Youth tennis players play Thursday night at the Tennis Center of Steamboat Springs. With new staff members and a growth in the youth tennis program, the center has had an eventful year.

Photo by Scott Franz

Youth tennis players play Thursday night at the Tennis Center of Steamboat Springs. With new staff members and a growth in the youth tennis program, the center has had an eventful year.

Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs celebrates year of progress as budget tension looms

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— As he climbed to the top of the ladder to do some routine maintenance Thursday at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs, it was easy to tell Jim Swiggart is as passionate as ever about all things tennis.

Swiggart, who has run the facility now for 23 years with his wife, Stacy, then went back to his office and chatted excitedly on the phone about an upcoming tournament.

In a few hours, the quiet facility would be full of dozens of youth players.

It's been an eventful year for the Tennis Center and the Swiggarts.

In fall 2012, there was some serious angst in the tennis community surrounding Swiggart's decision to not renew the contracts of longtime tennis pros John Aragon and Don Toy.

Players packed the Steamboat Springs City Council chambers and asked the city to do something about it.

A compromise eventually was reached, and the pros were kept on board.

On Wednesday night, Swiggart stood before the city's Parks and Recreation Commission to “talk about the cool things” that have happened at the facility since that time.

He told the commission that the ongoing effort to get the Tennis Center from “good to great” required some “trauma and headaches,” but the service has improved and programs are expanding.

He credited his new tennis pro, Bill Conway, and Conway's wife, Loretta, the center's new director of business development, for helping with the progress.

“It is a phenomenal place,” Swiggart told the commission before outlining the facility's successes in the last year that also include the growth of its youth tennis program and being ranked on Trip Advisor as the city's second most popular attraction behind Steamboat Ski Area.

Now one year into his renewed contract with the city, Swiggart and the Tennis Center will have to face some other challenges, including some ongoing budget tensions with the Steamboat City Council and what Swiggart believes is an inflated representation of the subsidy the facility receives from the city.

Proposed funding for the resurfacing of clay courts at the Tennis Center in the past two years has reignited a debate in Centennial Hall about how much the city should be subsidizing all of its recreational facilities, which include the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena, Howelsen Hill and the Howelsen Ice Arena.

Some council members recently have expressed a desire to see the subsidies reduced or eliminated and the facilities become self sufficient.

City staff has heard that request and over the last year has been working to better market the amenities.

In the case of the Ice Arena, a consultant was brought in to look at ways to increase revenue.

But it is the Tennis Center that has provoked the most discussion for the city council.

In October, the council voted for the second year in a row to delay funding for clay court resurfacing at the Tennis Center because the facility's subsidy was estimated to total $174,835. The cost includes such things as maintenance, snow plowing and an allocated overhead expense totaling $34,728.

In a letter to the local tennis community in October, Swiggart and his wife, Stacy, wrote that because of some costs included in the subsidy, such as $57,864 for utilities that the concessionaire is picking up for the first time, “it can be argued the subsidy for the center is closer to $30,000.”

The Swiggarts then recommended that the city create a new committee that could suggest acceptable subsidy levels for the city's amenities and also consider the creation of a Parks and Recreation District similar to the one in Highlands Ranch.

Despite some concern over the subsidy total, Swiggart said Thursday that he had a good relationship with city staff.

Swiggart's update to the Parks and Recreation Commission this week came at the same time that Jim Webster, chairman of the volunteer Steamboat Tennis Committee, asked the commission to give his group a bigger voice in Tennis Center-related matters, including the budget.

Webster said communication with players and users could be improved, and there is a deferred maintenance problem at the facility.

He also agreed with the Swiggarts that the city subsidy was “inflated,” and it would be unreasonable to place the entire subsidy on the Tennis Center and force it to raise its rates.

“If you were to try and add $150,000 in revenue to pay for the city subsidy, you are going to lose people who are playing,” Webster said.

The commission didn't go as far as endorsing Webster's committee in an official capacity, but Interim Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Director John Overstreet said he was willing to attend their meetings and listen to their concerns.

The Parks and Recreation Commission members said they wanted to hear more about the challenges at the Tennis Center and the specifics of the annual subsidy at a future meeting.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.

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