Our View: Trails project deserves funding
March 30, 2013
Lodging tax project proposals
After months of vetting, one project stands above the rest as deserving of the annual tax revenue stream.
A long and thorough process to identify the next recipient of the city's 1 percent tax on nightly lodging accommodations is coming to an end, and one project stands above the rest as most deserving of the annual revenue stream.
The Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance's proposal to build, expand or improve 46 multi-use trails and connectors throughout the city and on adjacent public lands best meets the criteria of the original 1986 ballot question while also offering the most significant opportunity to attract new and repeat visitors to Steamboat Springs and Routt County.
Further, the Trails Alliance's plan builds on the sustained momentum of the Bike Town USA initiative, which aims to make Steamboat Springs a premier cycling destination in the U.S. As we've previously stated, the Bike Town USA initiative offers significant economic potential by tapping into Steamboat's longstanding active, outdoors-oriented lifestyle and commitment to enjoying and preserving the area's tremendous natural beauty.
There are other reasons to like the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance's proposal. Importantly, its multitude of projects can be prioritized and phased over time, utilizing available lodging tax revenues as opposed to necessitating voter-approved bonds to fund the entirety of the work. And while the proposal calls for a variety of intermediate and advanced trails on Rabbit Ears Pass, Buffalo Pass, Emerald Mountain and Mad Creek, it also includes key additions and extensions to the Yampa River Core Trail as well as connector trails, paths and amenities throughout city limits. In short, the project offers something for everyone. Finally, the ongoing maintenance and upkeep costs for the trails project is relatively small.
None of this is to say the other finalists for the hotly contested lodging tax revenues aren't also worthy projects. We think the Yampa River Park proposal would be a wonderful amenity for downtown, and the Howelsen Sports Complex proposal could be a boon to a key, though heavily subsidized, recreational facility in the heart of Steamboat.
The lodging tax committee's work also has been commendable. The open, public process has seen a list of almost 40 initial applicants whittled to just three finalists (the Friends of the Chief proposal hasn't been officially eliminated, although the lodging tax committee passed over it last week). The committee, made up of two Steamboat Springs City Council members, three representatives of the lodging industry and one at-large community member, has been thorough and spot-on in its evaluations of the myriad proposals.
Of course, the backdrop of any decision must be whether the proposals fulfill the language of the 1986 ballot question approving the tax: "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?"
Put simply, the winning project should be an amenity or amenities that can put heads in beds. We don't think the Yampa River Park proposal meets that threshold, and we think the Trails Alliance's plan is better aligned with a long-term economic strategy than the Howelsen Sports Complex proposal. We therefore urge the lodging tax committee and the Steamboat Springs City Council to sign off on the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance project and its vision of an expanded and connected trails system throughout the area.