When the city asked residents in 2013 how it should spend the 1 percent lodging tax charged to tourists on their nightly rentals, City Hall was flooded with ideas.

When the city asked residents in 2013 how it should spend the 1 percent lodging tax charged to tourists on their nightly rentals, City Hall was flooded with ideas.

Suitors line up for shot at city's accommodations tax revenues


Editor's note: This story has been corrected from its original published version. The Steamboat Springs City Council will decide how the tax revenues will be spent, not the six-member committee that is vetting the proposals.

F.M. “Smokey” Vandergrift wants a piece of Steamboat Springs’ accommodations tax to create a one-hour TV special on the history of Howelsen Hill and Steamboat Ski Area.

James Dorr wants the city to use a portion of the tax to fill a troublesome pothole near the exit of McDonald’s on Anglers Drive.

The men are just two of nearly 40 suitors who have lined up with ideas for how the city should spend the $650,000 to $800,000 generated each year by a 1 percent accommodations tax charged to visitors on their nightly lodging rentals.

Last month, city officials asked residents to help them decide how to spend the tax.

From a request to add public restrooms at city parks to prevent tourists from “peeing in the trees” to revitalizing Yampa Street, the 38 formal ideas for the use of the tax are diverse.

They range from modest ($5,0000 for the Young Professionals Network to bring in more speakers and improve marketing efforts) to expensive ($5 million to renovate and expand Old Town Hot Springs).

They range from abstract (open up a travel market to Latin America) to more concrete (expand the Yampa River Core Trail to the north and south).

Entrepreneurs, Realtors, recreation leaders, Steamboat’s public school district and the city itself are among the applicants.

But it was a request from Jay Readinger and Mary Lou Gallup for pickleball courts that quickly caught Kenny Reisman’s eye.

“I was surprised to see it because I don’t know that much about it,” the Steamboat Springs City Council member said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a bad proposal, I just didn’t know of it. That, I think, really speaks to the excitement of this. There are people with all sorts of diverse interests from all backgrounds who want to make the community better.”

Reisman serves on the six-member committee that ultimately will recommend to the City Council how the tax that has been used exclusively to retire Haymaker debt since 1995 should be spent. The tax will be freed up from the Haymaker use in 2014. The tax also helped pay for the first Strings Music Festival tent and the original Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs bubble.

Steamboat residents passed the tax in 1986. The tax questions read: “Shall the City Council of Steamboat Springs, in order to provide revenues to fund development of improvements and amenities in Steamboat Springs which will promote tourism and enhance the vitality of Steamboat Springs as a premier destination resort, and enhance the community identity, environmental desirability and economic health of Steamboat Springs, enact an ordinance levying a lodging tax of 1 percent on public accommodations of less than 30 days?”

The committee plans to meet Wednesday to comb over the applications, consolidate any redundant applications and weed out any proposals that don’t adhere to the ballot language that created the tax in 1986.

That could mean three applications for a disc golf course and two for an ice rink at the base of Mount Werner immediately could shrink the list of applications to 35.

Many of the applicants are expected to be invited to participate in the next part of the process, which will entail a more formal “requests for proposal” period. The RFP is expected to be issued by the end of July, with a potential deadline of Aug. 31. The committee then will host public presentations from applicants whose RFP responses are “deemed most promising,” according to the city’s initial request for ideas document.

“Each person who put in an application strongly believes the fulfillment of that proposal will make this community better, and I think that’s really cool,” Reisman said.

He added that he is not “looking to create huge financial burdens for the city to shoulder down the road” as he helps decide how to spend the money.

One of the biggest players in the tax application pool is the city itself.

City officials submitted eight applications. The ideas range from establishing an attractive entryway on the west side of town to adding public restrooms to existing parks.

“Steamboat Springs has a wonderful series of parks and open space areas that provide high quality recreational opportunities to visitors and tourists alike,” the city’s application for public bathrooms starts. “Unfortunately, many of these first-class recreational amenities lack a basic restroom, which means that tourists are left to use smelly, uncomfortable port-a-potties, or to pee in the trees.”

Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark said most of the city’s proposals are important needs that currently aren’t possible for the city to fund. She added she would like to see the tax support existing infrastructure, not add something new that could “age, break and wither.”

“To be the gem we are today takes capital funds,” she said. “Right now, we need to polish the gem.”

Lodging tax proposals

Idea, proposer

■ One-hour TV special on history of Howelsen Hill, F.M. “Smokey” Vandergrift

■ Expansion of Bear River Park, city of Steamboat Springs

■ Expansion of Bear River Skate Park, Steamboat Skatepark Alliance

■ Renovation of Central Park Drive into “multimodal hub” with bike lanes and enhanced pedestrian crossings, city of Steamboat Springs

■ Invest in Bike Town USA Initiative, Bike Town USA

■ Community entryway in west Steamboat Springs, city of Steamboat Springs

■ Ice rink at base of Mount Werner, Mike Silverberg

■ Transformation of the Chief Plaza Theater into a cultural performing arts center, Friends of the Chief Foundation

■ Disc golf course, Christopher Garrison, Jason Ruemelin and Zac Hale

■ Enhancing community walkability and biking by adding enhanced pedestrian crossings, city of Steamboat Springs

■ Extend Yampa River Core Trail to the north, Scott Bideau

■ Extend Yampa River Core Trail to the South, Yampatika

■ Fieldhouse, Steamboat Springs School District

■ Turf field, Steamboat Springs School District

■ Replace old Steamboat Springs Transit buses and add GPS system, city of Steamboat Springs

■ Haymaker capital improvement projects, Haymaker Golf Course

■ Upgrade facilities in the Howelsen Hill sports complex, Howelsen Hill Sports Complex Partnership

■ Ice rink in Ski Time Square, Anne Barrington

■ International Mountain Bike Association Ride Center, Routt County Riders

■ Landscaping of U.S. Highway 40 medians, city of Steamboat Springs

■ Revitalization of Yampa Street, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs

■ Maintenance of athletic fields, Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association

■ Open new travel markets to Latin America, Sonia Franzel

■ Mountain bike ride center, Aryeh Copa

■ Purchase of five additional open space properties, city of Steamboat Springs

■ Perry Mansfield expansion project, Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp

■ Pickleball facility, Jay Readinger and Mary Lou Gallup

■ Public restrooms, city of Steamboat Springs

■ Relocate Emerald Park and Yampa River Botanic Park access points, Tom Leeson

■ Renovate and expand Old Town Hot Springs, Old Town Hot Springs

■ Repair potholes and improve intersections, James Dorr

■ Steamboat Art Museum improvements and maintenance, Steamboat Art Museum

■ Summer marketing program, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association

■ Upgrades to Yampa River corridor, Friends of the Yampa

■ $5,000 grant to Young Professionals Network, Young Professionals Network

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com


Dan Hill 4 years, 9 months ago

What an undignified feeding frenzy. Nothing like spending other people's money I suppose.

We ought to get rid of this slush fund tax. If investments in tourism related facilities are justified let the proponents put them on the ballot and convince the voters of their merits on a case by case basis.

I know that's a pipe dream, so let's at least heed Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark's advice and make sure we don't spend it on another infrastructure project that commits the city to maintenance and operating expenditures for the next thirty years for which it does not have the funds.

Mutlipy this thinking by every community in this country and that's how you end up with a 15 trillion dollar debt. The chickens will eventually come home to roost. We ought to be putting every cent we can into reserves so that when things go south big time we've got a major, major safety net. Coz it ain't gonna be pretty people!


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

City's proposals are simply lower priority projects not important for the city to fund in their budget process. Seems odd that city doesn't want to add to maintaining infrastructure costs and then proposes bathrooms which require ongoing maintenance.

BTW, I've seen people playing pickleball at the Tennis Center.

Personally, based upon the description of proposals at this time then it would occur to me that it should consider putting the money in the bank until more compelling requests are submitted. If any of these proposals were put on the ballot to pay for the project or let the tax expire then I doubt the tax would remain.


Sam Jones 4 years, 9 months ago

Dan and Scott, I would agree that the article today doesn't really paint a very attractive picture of the "feeding frenzy" of submissions. Pickle Ball, potholes and potties may not be inspiring to some of our community but they shouldn't be construed as representative of all submissions. I've seen and heard many of them privately and I think you'll find there are some really great ideas out there.

Putting money into reserves Dan for fear of some pending apocalypse is clearly not a good choice however. Cash earns zero remember, cash creates no jobs or economic health or community identity or environmental or economic health.

Also, fear of maintenance costs surrounding an infrastructure project is just that. Under that logic, non of us would buy cars as they need gas eh? Not all projects are net losers after maintenance ( exception being the tennis bubble of course).

If we are to maintain the accommodations tax (debatable for sure), the money needs to be spent.

Good luck to the tax committee, nice to have a bunch of choices.


mark hartless 4 years, 9 months ago

Putting money into reserves can be accomplished in ways other than the assumed "City bank account".

One way to keep money in reserve and still get a more attractive return for the community is to leave it in the hands of the taxpayers, most of whom would spend that into the very businesses this initiative is supposed to help.

That people accept their current tax rates is astounding to me; but I am absolutely mystified that people actually are willing to pay such a high tax as to have funds available to the degree that the community can have such a discussion as this. When you can't find a place better than some of these ideas for taxpayers money it's way past time to reduce taxes.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

Sam, But even the more plausible projects of a second ice rink would seem to have very little impact on tourism and be more about more ice time for locals.

Or remodeling the old town hot springs sounds plausible except so soon after the last remodel and they have pretty much maxed out the lot and parking. What is needed is not an ad hoc expansions, but a long term plan for local rec facilities.

One thing that that SB needs that would directly affect tourism is a bunch of adjacent fields. With YVEA buying 66 acres to move a less than acre Yampa St facility then there is a lot of land left over. Maybe there would be room for a bunch of fields which would take several years of accommodations tax to develop.

Or maybe there will be something out of Yampa St plans that makes sense for the accommodations tax.

It seems that the better opportunities for spending the money might become more apparent in a year or two. Thus, it might be worth building up the fund to pay for a bigger upcoming project.

Regardless, I suggest the standard of allocating money should be whether or not voters would have approved the tax to pay for this or that.


cindy constantine 4 years, 9 months ago

Seems to me the best thing we can do for the tourist business is to let the tax expire automatically lowering the lodging expense for visitors by the amount of the tax. If the tax was used to exclusively retire debt, then there is other debt that needs to be retired. Otherwise any expenditure should be put to a vote of the community.


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

I'll use this opportunity to re-float my new balloon -- our Yampa St. parking structure(s).

I am assuming the existing parking lot, across 10th from YVEA, is their employee and business parking. More acreage when they vacate.

The PD is also not quite ready to move yet...

Can't this money be invested and earmarked for our Parking Structures? I'm not sure how much the Feds (govt now) will contribute. But that's what Yampa St. needs.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

The paper has modified the original article to include the list of projects.

Seems to me that the project requests by the City and school district should be converted to ballot measures. Should the accommodations tax become a general funds city tax? Should the accommodations tax become an Educational Funds tax?

I'd guess that none of these projects would have a chance at being approved by voters.


jerry carlton 4 years, 9 months ago

Take the new sales tax off and give the lodging tax to the air program. The snowball in hell has a better chance of survival than this idea.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

Financial Director Deb Hinsvark has become notable for remarkable contradictory comments. This is the same finance director that said City could afford far larger pay raises for city staff, but now cannot afford far smaller projects.

Looks to me that City Finance Director Deb Hinsvark believes the City can afford what she wants funded and the City cannot afford what she does not want funded.


Bret Marx 4 years, 9 months ago

Great comments Sam. I agree. The City has been "stashing" money away in the reserves for so long now but you don't get anything back without spending a little. Remember, it takes money to make money. There were some really great ideas that if they came to fruition could really help out community financially. Everything takes maintenance. That's how things work but that doesn't mean new things can't be built to replace exisiting things that may be costing too much in maintenance now. You have to spend money to make money. And Mark, you are right too. You're quote...

"One way to keep money in reserve and still get a more attractive return for the community is to leave it in the hands of the taxpayers, most of whom would spend that into the very businesses this initiative is supposed to help."

City workers are tax payers too but if they aren't making any more money, it's highly unlikely they will spend more money in this community.

By the way, there was a great ad at the top of page 24 in yesterdays paper. Is that something that can be privatized?


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