City to consider handing over operations of Howelsen Hill to Steamboat Resort | SteamboatToday.com

City to consider handing over operations of Howelsen Hill to Steamboat Resort

The tracks of a few lucky skiers could be seen on the face of Howelsen Hill as the city-owned ski area took on a rare, ungroomed appearance — something not normally seen during the winter months in Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs City Council will continue to explore an agreement that would see Steamboat Resort take over management and year-round operations of Howelsen Hill.

The city would retain ownership and continue to receive the revenue generated by lift ticket sales at the historic ski hill in downtown Steamboat, while the resort would operate most activities, food and beverage operations, retail and rentals at the hill.

The proposal came about as the resort sought to seek other ways to partner with the city, in place of a lift tax.

“It needs to be a win-win for the community, for the people,” Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman told City Council at its Tuesday meeting. “It needs to be a win-win for the Winter Sports Club because Howelsen Hill is such an important part of who the Winter Sports Club is. It needs to be a win for the city because it’s a financial drag on the (fiscal) sustainability efforts that you guys are putting forth. It needs to be a win for us because we’re not a nonprofit, but we recognize the importance of Howelsen Hill and what it is to this community.”

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While City Council expressed interest in continuing the discussion, council members were concerned about the finances of the agreement.

One element of this preliminary negotiation would see the city’s loss in operating costs capped at $913,080. The resort would absorb losses greater than that. If losses are reduced to an amount smaller than $913,080, the city and the resort would split the savings.  

Council member Kathi Meyer estimated that a lift tax would generate $2 million to $3 million, based on lift taxes levied in other ski towns. She pointed to the cost of providing free-to-rider buses, many of which haul visitors to Steamboat Resort. The city spent about $3.4 million to support the city’s transit system in 2018, and net spending on transit made up 12.4% of the city’s general fund last year.

“If I look at what’s the revenue give up, if we do this three-year proposal, I don’t see any minimum financial commitment from Ski Corp.,” she said.

Council Member Scott Ford agreed, saying, “it’s not good enough.”

“I don’t think this is where it needs to be, but I’m actually still optimistic,” said Council Member Lisel Petis said. “The first time that we had this discussion, it was absolutely not going forward. This, I think there’s a chance it could get somewhere. …. I don’t think this is something I would agree to as written now.” 

“We approach this as a partnership. We want to come help the city,” Perlman said, responding to these concerns. “We threw out 50/50. If we can find savings, you get to recoup that. We get a take to help recoup some of our costs because we’re going to spend money on this deal. We have to employ a (general manager). We’re going to take a lot of our time and effort, and we want to see this be successful. We want to approach it at 50/50, which is a partnership.” 

Despite council’s desire to get feedback from community members, most City Council members said they heard little from the public. Council Member Heather Sloop said she received several calls from residents who would rather see a lift tax.

Two people spoke in public comment.

Jim Cook encouraged the council to “walk slowly and examine the alternatives.”

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Executive Director Sarah Floyd said the club was excited by the idea of two of its most valued partners working together. She said she hoped existing agreements between the city and the Winter Sports Club would be honored and that the club would be involved in future conversations.

“The fact that you two are considering working together on something — we’re very optimistic,” she said.

Currently, the agreement is, as Council President Jason Lacy called it, a “skeleton outline of a preliminary potential agreement.”

An outline of preliminary points of the negotiation was released in the City Council’s Tuesday meeting documents. 

The city would retain ownership of Howelsen Hill and receive revenue from sales of lift tickets and most other fees collected at the hill. Ski Free Sundays and summer camps would continue at the ski hill, which doubles as a city park.

City staff who currently work at the hill would continue in their current capacity and would still be employed by and reporting to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The Winter Sports Club would be allowed to continue its existing summer operations. The city, the resort and the Winter Sports Club would work together to fund and fundraise for a new chairlift on the hill, to be installed within the next two years.

The resort would take over year-round operations of Howelsen Hill and hire a general manager. The resort would also handle everything from marketing, events and business development to retail, rental and food service operations.

The resort would also manage rentals of Olympian Hall and receive revenue from these rentals.

City Council will discuss the agreement in closed session at its work session on Tuesday, July 9.

To view the City Council’s discussion on this topic, visit steamboatsprings.net/agendas.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.


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