses "are hanging on by a thread." If development there is hypothetically five years away, he said, then "let's find a way to put something up there within those next five years."

Reisman's opponent in the District 2 race, longtime local builder Ken Solomon, also cited cycling attractions and an expansion of marketing techniques. But Solomon primarily focused his business ideas on the construction industry, which he said often faces an excessively long permitting process for new projects.

"Basically, you put one set of plans in and it has to go through a round robin of numerous approvals : and sometimes it sits on a desk for several days," Solomon said. "It's not the best process, and that can be expedited."

Solomon said he would welcome conversations with the Routt County Regional Building Department about expediting small remodels for homeowners and getting jobs under way.

Reisman said the industrial enterprise zone could be a model for a similar, broader tax program.

"You don't just look at it from West Steamboat : you look at it across the board," he said.

Solomon expressed more direct support for the enterprise zone.

"I think that was a successful program for 20 years, and I think we can use that model again," he said.

District 1

District 1 candidate and former City Council President Kevin Bennett said he would work to return public bus service to Ski Time Square to help businesses hurt by the demolition; work to lower water rates, including commercial rates, in Old Town; work to support business by building assets that draw visitors, including parks, trails and open space; and "do everything possible" to not pay $1.3 million in city funds for the New Victory Highway. Plans for the road use funding from the city, Routt County and private developers to connect West Steamboat with the planned Overlook Park project and the Steamboat 700 annexation.

"Take that money and put it into marketing," Bennett said Thursday, adding that he also would "pull a small amount of reserves, if necessary, to increase marketing."

Bennett told the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association last week that he supports re-establishing the industrial enterprise zone, set to expire at the end of this year.

He shares that support with his opponent, City Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, who cast the lone vote Oct. 20 in support of the enterprise zone. Hermacinski is vacating the at-large seat.

Hermacinski said if elected to the District 1 seat, at the first meeting of a new council she will seek council consensus to ask businesses whether regulations exist that impede business, and if so, how to address those regulations, provided there is no effect on public safety.

Hermacinski has said she would preserve funding for summer marketing, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, special events and regional airports to sustain and build local tourism.

At-large

Landscaper Kyle Pietras, running for the at-large City Council seat against Jim Engelken, said he would "try to get developers to focus on middle-class people and affordability," because "if there are places to live, businesses will be a lot more open to opening a business here." Pietras said the Steamboat 700 annexation could be a great success for local business because of the new opportunities it presents.

Letting the industrial enterprise zone expire is not necessarily a mistake, he said, "if there's a possible citywide program that's in the works."

"I think that's a big opportunity for us, not just as far as tax relief goes, but inviting businesses here," Pietras said.

Engelken, on a break earlier this week from his job as dairy manager at Safeway, gave a simple answer to what his approach to business would be on City Council.

"You try to avoid situations like Ski Time Square that have hurt local business," he said. Engelken added that he "would support open space projects to keep the community attractive to everyone," support summer marketing and promote affordable housing programs.

"First and foremost, you do not allow the development community to dictate what you do," he said.

- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

greenwash 4 years, 5 months ago

Not one creative idea....Surprised??Not really.

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cityworker 4 years, 5 months ago

What are your ideas greenwash? Don't be like most people in Steamboat that look for the bad with out seeing the good!

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flotilla 4 years, 5 months ago

I have always understood that "middle class development" doesn't turn the profit for developers because of the cost of land. Am I wrong here?

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Karen_Dixon 4 years, 5 months ago

With the exception of Kyle, everyone seems to think focusing on tourism is still the answer to solving our economic woes. I thought we wanted to be a town with a resort rather than a resort town? Some say that what sets Steamboat apart from other similar vacation destinations is that we are actually a real town where people with careers can live year round; that we are family-oriented; that young professionals could & should choose Steamboat as their home. Is that really true? Even if that still may be a little bit true, are we doing things that keep us moving in that direction? Or are we focusing energy on things that alter the course?

The goal should be to lose the term Shoulder Season. Wouldn't it be great if in 10 years a Main Street retail or restaurant owner was staffing up instead of down in the spring & fall? Picture an old timer saying "Remember mud season?" to a downtown retail shop owner who says "what's that?"

I would like to hear ideas & strategies that move us toward being a town that happens to have a resort rather than towards a resort that has the IMAGE of being a town.

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greenwash 4 years, 5 months ago

Weak slate of candidates = weak voter turnout.

Enjoy your day off city worker.

Flotilla your correct and good points Karen.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 5 months ago

Actually, the more that the City Council realizes that it is not their job to run the local economy, the better off we will all be.

City as director of local economy results in stupid spending such as Iron Horse or remodeling airport terminal at airport which has a runway too short for all but one fuel hungry model of commercial aircraft.

I think the City should instead focus on matching enviromental policy with zoning, building and landscaping rules. That sloing southwest facing grass behind Walmart is such a waste of water, but mandated.

And it is time to stop building sidewalks to nowhere. Sidewalks to nowhere are rinky dink and it is annoying to be a visitor taking a walk only to reach the end of a sidewalk and be faced with either backtracking or a muddy path or even a challenging slope to the street.

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Alan Geye 4 years, 5 months ago

With due respect to everyone who takes time to offer comments, I think Karen Dixon has absolutely nailed it. It's about time knowledgable folks start talking economic straight-talk. You want to really grow the Steamboat economy, we need to do the long hard work to identify our strengths and weaknesses (duh, sound like real strategic planning) and start making long term investments (human and financial). It's my limited observation that our political "leaders" (I obviously use this term very loosely) more often embrace the philosophy of "ready, fire, aim." The economic reality is that our potential economic growth will be severely limited if we focus primarily on theresort economy. Our community needs to focus on developing higher economic value-added activities. The priorities I have observed in recent years are more aligned with economic envy and penalizing some to benefit others. I liken this to shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Heck, to make matters worse, Council members seem to refuse to accept difficult financial feedback from their financial officers and the financial guys either leave or are released. Yes, I do believe we need to self-examine who we promote and elect to serve our community interests because that process seems to be broken. We are not identifying and supporting folks who will tell us the tough stuff and make tough decisions to effect real change. Seems like many of our elected folks still do not understand there should be a strategic plan or what really makes the local economy grow. "Crazy" is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

Respectfully,

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Fred Duckels 4 years, 5 months ago

We have two options: 1 Go for a resort exclusivery and run the common folk downvalley when not needed. This makes mud season bleak for the local businesses, as most potential customers are not here. This sends their sales tax downvalley with them. 2 Continue the enterprise zone tax breaks, allow development such as the 700, and welcome the workers here to shop and pay tax. This is the easiest way to even out our economy. It may be attractive to go high end, but that is a pretty spotty future. If our businesses falter the future is bleak indeed as our tax base crumbles.

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JLM 4 years, 5 months ago

The fundamental issue here is to recognize that the City Council cannot actually DO anything --- their responsibility is to set policy and to provide an environment which fosters success. And to manage the cost of their administration within the means of the tax base they oversee. They are almost reduced to "do no harm".

The SBS CC has to be financially conservative. Very financially conservative. This is not venture capital money they manage, it is taxpayer money and they should be "stewards" not investors.

The anecdotes noted above --- airport, Iron Ho House --- are exactly what the SBS CC should NOT be doing. Ever!

I am troubled by comments by candidates who express reservations about receiving input from any part of the citizenry --- particularly those whose profession is to create and manage growth. Who are they going to get to invest to change the future?

The City Council should forge a close working relationship with the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber should undertake to be the brains of the assessment and implementation. The Chamber should ensure that every part of the City gets a seat at the table --- even the two Steves. Debate like hell, make a plan, make a decision and then make something happen. Use the results to revise the plan annually.

SBS is in a fierce competition for employers, new dollars and growth with the entire rest of the world. Fierce competition. And, it is only going to get worse and more competitive.

Short term incentives are going to have to be offered to achieve long term success. Think about the Marshall Plan --- if you are offended by somebody improving their lot in life, making a profit or doing well --- then you might as well not even try.

Nihilistic small minded thinking = we are screwed! Things are NOT getting better yet.

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maggie 4 years, 5 months ago

Karen, excellent comments. We need leaders to have open minds, no agendas, willing to look at the greater good, not just at their biases. City council cannot do it all - nor should they. However they need to encourage other groups to thrive and to be creative. More cooperation, less ego and anger at groups that differ in opininion. Continued transparency and less "backroom deals" as we saw in the past councils. If we are to get our younger adults in our community to get involved and to vote, we need leaders that will work with them, not talk down to them.

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Karen_Dixon 4 years, 5 months ago

Well said JLM. People should be looking at CC candidates based on their POLICY positions - policies that encourage, incubate, and foster economic vitality for its citizenry and thus itself vs. policies that compete with and defeat the ability for its citizenry to succeed.

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