Lyman Orton visits an area of his property known as the upper meadow Tuesday that would be included in the potential 586-acre purchase by the city of Steamboat Springs.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Lyman Orton visits an area of his property known as the upper meadow Tuesday that would be included in the potential 586-acre purchase by the city of Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat Springs City Council urges caution with Emerald deal

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— Economic factors were at the heart of much of Tuesday night’s Steamboat Springs City Council conversation about a potential Emerald Mountain land purchase, as supporters said the site could become a huge economic draw while city officials urged caution amid an excruciatingly tight budget.

Represent­atives of Howel­­sen Emer­­ald Mountain Park, Mains­­treet Steamboat Springs, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Routt County Riders and the Steam­­boat Springs Nordic Coun­­cil, along with several members of the public, spoke in favor of the city’s potential purchase of 586 acres owned by Lyman Orton on Emerald’s north side. Supporters cited a vision for the site that includes Nordic skiing in winter, youth programs in summer and a building that would house those functions and others, creating a year-round attraction for Steamboat residents and visitors.

City officials have reached an agreement with Orton for a purchase that would cost $1.3 million up front, plus additional city contributions totaling as much as $750,000 in the next five years. Those additional contributions would top out at $150,000 per year and would be used to help implement the vision for the site. They also would match funds raised by the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park group.

Steamboat Springs City Coun­cil President Cari Herma­cinski cautioned that the city’s purchase of the Emerald Mountain land is far from final. The purchase contract is pending several factors, including approval by the council in two public hearings next month and the city’s ability to put a $600,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado toward the up-front purchase price.

The contract would give the city a maximum five-year obligation of about $1.5 million, assuming the $600,000 grant is used. Deb Hinsvark, the city’s interim finance director, has said the city’s balance of $700,000 for the up-front cost would come from the capital improvements fund. That fund will have about $3.8 million available in 2011.

City attorney Tony Lettunich said the city’s contract with Orton is essentially a placeholder while the process moves forward.

“There’s a lot of miles between where we are right now and closing sometime in December,” Lettunich said.

But there was no shortage of enthusiasm in Centennial Hall on Tuesday. Tracy Barnett, of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, read City Council members a letter from the downtown promotion group’s board of directors. The letter acknowledged the down economy and struggling city revenues but said the results of buying the land would be felt for generations.

“There is no bad time to create a legacy for our children, our grandchildren and ourselves,” Barnett said.

Dan Smilkstein, president of the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park group and a longtime advocate of Nordic skiing, said the purchase could have lasting, widespread economic benefits.

“I think a lot of people, maybe, see this purchase as an extravagance,” he said. “I look at it much differently.”

Orton owns a total of about 1,200 acres on Emerald’s north side. The 586 acres he has offered to the city are directly west of the dirt portion of Blackmer Drive that winds up the mountain from the Fairview neighborhood.

“I’d like to see us get the property and close it sooner rather than later,” Councilman Walter Magill said.

Hermacinski asked those in Centennial Hall to consider the city’s budget in its full context.

“I would encourage each of you as community members to attend our budget hearings on Oct. 5, because when we talk about items in a vacuum, even things that are truly visionary, you don’t see the competing interests,” she said. “We are truly going off a budget cliff … we’ve got to fill potholes and we’ve got to keep water coming out of the taps.”

Comments

beentheredonethat 3 years, 6 months ago

do not purchase this property. Doing so would only fulfill a WANT and not a NEED.

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exduffer 3 years, 6 months ago

Make sure we triple the water rate increase. We will need those $ to do the landscaping and irrigation work in the new park.

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blue_spruce 3 years, 6 months ago

this is a great investment in the community and our way of life. kudos.

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tcb 3 years, 6 months ago

I fail to see how this is going to better the community except for adding more territory for a small group of people to utilize. Tell you what, though, set up a ticket booth at the entrance to the area and charge every user $10 and I'll back it. Otherwise it's a useless purchase. City Council spending piles of money on a WANT, not a NEED all while employees are still on furloughs? Ridiculous.

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Bill Dalzell 3 years, 6 months ago

"I fail to see how" half of the Steamboat population is a "small group of people"

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sledneck 3 years, 6 months ago

I fail to see how half of the population has a right to put a gun to the head of the other half and demand funds for a WANT.

If this was such a great idea from a business perspective private buyers would be lining up to buy the land and lease it to the city for the proposed activities. The segments of the community that will benifit from this are sitting back waiting for the lemmings to pay the cost so they can mass market it. Many of us will never see a dimes worth of benifit but will pay a price.

One would think City would have learned at the Iron Horse. Just think, if they had leased that instead of purchased they would have been $$$ ahead. This is no different.

Set up the ticket booth. I like that idea.

Read on back in todays paper about the $70 million the city needs to keep the water flowing through the taps. You people are mad. Over the rainbow, toys in the attic, loco.

City council knows in its heart this wrong. Will they do right or will they do wrong?

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 6 months ago

Buy it.

If we feel its important to back $21 million in TIF bonds at the base area for a very nice walkway at the ski area properties, we should also find it worthwhile invest $2 million to own 586 beautiful acres with huge potential in amenities bordering our downtown.

And thanks Lyman. This is beautiful land.

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jk 3 years, 6 months ago

How about we drop this deal, we market the new Victory Highway to nowhere as the new cycling/ cross country skiing track in town? We could build a nice little cabin, from the funds set aside to build one on the Bumble Ranch, and use it as a greeting center/ rental facility. We have already dropped a bundle there for little or no benefit to the community, maybe it could help re-coup a few losses. Not to mention this would aid in the core trail extension!!

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1999 3 years, 6 months ago

jk...you add an underpass or overpass to that deal and I'm in!!!

there is actually a pretty good amount of land there to utilise.

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jk 3 years, 6 months ago

lewi, huge potential for amenities?? You usually have a reasonable perspective on things you post, but spend money we don't have because we recklessly spent money elsewhere?? I hope you're not serious?

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John Fielding 3 years, 6 months ago

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If I understand it correctly, we are not spending money in the base area improvements. That money is to come from the tax on the value of the immediate and associated improvements, a tax base that would not be there without them.

I support protecting this land for its present and intended usage, but I still wonder if making it a city park is a wise and fair course for accomplishing that worthy end. Skicorp manages to do fairly well across the valley except when holding companies are stripping them of their assets and reinvestment budgets. I believe a combination Nordic skiing / mountain biking entity, a non or for profit company should lease the entire HEMP and let the City simply back the improvement with its bonding authority just like the base area. Maybe Skicorp could do it to save in consolidated advertising. We could then remove a significant portion from our current budget for that item and devote it to basic services, or even lower taxes.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

John, The base area redevelopment district is a complete scam.

A redevelopment district gets to use the property taxes from increased property values for local improvements. In a truly distressed area with minimal property values then it is plausible that a subsequent increase in property values could be the result of public improvements by a redevelopment district.

The base area was never in that situation. The property values in the base area were always expensive.

The base area redevelopment district is purely a scam by the City to capture property taxes that would have gone to the schools and county in order to pay for public improvements in the base area. Since the City doesn't have a property tax, the City didn't sacrifice any tax revenues. The law that allowed redevelopment districts was poorly written and allowed the city to cite the collection of older (but still expensive) buildings in the base area as blighted and in need of redevelopment. That law was recognized as flawed, but the City got it's funding source for public works projects before that law got fixed.

It is patently absurd to suggest that the reason that property values increased in the base area is because of base area redevelopment projects. The property values increased primarily because luxury condos were built in a prime location.

Just think of every dollar spent by the base area redevelopment district as a dollar taken from local schools and the county.

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John Fielding 3 years, 6 months ago

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It is the increase that has not yet happened that will be taxed. You could argue it would have happened anyway but I'm not sure how.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Property values increased in the base area because that is a prime location and projects like One Steamboat Place pay a lot more taxes than a parking lot. Was the base area redevelopment a major factor in convincing the developer to build One Steamboat? Of course not, the district was not so blighted nor was the project so important to be given a waiver of the City's affordable housing requirements.

That redevelopment district is purely a scam by the City to capture some property tax money that should have gone to the schools so that the City could pay for public improvements without having to touch the general fund. So that the general fund could be used for other projects like Iron Horse.

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