Steamboat City Council plans to ask voters to approve spending lodging tax on both trails, Yampa River Promenade | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat City Council plans to ask voters to approve spending lodging tax on both trails, Yampa River Promenade

Two seven-member steering committees will help to oversee the funding of the Yampa River Promenade and local trail projects.

— The Steamboat Springs City Council wants the city’s lodging tax to create more than one type of tourist driver here in the coming years.

After a more than yearlong process to determine how to next spend the tax, the council Tuesday night voted unanimously to start planning a ballot initiative that will ask voters here to approve spending millions of dollars’ worth of the tax throughout the next 20 years on hiking and biking trails and a new promenade on Yampa Street.

In the meeting where the council continued to wrestle over whether both of the finalists for the tax dollars effectively could be funded, the downtown promenade project proved to be too enticing for the council to stick to the lodging tax committee’s recommendation to just fund the trail projects.

By extending the commitment of the tax from the committee’s recommended 10 years to 20 and planning to bond, the city estimates the trails projects still can earn more than $6 million of the revenue, while the promenade will receive about $1 million.

Even council members Scott Myller and Kenny Reisman, who were most in favor of following the committee’s recommendation, came to vote to move forward with the ballot language that would ask to share the funds.

"I think this is a fine compromise," Myller said minutes after he questioned whether the city should commit any of the tax to downtown when it mostly is generated from lodging properties in other parts of the city.

Council’s decision Tuesday night kicked off a new chapter in the process for determining how to spend the 1 percent tax that typically generates $600,000 to $800,000 each year from guest stays.

Pending two more votes from council to approve the ballot language, voters in November will have the ultimate say on whether the dollars will be spent.

They also will decide whether to approve the other desire of the council to split $60,000 of the tax each year between the marketing of the new amenities and capital improvements at Haymaker Golf Course.

Leaders of the Trails Alliance who attended Tuesday’s meeting took a few moments before reacting to the news in Centennial Hall and weren’t as welcoming of the news as proponents of the promenade.

"It’s tough," Trails Alliance co-founder Eric Meyer said. "I think it’s going to be tough to pass a 20-year commitment."

But Meyer said he still was pleased with council’s commitment to the trails.

Doug Davis, executive director of the city’s Bike Town USA Initiative, also said he was pleased the council is moving forward with a significant investment to attract more hikers and bikers.

"The community will decide now," he said.

At the other end of Centennial Hall, proponents of the Yampa promenade said they plan to put the funds to good use.

Although their project is estimated to cost $2.1 million, planners talked about finding ways to raise and leverage other money.

"I think anything is better than nothing," Kim Haggarty, a property owner on Yampa Street, said about the council’s commitment to share at least a small part of the tax. "I think it’s awesome they’re behind us and willing to make this investment."

Still looming for the tax is the creation of a steering committee that will prioritize projects and recommend how to fund them.

The committee is envisioned to help choose among the more than 46 trails proposed by the Alliance and balance the priorities of biking enthusiasts here and lodging leaders whose properties generate the money.

"I think the decision tonight still leaves a bunch of questions that need to be answered," Meyer said.

The council on July 16 will vote on the first reading of an ordinance drafting ballot language for how to spend the tax.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com