Steamboat Springs City Council scrutinizes Emerald contract
Members seek more precise language for park fees, expenditures, board member process
November 5, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Before it's ready to close on the purchase of the 586-acre Lyman Orton parcel, the Steamboat Springs City Council is seeking more clarity in its future working relationship with the nonprofit that would manage it.
The purchase price of the land is $1.3 million, and the city is pursuing a $600,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to help cover the cost.
City Attorney Tony Lettunich said the terms of purchase contract specify that the deal cannot close until the management contract is in place.
Council kicked the draft of a management contract with the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park group back to lawyers this week and asked for more precise language on terms that would cover issues such as fees that might be imposed on the public in the future, who makes the decision about the expenditure of operational funds raised by the group, who would appoint members to the group's board and how either entity might break up the relationship.
Steamboat Springs City Council President Cari Hermacinski, the lone dissenter in an Oct. 19 vote to approve a purchase contract for the parcel, said the language was too vague with regard to how much money the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park group plans to invest in the parcel and what, if any, plans there are to charge fees in the future.
"I think it needs significant tightening, and I think it needs to be written on behalf of the community because it's the community that's spending tax dollars to purchase it," Hermacinski said.
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She especially was dissatisfied with the language in a clause that would allow either side to break off the contract with six months' notice. She felt the single sentence in the management agreement devoted to dissolution — "either party may terminate this agreement with six months advance notice to the other party" — was too sparse and did not provide the city with enough conditions on which to base termination.
"I think it's very weak termination language," Hermacinski said. "It's the catch-all if anything goes wrong. I feel like I could litigate this for a lifetime. Until it's improved, I would not support it."
Dan Smilkstein, president of the group, said he and the group's attorney, Sherri Sweers, were appearing before City Council to offer them assurances.
"The (six) members of the board have 130 years of residency and a track record of public service, volunteerism and creating recreational and business opportunities," Smilkstein said. "The impression that it's a secretive society, that will no longer be the case."
Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Director "Chris Wilson has been involved with almost every single meeting we've had with (Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park). We want to take the work off of city staff's shoulders," Smilkstein said
In addition to Sweers and Smilkstein, who also serves on the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council, other board members include former City Council member and Chamber President Julie Green, businessman John Beaupre and Steamboat Ski Touring Center operator Birgitta Lindgren.
Wilson, along with Tammie Adams, City open space supervisor Craig Robinson, Orton and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Executive Director Gretchen Van De Carr are listed as advisory board members.
Councilman Jon Quinn urged Smilkstein to consider not counting Orton among its advisory board because his role as the selling landowner might be a sticking point for GOCo as it considers approving a $600,000 grant to help fund the purchase.
"For the sake of having as clean a contract as possible for GOCo, I think Mr. Orton should be removed from the board of directors."
Hermacinski agreed, "I think Jon's comments are appropriate. At the end of the day, it should be City Council that makes decisions, not a small, self-perpetuating group that includes the (former) owner."
Sweers said after the meeting that Orton recused himself from full membership of the board in 2008, when Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park formally achieved 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit.
In response to a question from City Council member Walter Magill, Smilkstein said that should the GOCo grant be approved and the sale close, the first order of business for the group will be a deliberate planning process. The first evidence of trail construction would be bicycle trails because designing singletrack isn't as complex as skate skiing trails. The latter demand more consideration of slope gradient and require more room because they must be the width of large grooming machines, Smilkstein said.
He added that ultimately, the goal is to build 30 kilometers of Nordic trails.