Our View: Press ‘pause’ on base area
May 16, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs City Council should resist the temptation Tuesday to approve $2.2 million in base area promenade work until the city's ability to access additional funds and generate enough tax incremental financing to pay off the debt becomes clear.
Of course, that's not the message the council is getting from the Urban Redevelopment Area Advisory Committee, which last week voted unanimously to recommend spending about $2.2 million on earthwork, utilities, a temporary gravel trail, snowmelt mains and other items that would prepare the base area for the eventual completion of a public promenade and the daylighting of Burgess Creek.
Significantly, the $2.2 million would provide few, if any, public amenities other than the gravel trail. And the remainder of the work to complete the promenade would be contingent upon financing that is anything but assured. Although URAAC members and the city's finance director are confident revenue streams from the base area are sufficient to move forward soon with the remainder of the promenade work, we're inclined to press the pause button until such revenue streams become abundantly clear. Simply put, this is not the time to live beyond the city's means or to take unnecessary financial risk.
But that is what URAAC is asking the city to do because the Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority is faced with a situation where it is living beyond its means. Ironically, the intent of urban renewal authorities is to encourage reinvestment in blighted areas. As applied to this ski area, however, the baseline for the tax increment financing was set when property values were going up, not when they were at a low point. The economic recession coupled with the demolition of income-producing properties has created the present situation. The Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority was set up to stand on its own — with its own source of revenues. The city has had to exert discipline in this economic slowdown. The URAAC and Redevelopment Authority should do the same.
We don't doubt the significance of the public-private partnership at the base area, and we've all seen benefits from the Urban Renewal Authority — most notably in the form of improved wayfinding and significantly improved traffic flow through the addition of two roundabouts. Further, we continue to think the promenade project and the daylighting of Burgess Creek eventually will be a key upgrade to the base of the ski area.
A good deal of money has been spent on the design work for the promenade project, and it's turnkey as soon as the funding is available. But given the recent issue with U.S. Bank about a notice of default on the $17.5 million base area loan and the bank's refusal to free up more than half of the $5 million allocated for base area work this year, it's hard to understand the urgency to move forward with a portion of the work and no guarantees on when the remainder could be completed.
If private interests at the base area are so adamant about the promenade work beginning immediately, perhaps they can front the necessary funds to be paid back later through base area tax revenues. Until that time, it remains inappropriate for the city to put itself at financial risk or provide additional funding for a project that, though important, is unlikely to generate any near-term development or economic growth at the base of Mount Werner.