Steamboat City Council votes in favor of spending lodging tax to expand ice arena, Old Town Hot Springs | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat City Council votes in favor of spending lodging tax to expand ice arena, Old Town Hot Springs

Bumper cars pack the ice at Howelsen Ice Arena earlier this spring as users test out the arena’s new set of 10 bumper cars. The cars are available to rent at the arena and have proven popular so far.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When a Yampa Valley youth baseball coordinator who just had his wisdom teeth extracted four hours earlier stepped up to the podium in Citizens Hall Tuesday night to lobby for an expansion of the Howelsen Ice Arena, it became clear residents here were very passionate about how the city will spend $1.2 million of its lodging tax revenue.

At the end of the fierce lobbying effort from several residents, the Steamboat Springs City Council narrowly decided that about $900,000 of the lodging tax reserve should go toward the ice arena expansion to accommodate a second sheet of ice and a covered practice space for baseball and other sports teams, and $286,000 of the funds should go toward a major renovation project at the Old Town Hot Springs.

The Hot Springs project will expand its weightlifting and fitness rooms and also add more spaces for additional community needs, including classes for senior citizens, youth and groups with special needs.

Council members who supported the vote felt the ice arena project had the most potential to bring more tourists to town.

"Do this, and they will come," councilman Scott Ford said as he spoke about the potential of the second sheet of ice and how popular hockey is in the western United States.

By voting in favor of the ice arena and the Old Town Hot Springs, the council strayed from a recommendation given Tuesday by a committee the council formed to vet lodging tax proposals.

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After nine months of meetings, the committee recommended the council fund the ice arena expansion and also spend $286,000 on the relocation and preservation of the Arnold Barn instead of the Old Town Hot Springs.

But a majority of council members said they think the barn project will get funded in December from another pool of tax revenue generated from the base area urban renewal authority.

The council oversees that funding as well and felt it would be more appropriate for the barn to receive funding from the URA, not from the pool of tax money that must be spent on something that will draw more tourists to town.

The council's 4-3 vote in favor of using the lodging tax on the ice arena and Old Town Hot Springs expansions is not yet final, however.

The council must vote two more times to approve an ordinance to approve the spending.

And some council members want to spend some time crunching numbers on the ice arena expansion, including looking at their revenue projections, before they give their final blessing.

Council President Walter Magill voted with council members Ford, Kathi Meyer and Jason Lacy to endorse spending the tax money on the ice arena and the Old Town Hot Springs.

Magill, who was the first to propose the split between the two projects, appeared to grow frustrated as some council members called for more time to consider the decision.

"Sooner or later you got to aim, shoot, fire," Magill said. "If we don't make a decision tonight, I'll be disappointed."

Earlier in the evening, Magill disclosed he had provided engineering services at no cost to the ice arena proposal, but he didn't think it amounted to a conflict of interest.

Council members who opposed Magill's motion had a number of concerns about committing to spending $1.2 million at this time.

For example, councilwoman Robin Crossan said she wanted to see the council settle on a vision for Howelsen Hill before choosing how to spend the reserve lodging tax money.

Council members are currently wrestling with how to make the historic ski hill more financially sustainable.

Crossan also expressed concern about committing funds to a new amenity when the city currently cannot afford to maintain the amenities it already has.

"Until we have vision for Howelsen, I would prefer to hang tight … and look at where we're going," she said.

Councilwoman Heather Sloop wanted more time to figure out what is going to happen to the Igloo child care center that is currently occupying the space that the ice arena expansion would occupy.

The city has been planning to replace the Igloo with a new modular in a different location near the ice arena.

But the council was set to consider later Tuesday evening whether to move forward with the project after its price tag has skyrocketed over the years to more than $900,000.

The council is likely to continue the lodging tax discussion at a budget retreat on Oct. 3.

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

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