Our View: New river park tops the list
March 22, 2014
If we could go back in time more than 100 years and execute a redo on the original street grid for Steamboat Springs, one of the highest goals on our list would be to impose a 50-foot setback from the Yampa River for residential and commercial development along the south side of Yampa Street where it borders the river.
Of course, it's too late to accomplish that goal. But it's that hindsight that convinces us the members of the lodging tax committee made a wise choice this week when they identified their top priority for spending $900,000 in lodging tax revenues pegged for Yampa Street.
The committee will recommend to the Steamboat Springs City Council that acquiring a vacant parcel at the intersection of Seventh and Yampa streets for a future pocket park on the river should be the first step in making Yampa Street more appealing to pedestrians and visitors.
It's undeniable, we think, that the Yampa River, where it flows right past the back door of our historic downtown commercial district, has an appeal that transcends mere scenery.
Visitors and residents alike are drawn to the river for picnic lunches, scenic photo ops, floating sports, fishing and even swimming. In late summer, the kayak feature known as Charlie's Hole near the confluence with Soda Creek turns into an old-fashioned swimming hole that evokes a nostalgic Norman Rockwell painting.
Our downtown river experience is one that would be difficult to replicate, even in mountain towns such as Buena Vista and Salida that have impressive public access to the Arkansas River. The lodging tax committee is right on target with its plan to provide more downtown access to the river
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Presently, we enjoy limited public access to the Yampa from Fifth to 13th streets. The exceptions include Ski Town Lions Park just below the Fifth Street Bridge, the stream bank boulders at the Ninth Street pedestrian bridge, the rocky beach at Charlie's Hole and at Lincoln Park downstream from the 13th Street Bridge.
The Seventh Street parcel would provide a streamside park right in the middle of an already resurgent dining district just a block from the downtown retail district. We predict people would flock to it.
The lodging committee did a thorough job of evaluating and ranking its alternatives and concluded that, with the Seventh Street parcel about to go on the real estate market, it's time to tie it up before the opportunity is lost. True, Yampa Street is in desperate need of more sidewalks, but we can build those any time.
The immediate challenge ahead of the committee is that the estimated $900,000 in lodging tax revenues, which are projected to accrue in the next three years, is likely to fall several hundred thousand dollars shy of the anticipated asking price of the Seventh Street parcel.
Members of City Council already have made it plain that they will not backstop any shortfall with city general funds. And we have no problem with that. But the city does have staff with expertise in planning and grant writing to lend.
We are optimistic that the community of Steamboat Springs' proven track record of delivering outstanding completed projects when grant monies are extended to us will attract funding for the Yampa Street Park. And even if we lack funds to fully develop our vision for the completed park in the short-term, Steamboat's private sector, together with its service clubs and nonprofits, have demonstrated the ability to turn a vacant lot into a safe haven along the Yampa that will be enjoyed by all.
Let's all pitch in.