Our view: Time to stimulate base area | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Time to stimulate base area

— Within the past week, we’ve seen two dramatic signs that local resort and government leaders have the resolution required to continue improvements at the base of Steamboat Ski Area in the face of a deep recession.

We support and take great encouragement from the exhibited level of cooperation and determination.

On Monday, officials with Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and Resort Ventures West – developers of Wildhorse Meadows – confirmed they are very close to reaching a deal to partner on a $7 million deal to build a public gondola. The gondola would move skiers and mass transit users from a platform at Wildhorse Meadows, near Trailhead Lodge and Ski Corp.’s Meadows Parking Lot, to Gondola Square. Also on Monday, city Planning and Community Development Director Tom Leeson confirmed that City Manager Jon Roberts approved expediting the permit process to have the eight-passenger gondola operational in the coming ski season – perhaps soon after the new year.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, all six City Council members at a hearing about the base area, wearing Urban Renewal Authority hats, expressed a strong willingness to commit city reserves to help secure a bond issue of at least $11.2 million. The bond would allow work on a pedestrian promenade showing off the resurrected Burgess Creek to continue at the ski base. The revenue stream that would repay the bonds would be covered by an increase in the URA property tax increment – not to be confused with a tax increase – at the ski base.

But it cannot be done without the city backstopping those revenues with its reserves.

All six council members agreed that allowing the work to go dormant would be a mistake that could jeopardize the goal of stimulating private investment in our aging ski base.

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They went a step further. Several council members expressed concern upon hearing $11.2 million would not be enough to fund a snowmelt system for the promenade. With that in mind, they asked URAAC to return May 5 with a bond scenario that would raise something less than an additional $5 million and include more work. Although it comes with a sizable carbon footprint, we agree a snowmelt system, perhaps with the ability to convert to alternative energy sources in the future, carefully should be considered up front.

In a time of economic challenge, the community cannot afford to fail to make prudent investments in one of its greatest economic assets.

Further, the fact that city government and resort leaders refuse to pull their heads into their shells and are working closely together, sends a strong message. It communicates to the financial markets, airlines contracted to fly here and to our guests and investors that we are determined to carry on.

Bill Jensen, CEO of ski area parent company Intrawest, said in a published report last week that even though his company is in survival mode, it is planning to fund a share of the new gondola at Steamboat – reflecting the importance of the investment.

We don’t pretend to have the financial sophistication to evaluate the impending plans to issue bonds in detail. However, we take encouragement from the experts consulted by URAAC, the comfort level of interim City Finance Director Bob Litzau – who consistently approaches such matters with a large dose of fiscal conservatism – and the fact the financial models built to support several bonding scenarios include built-in assumptions that property values here will decline during the life of the bonds.

The base area improvements going forward in the next three years represent a 50 year investment in the economic health of the community. This is a local economic stimulus package we can get behind.