Year of the crane | SteamboatToday.com

Year of the crane

A look back at an action-packed 2007

Brandon Gee

Intrawest's $265 million purchase of Steamboat Ski Area, below center, in March brought wide-ranging improvements and vitality to the resort. Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall, below left, made headlines throughout the year as did Steamboat Springs School Board member John DeVincentis, below right. But above all, the cranes and construction projects downtown and at the ski base will leave a long-lasting stamp on our community and the year of 2007.

Steamboat Springs — There were few dull moments in 2007. — There were few dull moments in 2007.

— There were few dull moments in 2007.

A $265 million ski area sale that brought new vitality to the resort, a City Council upheaval, a massive proposed annexation, affordable housing policies, the sale of Ski Time Square, a bought-out superintendent, a vastly improved airport in Hayden, controversial e-mails and a failed recall effort involving a School Board member, a broken water pipe and emergency portable toilets, historic preservation and Iron Horse debates, a rejected recreation center, a sheriff facing charges, growth across Routt County, tragic deaths, a baby boom, and a December filled with snow.

To name a few.

Although these issues captivated us, there was constant news, throughout it all, of a single theme that will have profound, lasting impacts on the Yampa Valley.

That theme is construction. Demolished landmarks and new groundbreakings were a seemingly daily occurrence in months marked by trucks and traffic, hard hats and hope. The construction of 2007 at the ski base, in downtown Steamboat and across Routt County will reshape our communities for decades to come.

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Here’s a look at the year that was.

Transformation

Locals have differing views about the construction that dominated the sights and sounds of Steamboat Springs this year. Local historian Bill Fetcher said it made him feel “helpless,” while Sandy Evans Hall said she feels “a sense of anticipation.”

“I anticipate the end of the construction, the finished product and the changes that will come,” said Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

The transformations reminded Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak that change is inevitable. Mike Forney said 2007’s theme song should be “I’ve Only Just Begun.” Fetcher preferred “Big Yellow Taxi,” a song whose dismal lyrics include, “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”

Many counted the March 1 sale of the Steamboat Ski Area to Intrawest as the most newsworthy event of 2007. That, and the urban renewal authority projects at the base of the ski area that got under way this year, are two giant catalysts sparking development interest in Steamboat Springs.

With changes come losses, but also optimism. Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord said the 2007 loss that she will miss most is the margaritas at Dos Amigos, the Ski Time Square restaurant that said “adios” Sept. 2. But overall, DuBord expressed excitement about the ongoing transformation of the base area.

“I think that the redevelopment of the base area is a really defining project for the city,” DuBord said. “It’s certainly inconvenient and it’s disruptive while it’s happening, but it’s exciting. What we’re doing now I’m sure citizens will be living with for decades.”

Dos Amigos, along with the rest of Ski Time Square and the Thunderhead Lodge, sold on April 26 to Cafritz Interests of Washington, D.C., for $53.9 million. The real-estate development firm plans to demolish both properties at the end of this ski season. Dos Amigos owner Gary Baxter was one businessman who chose to bail out early. While Baxter’s departure and others saddened some in 2007 – and while the loss of the Tugboat and many other businesses will do the same in 2008 – other losses are welcomed.

The demolition of Checkpoint Charlie, for example, was conducted with a champagne celebration.

“The unmanned booth at the entrance to Ski Time Square that would fool visitors and annoy locals for the past 25 years was taken down to a drum roll and crowd of 100 or more people,” Evans Hall said. “It was a secret part of the ground breaking ceremony for the urban renewal project that had Ski Time Square in pieces all summer. Those of us who stood out in the rain to watch the demolition were thoroughly entertained.”

The transformations extend from the mountain through downtown and all the way to Hayden, whose own building boom included the ground breaking of a new Coca-Cola distribution center. The town’s growth is evidenced in the resurgence of the Hayden Chamber of Commerce and the town’s efforts to move the Police Department out of its cramped Town Hall offices and into its own facility.

Between Hayden and Steamboat, the $24.6 million, March 19 sale of the 700-acre Brown property portends changes of a colossal scale. Steamboat 700 developers propose to build more than 2,000 homes on the site, which would be annexed into the city. While in its infancy year’s end, the development dominates city agendas and headlines.

At the polls

Elections “always are the most important event in a democracy,” County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said last week.

The year of the crane made for a contentious 2007 election. Five Steamboat Springs City Council seats were up for election, and the issue of how candidates would handle growth dominated a campaign that devolved into negativity by Election Day. In the end, local politicians were not immune to the vast changes sweeping the community – all three incumbent candidates lost their seats by substantial margins.

Or, as Forney put it, “Never have so many inflicted their dissatisfaction and outrage on so few.” Forney said the election had him feeling “disgust with the mudslinging, but jubilation with the results.”

Other convincing defeats included a proposed, property-tax funded, $34 million recreation center at Ski Town Fields. The recreation center lost by a 4-1 margin. A county property tax issue that would have funded road improvements and other capital projects also lost at the polls.

Taxpayers did, however, decide that their money was worth getting coal dust out of the lungs of South Routt students, and approved ballot measures that will allow the school district to replace it’s aging heating systems.

Tragedy

Routt County mourned the deaths of South Routt teenagers Sam Hedemark and Chris Fuller, which occurred in a June 23 oil tank explosion near Chapman Reservoir in Rio Blanco County. On Sept. 6, the death of 1-year-old Brianna Simon in Steamboat Springs began an investigation into what could be Steamboat’s first homicide since May of 2000. Brianna’s mother, Luz Cisneros, has been charged with murder and is due to appear for arraignment at 4 p.m. March 13. No trial date has been set.

Early in the year, Routt County’s hearts went out to Molly Look of North Routt, then 3, who on Jan. 17 spent about 30 minutes outside in subzero temperatures while wearing only a longsleeve shirt. A widespread response and fundraising effort helped Molly recover from frostbite and brought a community together.

Drama

Steamboat Springs School Board member DeVincentis was cast into the spotlight this year with the disclosure of e-mails he sent while principal of Strawberry Park Elementary School to Joby McGowan, a teacher in Mercer Island, Wash., about former Steamboat Springs Superintendent Cyndy Simms.

“I can’t imagine being married to her,” an excerpt from one e-mail states. “I would have been arrested for battering and abuse!!”

The venomous nature of the e-mails sparked outrage in the community. On July 12, a recall effort fell 154 votes short of the 1,933 needed to remove DeVincentis from office.

About a month later, on Aug. 10, the School Board bought out Superintendent Donna Howell’s contract, citing a “contentious” working relationship with Howell. Many counted the $270,000 buyout as among the worst news of 2007, including Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger and Evans Hall. Howell was later tapped to lead the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.

“One of the worst things that happened in 2007 was the loss of” Howell, Evans Hall said. “After the passage of the school bond issue, the development of Camp Soda Creek, the positive relationships that had been built in the community, I felt this was a loss for the school district. Fortunately, it will be a gain for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.”

Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall continues to dominate headlines after an Oct. 27 incident that resulted in his being cited for DUI and other charges. At year’s end, the Colorado Department of Revenue has upheld a one-year suspension of Wall’s driver’s license for his refusal to take a chemical breath test. The criminal trial is scheduled for Jan. 16, 2008.

The incident is one of several controversies involving the sheriff in his first year of office. Wall acknowledges and, in fact, embraces his controversial nature, but has said he is discouraged that the incident has overshadowed his more positive actions as sheriff, including his efforts to provide the county with 24-hour law enforcement coverage.

“Unfortunately, Gary’s public statements and actions left him wide open for news coverage, most of it negative, which has gotten in the way of his laudable efforts to reform the sheriff’s office,” Forney said.

The lighter side

Evans Hall was disappointed that Wall’s DUI allegations overshadowed the celebration of the Chamber’s 100th anniversary, which the sheriff was returning from when pulled over by Colorado State Patrol.

“The Chamber celebrated its past successes in the mining, agriculture and tourism industries and looked to the future in sustainable business practices,” Evans Hall said of the event, which saw Realtor David Baldinger Jr. named businessperson of the year and Prudential Steamboat Realty the business of the year.

Steamboat’s growth saw many new businesses and businesspeople emerge, from restaurants such as bistro c.v. to Joe Ross’s Dogpile Industries, born of the need to clean up dog waste revealed by the spring thaw.

“It’s a crappy job, but somebody has to do it,” Ross’s fliers stated.

On Sept. 11, 2007, an excavator working at the site of the Bud Werner Memorial Library expansion broke a water line, leaving the west side of Steamboat and hundreds of residents without usable water for two days. While it was far from a “light” issue at the time – there was not even fire protection at one point in west Steamboat – city officials can look back at the lighter side. City Clerk Julie Jordan earned the nickname “Potty Queen” for her concerted efforts to get portable toilets set up at convenient locations throughout the city.

The no water use order lasted two days and forced the city to engage its emergency management practices. DuBord called it one of the proudest moments of city staff and praised citizens for rolling with the punches.

“In true Steamboat style, they made the most of a sour situation,” DuBord said. “I only got one really kind of serious mad complaint.”

In October, the Colorado Rockies improbable run to the World Series provided a pleasant surprise and gave birth to the new month of “Rocktober.”

“That was fun,” said Assistant City Manager Lauren Mooney. “That was an exciting time. People got more knowledgeable about baseball who never watched it before.”

Looking forward

Many said the 2008 elections will be the most notable event of next year, and not just because it’s a presidential election. This month, Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman decertified or conditionally certified voting equipment throughout the state, including machines used in Routt County. At year’s end, it still is uncertain how Routt County will vote – paper ballot, electronically or mail-in – and whether the votes will be counted by hand or machine.

“The most newsworthy event of 2008 will be the elections,” said Stahoviak, who will seek re-election to her county commissioner seat. “We could be in for a bumpy ride.”

Proponents for the recreation center defeated in the 2007 election also don’t plan to give up. Forney said the most newsworthy event of 2008 will be an “announcement of a viable plan to meet the community’s recreation needs.”