Steamboat council says full speed ahead on ice arena expansion despite concerns project is moving too fast | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat council says full speed ahead on ice arena expansion despite concerns project is moving too fast

Mike Cochran steers the Howelsen HIll Ice Arena's "U.C. Health Zambulance" out of the arena Nov. 3 after polishing the ice in advance of a hockey game between Steamboat's pee wee red team and their counterparts from Summit County. The only other zambulance (it's a contraction of Zamboni and ambulance) in Colorado takes care of the ice surface at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs City Council gave its blessing Tuesday night to proceeding with a second sheet of ice at Howelsen Ice Arena next year despite some concerns in the room the city was moving too fast on the project.

"I just think we're moving too quickly," Councilwoman Sonja Macys said as her six fellow council members agreed to enter into contract negotiations with a donor willing to give $1 million toward the project's $2.55 million cost. "It's like we're granting ourselves a tremendous amount of variances."

Macys said while she supports the idea of expanding the ice arena, she thought the city was straying from some normal policies and procedures that would have some items, such as the operations plan for the new facility and naming rights, vetted first by the Parks and Recreation Commission.

"My concern is that everything has gone really well up until now, everything has been really open and thorough and transparent, and I feel like by rushing at the very last stage of this, I'm very concerned we're going to make mistakes," she said.

City officials told the council they were trying to get some agreements in place before the new year so local philanthropists Michael and Sara Craig Scheckman, who are donating the $1 million toward the facility, can take advantage of enterprise zone tax credits this fiscal year with a portion of their planned donation.

A proposed contract between the city and the Craig-Scheckmans states the project must start next year, that the city will guarantee Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association has use of the facility at certain times, and that the facility will be named the Craig-Scheckman Youth Sports Facility.

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A majority of the council appeared to be comfortable with the terms.

The contract also would require the city to allow the Craig-Sheckmans to review any press releases, advertising, signage and brochures that are associated with the new facility over the next two years.

Steamboat resident Bill Jameson shared Macys' concerns about the speed of the project. He equated the council's quick blessing of the plan, which came despite the city still being about $650,000 short of the entire project cost, to the city acting like the "highball express."

The council did not take public comment on the issue until after they had already endorsed how the project and fundraising campaigns would advance in the coming months.

Jameson wondered whether the city, which is pitching in $900,000 in lodging tax dollars to the project, would give the same treatment to other entities in town that wanted tax money despite not having all of the funds to cover the entire cost of their projects.

Some council members did wonder whether they would disincentive potential donors by moving the project forward without having all the money in hand.

The council did not make any formal motions or take any votes other than straw polls to advance the $2.55 million project.

The city also acknowledged that nearly $300,000, or maybe even $650,000, in private funds needs to be raised before ground can be broken next summer.

Government Programs Manager Winnie DelliQuadri said the city thinks it is very likely private fundraisers can deliver $350,000 to the city, and the city is also in a good position to get a $350,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to cover the remaining project costs.

If the city does not get the grant, it would need to find $700,000 to put the project across the finish line.

Council members who were supportive of moving ahead with the project timeline on Tuesday noted how unique it was to get such a large donation from a private donor. They also supported allowing community members to get their names in the new facility by making certain levels of donations.

The ice arena expansion will create additional ice time in the busy winter months, and the new facility will be available as a covered practice facility in the spring, summer and fall for other athletes such as soccer and lacrosse players.  

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