Lodging tax committee recommends purchase of riverside lot on Yampa Street | SteamboatToday.com

Lodging tax committee recommends purchase of riverside lot on Yampa Street

The Yampa Street lodging tax committee decided the lot at Seventh and Yampa streets should be the top priority for lodging tax funding. There are visions to convert the lot, shaded in green second from the bottom, into a pocket park.

— The Yampa Street lodging tax committee has decided the purchase of a riverfront parcel at Yampa and Seventh streets should be Step 1 of the broader plan to transform Yampa into a more pedestrian-friendly attraction.

The committee of seven volunteers will present their recommendation April 1 to the Steamboat Springs City Council, which ultimately will decide how the $900,000 of the lodging tax that has been dedicated to Yampa Street should be spent.

Lodging tax committee members on Wednesday stressed that while the purchase and eventual conversion of the Seventh Street parcel into a park is the most immediate priority in their eyes, they want to accomplish the entire parks and promenade project with other funding sources.

"We really feel adamant that while this one piece of the project is great, it isn’t as great if we don’t have the whole plan in place," committee chairman Jason Lacy said.

The decision to recommend the land purchase on Seventh Street came after the committee of seven volunteers graded the three biggest pieces of the parks and promenade project on a number of criteria ranging from its potential to promote tourism to how shovel ready it was.

The potential land purchase ranked above the installation of sidewalks and other parts of a promenade and a separate purchase of a lot at Sixth Street to convert into a park.

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Because the Seventh Street lot is about to be listed for sale and could be bought by a private developer, committee members feared losing the opportunity.

There are future plans to convert the lot into a pocket park with public restrooms that also could accommodate a new pedestrian bridge across the Yampa River to Howelsen Hill.

The lodging tax committee of Realtors, lawyers and business owners was faced with a task of deciding how to best spend $300,000 annually on improvements on Yampa.

The current projected price of the lot on Seventh Street mentioned by the committee is hundreds of thousands of dollars more expensive than the available lodging tax funding.

That means if the City Council is open to the recommendation, alternative funding sources would have to be identified.

Not including land costs, the Yampa River promenade project is estimated to cost $2.8 million.

Planning Director Tyler Gibbs suggested the committee first identify what its priority was and then turn to alternative funding sources.

In addition to the purchase of the Seventh Street parcel, the park and promenade project calls for the addition of a 16- to 24-foot wide sidewalk along Yampa as well as better lighting and other access points to the river.

Funding sources that are being discussed to help make this plan a reality include grants, the establishment of a new urban renewal authority downtown, utilizing a transfer of development rights program and creating a new local taxing district to generate funding for maintenance.

The committee’s recommendation to first purchase the Seventh Street parcel did spur some debate about the promenade project.

Member Jill Brabec worried that "we’re not buying a park, we’re buying raw land.”

"Unless further money comes in, we just have an empty lot," Brabec said.

Other committee members said the purchase of the lot would have some benefits before it was converted to a park, including new public access to the river and a place to possibly stage other activities.

Gibbs said there also is the potential for volunteer work to help get it cleaned and usable.

Much of the ensuing discussion focused on the limited amount of funding the committee had to work with.

The lodging tax funding will come in the form of $300,000 per year until it reaches $900,000.

Lacy said in a way, the group was "handcuffed" by the funding, but it shouldn’t deter them from pursuing the entirety of the project.

Committee members also discussed the possibility of asking the council to have the city contribute financially to the project on top of the lodging tax dollars that are generated by tourist stays.

However, some City Council members including Kenny Reisman have made it clear in recent weeks that the passage of Referendum 2A, which dedicated the lodging tax to trail projects and the Yampa Street improvements, should not be viewed as a mandate for the city to spend on the projects from its general fund.

Wednesday’s recommendation from the Yampa Street lodging tax committee came as a separate committee vetting trail projects met at the same time in Centennial Hall.

The seven volunteers in the trails group have been prioritizing all of the trail projects that can be funded by an estimated $5.2 million in lodging tax revenue throughout the next decade.

The committee on Wednesday was scheduled to review potential trails on Emerald Mountain.

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

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