Howelsen Hill task force discussion to continue

Commission members request more information from Steamboat City Council

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Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission members agreed to continue a discussion about a possible Howelsen Hill Ski Area task force at its work session Oct. 26 after starting the conversation Wednesday.

Commission members reached a consensus about continuing the discussion but said they needed more direction from the Steamboat Springs City Council about what a task force might do.

Without that, Chairman Jack Trautman said, the commission was “shooting in the dark.”

“You give us the assignment, and we’ll go work on it,” he said. “This is not a clearly defined assignment.”

Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director Chris Wilson suggested the Parks and Recreation Commission identify what questions it has and propose answers at the work session. He said the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, Howelsen’s primary user, and a City Council member would be invited to the meeting.

Those questions could include defining the long-term vision for Howelsen, possible revenue generators and the time frame for implementing them.

Wilson said the questions and answers then could be presented to the City Council to get its feedback about whether the Parks and Recreation Commission is on the right track and how to proceed.

Wilson explained that some City Council members expressed concern about the operation of Howelsen Hill during Steamboat’s all-day budget hearing Oct. 4.

He said they weren’t comfortable with a reduction in operating hours by about 9 hours and 45 minutes this season, from 1 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday to 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, 1 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 3:45 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; Saturday and Sunday would remain open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. He said they wanted to know whether Howelsen could be profitable.

Howelsen historically has required an annual operational subsidy from the city’s general fund that in recent years has reached nearly $1 million, which also includes some support to the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena. The subsidy is projected to be nearly $800,000 next year.

Wilson said the work session also would include information about costs to operate the ski area and how much a rate increase, which commission members approved Thursday, would generate for the 2011-12 season.

Parks and Recreation Department Supervisor Craig Robinson said the rate increase, the first in three years, wouldn’t be significant. He said it wouldn’t be enough to restore the ski area’s hours to what they were last year.

Wilson said the rate increase was part of the Parks and Recreation Department’s master plan, which included a cost-recovery policy. He said Howelsen’s prices still are far below other local Nordic centers and ski hills of similar sizes.

In other action, the Parks and Recreation Commission:

■ Approved officers. Trautman will remain chairman and JoEllen Heydon will be vice chairwoman.

■ Discussed the city’s plan to start televising meetings. Commission members supported the move to Centennial Hall, which would be required to televise the meetings, but questioned whether spending $8,000 to $9,000 annually to do so, according to the estimate Wilson provided, was appropriate in difficult economic times.

■ Discussed the bike park that was planned for Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District land between Whistler Park and Walton Creek. The commission will discuss the park further at the Oct. 26 workshop.

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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