Steamboat Springs A potential $11 million windfall for tourism-related biking infrastructure in Steamboat Springs, if granted by a state commission, would come with plenty of caveats and questions that remain to be answered.
Ongoing operation and maintenance costs tied to the new infrastructure, marketing expenses to promote Steamboat as a cycling destination, and even the possible use of taxpayer dollars to help with construction of mountain bike features at Steamboat Ski Area, for example, all could eat into city funds in future years should the windfall come through. The Colorado Economic Development Commission could decide in December whether to select Steamboat as one of two entities to receive a slice of future state sales tax revenues through the Regional Tourism Act approved in 2010.
It looks like Steamboat could have a decent chance.
“I originally thought this was going to be an extreme long shot,” Winnie DelliQuadri, the city’s government programs manager, told the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night in Centennial Hall. “I (now) actually think that we have a chance at getting these dollars because I think we can sell the state’s Economic Development Commission on how biking can be like skiing in the state of Colorado.”
DelliQuadri said meetings at the Colorado Municipal League’s annual legislative workshop, held last week in Denver, changed her mind about the city’s chances at a 30-year revenue stream that would fund improvements for the city’s Bike Town USA project.
DelliQuadri, Interim City Manager Wendy DuBord and City Councilwoman Meg Bentley attended the workshop. They met with Reeves Brown, the state’s new executive director of the Department of Local Affairs; and Dwayne Romero, the state’s new executive director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
“He was extremely excited,” DelliQuadri said about Romero’s reaction to Steamboat’s potential Regional Tourism Act proposal.
Romero “asked very specific questions … and strongly encouraged us to apply for the RTA funding,” DelliQuadri told the City Council.
Brown is the former executive director of Club 20, the conservative-leaning Western Slope advocacy group. Before being appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, Romero was an Aspen City Council member and manager of commercial and lodging properties in Snowmass Village. They will coordinate the application process, but the commission is the decision-making body.
Steamboat’s application would request a percentage of statewide sales tax revenues that exceed an established baseline. If Steamboat received Regional Tourism Act funding, the city could bond for projects such as Yampa River Core Trail extensions, bike lanes on Yampa Street, new mountain bike trails and more, to promote the city as a year-round tourist destination.
The state funds would depend on an upturn in the national economy to generate tax revenues that exceed the baseline, however. DelliQuadri said this week that the downside to receiving the funds and bonding for the projects would be that if the economy didn’t turn around, and state sales tax revenues didn’t exceed the baseline, the city would have the bond payments without a revenue stream.
She acknowledged additional concerns Tuesday night.
“Anytime we build anything … it costs money to maintain, and it costs money to operate,” DelliQuadri said. “If we redevelop Yampa Avenue, we have to maintain it. … If we extend the Core Trail, we have to maintain it.”
The tax-increment funding wouldn’t apply to maintenance costs, she said.
Furthermore, she added, Steamboat’s best chance of a successful application would require a guarantee of future mountain biking improvements on Mount Werner, but the tax-increment funding also couldn’t be used on federal lands such as U.S. Forest Service areas.
“In order for our project to be successful, the ski area is going to have to commit to building,” she said.
DelliQuadri said Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. only is prepared to commit to an “intent” to build out its mountain biking master plan. Completion of that intent depends on ski area revenues.
The city could boost those efforts with financial assistance up front. DelliQuadri floated amounts of $300,000 to $500,000, possibly through an accommodations tax that is dedicated to promote tourism and will have unallocated revenues as of 2013.
President Cari Hermacinski said residents undoubtedly would ask why the city would use taxpayer dollars to enhance amenities of a for-profit, private corporation.
“That’s a question that we’ll need to be prepared to answer,” she said.
DelliQuadri said that such discussions are “highly premature” given the uncertainty of Steamboat’s even receiving Regional Tourism Act dollars. But she’s begun meeting with Ski Corp. officials and said negotiations would involve “if we use taxpayer money on federal lands for their infrastructure … how do we get paid back or some return on that investment.”
City Council voted, 6-0, on Tuesday night to support DelliQuadri’s continued work toward that application and to approve a Bicycle Tourism Zone that sets parameters for potential infrastructure improvements. Councilman Scott Myller was absent.
Regional Tourism Act applications are due May 5. DelliQuadri said she would continue to provide the council with information and further details before that time.
“There’s a long road between now and when we sign on the dotted line for this thing,” Hermacinski said.
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com